The Formative Years with Founder James E.
During the 1940s and 1950s, James E. Strates developed his carnival
to be the finest possible and became recognized as a leader in the
industry. This article, the fourth in a series of five, examines the
progression of the James E. Strates Shows as it continued to grow under
the direction of its founder, James. E. Strates.
The James E. Strates Shows received a staggering "Christmas
Present" on December 22 in Mullins, South Carolina when a fire
destroyed the entire carnival with the exception of the train, which was
stored three blocks away. At the time, Strates' decision to rebuild his
traveling carnival represented perhaps the most expensive venture of its
kind, estimated at $400,000.
Only 3-1/2 short months after the disastrous fire, the James E. Strates
Shows was rebuilt, with the help of the City and the citizens of Mullins,
South Carolina and show agents scouring the country from coast to coast
buying rides, trucks, lumber, generating units, and anything else they
needed. Strates was able to rebuild and maintain his fair commitments that
year. The makeshift pieces of equipment bought hurriedly at war-inflated
prices were soon replaced and modernized. By the end of the season, the
Strates Shows had grown immensely. It now consisted of 20 side shows, 21
rides & army surplus anti-aircraft searchlights to promote the show.
"When you have good attractions, you are bound to do business. The
business is going to have to reach out and invest in worthwhile
shows," said Strates. He put this theory to work when he featured a
number of new shows, including one of the great burlesque shows that were
so popular in that time. Georgia Southern, one of the nation's top
burlesque performers and the star of many Broadway hits, performed a daily
revue called "A Night on Broadway". Strates received top
industry recognition when he was elected president of the National
Showmen's Association. He was also a key figure in the American Carnival
Association and supporter of its public relations activities.
At this point, the James E. Strates Shows was the fourth largest carnival
midway in the nation. There were about 300 employees traveling with the
show at this time, and a major ride cost approximately $50,000 as compared
to today's prices that average between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
James E. Strates Shows relocated its Winter Quarters from a fairground in
Deland, Florida where it had wintered for two years, to a 40-acre lot in
Taft, on the south border of Orlando, Florida, where it remains today. To
accommodate the great show train, over a mile of railroad siding was laid
and is still in use today for America's only remaining railroad carnival.
E. James, son of founder James E., joined the show's management team under
the supervision of his father.
James E. Strates with his sister,
Ms. Vasilike Strates Theodoropoulos
October 11, James E. Strates had the opportunity to meet his sister, Ms.
Vasilike (Elizabeth) Strates Theodoropoulos, for the first time. Elizabeth
was born in Greece just after Mr. Strates arrived in America in 1909. Mr.
Strates helped bring three of her seven children to America and they, in
turn, later brought their mother.
The carnivals of yesteryear had an array of attractions on the midway,
including the Viking Giant (8 feet, 8 inches tall), the four-abreast
Ferris wheel, the Two-Ton-Hippopotamus, and the Wild Animal Menagerie
comprised of elephants, camels, zebras, lions, bears and a brahma bull.
The 8 foot, 8 inch Viking Giant, one of the
features on the Strates Shows midway in 1958.