My days of anticipation of when the carnival arrived in town have long since passed, but I’ll always remember those days of my youth when Washington Street in downtown Port Townsend was closed off between Monroe and Quincy so the carny guys could set up their booths and rides for Rhody weekend. As you passed the post office and came down the hill, it was pure joy to see those bright lights and organ music welcoming you to join the fun. And it was fun! I was 15 in 1958 and dad finally allowed me to go downtown with friends. Somewhere around that period of time, I managed to land a job working for the carnival. They had a large tent with benches on three sides where you could sit and eat a hamburger or hotdog for 50 cents. Nothing quite so inviting as onions cooking on an outdoor grill.
When I was a few years younger, the carnival had a booth where you tossed dimes onto saucers to win a baby duck. Lots of ducks stayed in Port Townsend that year. My duck joined several swamp ducks that we had in a pen at grandpa’s house. Grandpa dug a pool for them and we collected their eggs from time to time. They were tame ducks and even ate bread from our hands.
I also remember a large booth with seating on four sides where you could win prizes playing bingo. That was one popular booth! The game booths had us fishing for small cheap toys but we all hoped for a stuffed animal. I was never very good at breaking balloons with darts but I could fish.
One year there was even a funhouse. That particular wagon had cackling laughs and the sides actually shook. Inside we were treated to screams and scary monsters jumping out at us. It had mirrors that distorted how you looked and when we came out the exit, we couldn’t wait to go back in again.
The merry-go-round was the centerpiece of the carnival and all ages hopped onboard. I was always a little nervous of the ferris wheel but you had to go on that ride. My favorite was the tilt-a-whirl. Scary just enough to give you a thrill and make you screech with delight but not that scary. It took me a few years to work up my nerve to climb on the octopus but once I did, it was a ride I did over and over again. Never would venture onto the Loop-the-loop, though. I wasn’t fond of going upside down.
The rides were a quarter most years but slowly had to increase their prices over time. I can remember more than one kid saying they were going to start saving their allowance money for the return of the carnival the following May. It was pure envy if you saw some kid (or teenage girl) walking around with a huge teddy bear that her boyfriend had won for her shooting a gun or knocking over pins. How I wanted a large stuffed animal too. I took my kids to the same carnival that I attended in my childhood and eventually, it was time for the grandkids to experience the rides. Good times.