James E. Strates Builds his Dream
This article is the last in a series
of five that recounts the life and career of Strates Shows founder James
E. Strates. It examines the final chapter in his life and pays tribute to
his life's work and the legacy he left behind.
Strates Shows founder, James E. Strates
For over 40 years, James E. Strates worked to realize his dream of
owning one of the finest carnivals in America. He started his fair and
midway career as Young Strangler Lewis, a professional wrestler in an
Athletic Show. Strates eventually decided to make carnival business his
career. He acquired a small show, the Southern Tier Shows, that later
became known as the James E. Strates Shows. Due to Strates strength and
devotion, his carnival was able to grow and prosper over the years. Even
when tragedy and turmoil struck the Strates Shows, it continued to thrive.
The James E. Strates Shows became an acknowledged industry leader and its
founder, James E. Strates, was admired and respected by those in the
carnival business as well as others who knew him.
Tragedy befalls the James E. Strates Shows on October 10, while playing
the York Fair in Danville, Virginia. James E. Strates suffered a stroke in
his office on the fairgrounds. Curtis Finch, manager of the fair at that
time, was the first to arrive at the trailer and discover Mr. Strates.
While en route to Danville Memorial Hospital, Mr. Strates slipped into a
coma and never recovered. On Sunday, October 11, 1959 at 10:07 a.m., at
the age of sixty-five, James E. Strates passed away.
Funeral services were held on Monday in Raleigh where the show had moved
to play the North Carolina State Fair. The funeral was described by police
as the largest that city had ever seen. Hundreds of people jammed the
Greek Orthodox Church for a service conducted by Reverend George Stefanis.
During the service, State Supreme Court Justice Hunter Parker told of a
firm friendhsip the two had had for more than thirty years.
On Thursday, October 15, Mr. Strates was laid to rest in Riverhurst
Memorial Cemetery in Endicott, New York. Meanwhile, back in Raleigh at the
North Carolina State Fair, Fair Manager Doctor J.S. Dorton, had arranged
an outstanding tribute to Mr. Strates. He set off aerial fireworks to draw
the crowd's attention and then took the loud speaker. He commanded all
rides be stopped and unloaded, and for all concessions to cease operation.
Charley Basile bugled taps over the fairgrounds, and the honor guard from
Fort Bragg lowered the flag to half mast. Next a helicopter flew overhead
scattering thousands of red roses and chrysanthemums onto the midway at
12:20 p.m., the time of the burial in New York State.
Doctor Dorton's eulogy honored, "...the immigrant boy whose name
became synonymous with integrity, energy, and the pinnacle ultimate
success in show business...his memory is beloved by everyone of the North
Carolina Fair family. Jimmy Strates was first a gentleman, second a
showman and lastly a true friend to great and small alike regardless of
color and creed. Let everyone stand uncovered in honor of a grand
gentleman, a true friend and great showman - Our Jimmy!"
E. James Strates, following in his father's
footsteps, surveys the midway
After the death of James E. Strates in 1959, his only son, E. James, took
over as president and manager of the James E. Strates Shows. Today, nearly
50 years later, he is still "on-the-road" actively running the Strates Shows operation with the assistance of his wife, Phyllis, their
five adult children and twelve grandchildren. The second, third, and fourth
generations of Strates wish to pay a special tribute to their true
founding father, James. E. Strates.
E. James and Phyllis Strates
with their children and grandchildren