by Terrance Mc Arthur
When George Mc Arthur was a little boy, he went to the Kern County Fair and saw a sideshow in the carnival: the fire-eater, the sword swallower, and other acts. “I was fascinated,” he says, “by what the human body can do.” He has always remembered that day.
When he grew up (and up…and up…and up, until he was 7’3”), he became George the Giant, touring America and beyond, performing everything from the bed of nails to eating light bulbs to stopping a fan with his tongue. In his travels, he began to acquire bits of sideshow history and strange objects. Along the way, he dreamed of bringing these strange things to the public, a museum of the odd.
After more than 27 years in the sideshow world, his dream has come true. For two weekends, George the Giant’s Strange Museum of Oddities and Wonder is making Bakersfield a little bit stranger.
This pop-up experiment at 2007 H Street, in the Bakersfield Fox Theater building, temporarily houses a collection of George’s unusual possessions, as well as some things on loan from his friends and admirers. He tried it for a limited time to see if anyone would come to see his collection. He hoped to get 600 visitors in the four-day run. After the two days of the first weekend, about 1,500 people had paid the $5 admission.
What will you see for $5?
• Could It Be Haunted?—A clapping monkey doll that may have saved lives, the hand of a voodoo priestess that is said to grant wishes, a ventriloquist’s figure “adopted” by a childless couple (never say the D-word).
• Cryptozoology (creatures you may or may not believe in)—Sasquatch, chupacabras, the Loch Ness Monster, mummified fairies, a crushed little person from Ireland, a Feejee Mermaid that may be the one which disappeared after P. T. Barnum’s first museum burned to the ground.
• Nature’s Mishaps (George won’t call them mistakes)—a two-headed calf, the World’s Strongest Bird (if it will stay in its cage), a two-headed duck, the dangerous Ash Bat of Kentucky, a collection of Baby Rattlers.
• Weird Art—Paintings made with human blood, a miniature sideshow fashioned from telephone wire, examples of pine needle basketry, miniature paintings that are actually penny-sized (painted on a penny), a taxidermist’s sword-swallowing rat, realistic heads made by a Hollywood makeup artist.
• Bits of Bakersfield History—pieces of the original Bakersfield Inn bridge that spanned Union Avenue (and now is part of the Buck Owens complex), a salute to magician-herpetologist Al Robbins (the first magician to produce live rattlesnakes onstage).
• George’s Sideshow Life—pictures of the Giant with celebrities like Jay Leno and Elvira, memento’s from the Tim Burton-directed film Big Fish (George played a fire-blasting circus giant), George’s first sword-swallowing training tool (Joan Crawford would hate it).
• EXTRA! EXTRA!—Take a picture of yourself in a real Body Bag! Take home mementos from the gift shop! AND…No trip to the Strange Museum is complete without paying an extra dollar to peek behind the curtain and see the dreaded 300-Pound Man-Eating Chicken!
It’s a family-friendly event. George says, “It’s not a maze or haunted house. Nothing will jump out at you.” The low price makes it an affordable outing for the whole family.
The museum is ever changing. George puts things into new locations, unearths items from his garage, and is brought wondrous things to add to his display (Look for the baby Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors). The staff, from the balloon artist and the hoop/fire performer entertaining people in the fast-moving line that stretches to the end of the block to the security team and the docents explaining what you see, are volunteers from up and down California who want to help George turn his museum dreams into reality.
I may seem over-excited about George and his museum, but I have good reason—I am George’s big brother (Sorry—OLDER brother. I’m nowhere near as tall as George).
For people who wonder about the veracity of the exhibits and their stories, George offers this sideshow maxim: “Everything you see here is real. Some of it is real real, some of it is real fake, but all of it is real interesting.”
George the Giant’s Strange Museum of Oddities and Wonder, 2007 H Street in Bakersfield, finishes its limited run on Friday, October 19 from 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday, October 20 from 2 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $5 for ages 3 and up, with guided tours available for an extra $5. For more information, check the attraction’s Facebook page.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 7 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.
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