In a previous article The Phony carnival war, we discussed appropriate associations with carnivals and persons with disabilities. We have a good example in our midst – Bill Lynch who ran the biggest carnival in the Maritimes for 50 years and still showed respect for those with disabilities.
The Bill Lynch Shows was the carnival in the Maritimes. Bill Lynch started his carnival business in the 1920′s. After leaving McNab’s Island in Halifax Harbour it became a traveling carnival and midway show. He played in the cities, big towns and small towns. After Lynch’s death the Show was owned by PEI’s Soggy Reid.
The Bill Lynch Show had a freak show, no doubt about it. It ran into the mid-1960′s by my recollection.
Lynch made sure that people with disabilities were treated with respect even when it cost him money. I know because he and his employees treated me with utmost respect. You didn’t have to ask for it: they gave it freely.
Lynch was a savvy man in a tough business. Yet he was a generous humanitarian. The Halifax Herald newspaper set up a memorial fund in his name and wrote “As operator of the Bill Lynch Shows, Mr. Lynch was always mindful of the needs of young people, particularly the mentally challenged. Many thousands of young people were given free rides on the midway, but more importantly were the many needy families he helped financially.”
Lynch had a simple way to make people with disabilities feel welcome but not on display as deviant. He closed the carnival for part of a day so only children with disabilities could attend. He didn’t want someone gawking at children who looked or walked differently or were in a wheelchair after they might have seen the side show.
It wasn’t an issue of inclusion. It was respect. We felt included, heck we got in for free. It was the same at the circus and Ice Capades. Don’t worry we felt included.
Those were special times. We could ride on any ride for free. They gave us cotton candy, drinks, and hot dogs. We were allowed to play the games and see anything we liked – except the freak show. It would have been bad taste.
When I was a teenager, I went to see the sideshow at night. I realized how hard it would have been on my friends like the boy who had web hands and feet and the other boy who couldn’t stop shaking.
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Lynch displayed sensitivity to people with disabilities by not associating them with deviancy. Lynch didn’t have training: he just had a kind heart and common sense.
Fast forward three decades to the 80′s. I was attending the Bill Lynch Show at Old Home Week. As I got on a ride with my children, the carny gave me back the tickets. He said “Your tickets are no good here.” It was the same kindness towards people with disability that Bill Lynch had. Tears came to my eyes as I felt that kindness and respect. I gave my tickets to some children at the gate.
From a gut feeling, I know that I don’t want to be associated with deviancy, to performing at a carnival. Bill Lynch would never have allowed it.
On an intellectual level we understand it does not build the self-worth of the person with a disability.
That knowledge and emotion builds in us a sense of propriety, what is the right thing to do.
It still makes me wonder why the PEI-Canadian Paraplegic Association not only held their event at a carnival but why they are defending it in the Guardian and making negative remarks about me personally? Three people have attacked me personally over this which is sad.
PEI-CPA could have gotten 100 times more awareness and publicity if they held the event in a neutral parking lot or shopping mall and invited the media. The CPA uses neutral settings in other cities in Canada. Why is Charlottetown subjected to this treatment?