Vintage Scares #14: Spook Shows!

Most of you are probably too young to remember spook shows.  They came in a number of varieties, from the travelling professionals to the local Knights of Columbus.  Their heyday was the 1930s, but experienced a decline by the late 60s.  Your city or town may still put on haunted houses or hay rides, but the spook show was a whole different animal.  They generally took place in a tent or rented theater, and starred a variety of showmen: generally, magicians, carnies, and hypnotists.

One thing was for sure, they were always a racket.  The "REAL DEAD BODY" was a chicken from a local butcher, the 'FREE BABY" was a baby chick, and the shrunken heads were always plastic.  If you were an adult stupid enough to believe the ads, you deserved to lose your quarter; but, if you were a kid, it didn't matter how lousy it was.  When you told your friends about it, it would be the greatest, most horrifying thing you ever saw.


Besides, kids back then were easily amused.  I remember being scared shitless over the lights being turned off and chains being rattled.  They were always pretty seedy, so you never could be quite sure these carnies weren't the kind to really decapitate that girl on the table. And another lure were the young beauties (hired from the local modeling agencies) at the entrance.

Despite the fact that most of these shows were run by hustlers and thieves, I actually kind of miss them.  It was a unique experience.  I can imagine how it would go down nowadays - idiots would sue, petty assholes would demand their money back and report them to Better Business Bureau, and religious nuts would run them out of town for violating indecency laws.

Well, let's not dwell on the negative. Here's a few ads I found from the glory days of the spook show. Enjoy!

1950 Lodi News Sentinel



  1. Those ads were great! I never had the chance to see any shows of this sort but I imagine they were a lot of fun. You got to love the ad that promises: 14 knives through the head of any person from the audience!

  2. That is just beautiful. I actually went to something about as close as you'll get nowadays.
    Back in 2007 the horror surf band The Ghastly Ones did a rare tour of the northeast. In addition to them headlining there was: a guitar playing ghoul warming up the audience while b&w horror clips played behind him on a movie screen, Black Cat Burlesque doing some great horror movie moments in their own unique way, female wrestling, and a local band called the Nebulas.
    It was a really cool experience. I have a photos over here: http://tinyurl.com/spooknight

  3. I used to just Halloween when I was a kid (OK, I still love it) and I remember the ads in the local newspaper for monster movies at one of our small town theatres. One of the things I recall that i don't see in any of these ads were warnings that the shows were not for the weak of heart and that a nurse would be on site to deal with any trauma that may arise from seeing the movie. Being a larval ghoul this just sparked my curious little brain but overprotective parents would never indulge me.

  4. Great blog. I love all this stuff. Keep up the great work. It's time I start to dig through your archives now. I'll add you to my blog roll on my blog as soon as I can.

  5. I'm actually part of a group that puts on old-timey screenings like this. In fact, we're running SON OF GODZILLA on the big screen tomorrow night: