By Norris Chambers

             In the twenties and thirties there was free entertainment in rural areas and around the outskirts of towns. This free entertainment was free only if you didn’t fall for the impressive talk of the show master.  It was his job to convince you that you would have a very hard time living without whatever he was selling.  They called these little traveling shows Medicine Shows. This was because the product being peddled was some sort of medicine or salve that would be very good for you. There was one called “ooze oil” because when you rubbed it on the sprain or arthritis joint the pain “oozed” out. There was another called “Wizard Oil” because when you rubbed it on the pain was gone like magic. One entertainer called his “go-go grease” because the pain had to go when it was applied.

            The shows came in several sizes and qualities. Some were in very large tents with seats for the audience. Sometimes these entrepreneurs also presented a free movie. The movie was stopped at frequent intervals and the medicine was vividly described while salesmen passed through the crowd with shoulder bags loaded with the good stuff! Sometimes the break offered boxes of candy for a very nominal fee. At times the candy was supposed to be good for you and at other times it was just described as delicious. Those who came with some money were almost certain to part with some of it before the night’s entertainment was finished.

            There were also those smaller ones that had little more than a truck and a camper trailer. The truck bed served as the stage and the entertainment consisted mostly of two or three musicians playing between sales pitches. Sometimes there was a magician who performed all kinds of mystifying tricks. Occasionally there was a “strong man” who demonstrated his strength by bending horse shoes, supporting several men on his back or lifting the truck with several people on the stage. Usually there was an offer to wrestle anyone willing to try their luck. I never did see any takers on this offer.

            One show came through our little town and one of the young performers started courting a local girl. They married and as far as I know they lived happily ever after!

            Clifton lived closer to town than I did and he was usually the first to know about a new medicine show. On one occasion he was given the job of delivering flyers, or hand bills, to all the residents in the community.  His pay was to be $2.00 for going to every house within five or six miles of town. This was big money in those days and he recruited me to help. We rode horses and worked two days getting the word to the whole community. We must have done a good job because there was a nice crowd every night the show was there.

            A few years later Clifton and I and Elbert Hall talked about starting a medicine show. We were selling peanut butter and advertising over a radio station with our own band at the time and we wondered if we could sell that “extra better than any other” peanut butter that way. It was something that we had never seen done. All the medicine shows that we had seen sold medicine of some sort. Would the audience that came for a free show be willing to buy a jar of peanut butter? Unfortunately that is a question that was never answered. About that time jobs opened up for the preparedness program preceding WWII and our band dissolved. The new jobs paid more than we were making peddling peanut butter. The era of the medicine show also vanished about this time. I have not seen one since the thirties.

            Were the medicine shows fun? They were all fun for the spectators and judging from the appearance of the performers I would say that it was fun from their standpoint also. So it had to be fun!

            No doubt the one that bought the medicine had fun till the medicine was gone!