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Death of the Last Sideshow Fat Man
April 16, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Weighing 607 pounds, Bruce Snowdon was a sideshow fat man from 1977 to 2003, billed as "Harold Huge". His death on Nov. 9, 2009, at the age of 63 marks the end of a long tradition dating back centuries.

More on Ward Hall and his World of Wonders.

Some of the photos in the tradition dating back centuries link can be magnified better than others.

The site I linked to in the main post was found after I saw this. I know obesity can be a touchy subject, please keep it civil.
posted by gman (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
In one scene [from Big Fish], Snowdon can be seen sprawled out in a giant tub being washed by Ewan McGregor. The role left him with a handsome paycheck and a urinary tract infection that plagued him in his later years.

Come on, you can't just say that a fat man was washed in a tub by Ewan McGregor and got a UTI from the experience without some elaboration.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:33 PM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've gotten a cab ride from a fatter man than him.
posted by clarknova at 2:36 PM on April 16, 2010


This amount of fatness used to be considered sideshow-worthy?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:36 PM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


.
posted by jquinby at 2:39 PM on April 16, 2010


"In the off season he made firecrackers while sitting in his living room watching TV."

That's way cooler than the sideshow thing.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:44 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


O
posted by leetheflea at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hurr maybe they'll have thin mans in the future.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:58 PM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fat Man in the Bathtub

.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 3:00 PM on April 16, 2010


Oh hell. Fat Man in the Bathtub with the blues.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 3:01 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


One article says he will be buried in Showmens Rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Tampa. This is a beautiful cemetery in the middle of the old part of town near the river. Grady Stiles, known as Lobster Boy (and worse, to his family) is also buried at Showmens Rest. Many other circus and sideshow stars are buried there (including Mario Zacchini, the human cannonball), as are, reputedly, a few Ringling elephants. South Florida (especially Arcadia) is the winter home of many, if not most, circus and carnival workers, and the John and Mable Ringling home in Sarasota, the Ca'd'Zan, is now the Ringling museum (and was the shooting location of the Alfonso Cuaron film Great Expectations).
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:02 PM on April 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't help but wax nostalgic over the passing of the entire carnival culture. I can think of plenty of things wrong with the whole freaks & geeks side show but I can remember being thrilled as a youngster by the two headed calf and other exotica.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:16 PM on April 16, 2010


People paid to see him? I mean he's fat, but he's not all that fat. I've sat next to fatter people on the subway.
posted by jonmc at 3:24 PM on April 16, 2010


He was fat already but he wasn't one hundred percent there yet. So every now and then he'd fill a mayonnaise jar with a five-pound bag of sugar, add a little water to it to make a solution, and drink in down.

thank you. thank you bruce snowdon, for making my quart of ice cream & half bag of oreos look like a light, healthy snack. thank you.

rest in peace, fat man.

.
posted by msconduct at 3:28 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hear Jake gave a very touching eulogy.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:28 PM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


People paid to see him? I mean he's fat, but he's not all that fat. I've sat next to fatter people on the subway.

That's kind of the point I think. Once upon a time it was really, really hard to get fat. And that time was not that long ago.
posted by GuyZero at 3:30 PM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]



People paid to see him? I mean he's fat, but he's not all that fat. I've sat next to fatter people on the subway.

That's kind of the point I think. Once upon a time it was really, really hard to get fat. And that time was not that long ago.


I'm not so old (yet), and I remember when childhood obesity was so rare that there was usually just 1-2 overweight kids per class....and they were usually (unless and sometimes even if they took on the role of class clown) teased mercilessly as "the fat kid." THE fat kid. This was at a pretty hardscrabble, mostly blue collar public school--though most of us did have stay at home moms to prepare hand-packed lunches, and there was no such thing as "lunchables" yet (and soda was a rare treat, at least in my house).

There's definitely been some sort of epidemiological change in the last 20 years.
posted by availablelight at 3:48 PM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


.,

fat boy,

.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:57 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time it was really, really hard to get fat.

Certainly, it usually cost a lot of money. That's why fat was a marker of wealth -- or at least leisure.

There's definitely been some sort of epidemiological change in the last 20 years.

I'll say. I don't know when I was a kid that it would have been possible for there to be a gaggle of six fat high school girls, but I see that sort of thing all the time now. (Just an example, not sexism.) At least they're usually happy, as fatness used to make one an outcast. (Me, I was a skinny outcast.)
posted by dhartung at 4:21 PM on April 16, 2010


This amount of fatness used to be considered sideshow-worthy?

They were also wearing silly clothing. Maybe it was intended for them to look fatter than they actually were, or maybe they needed another reason for people to pay to see them.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:27 PM on April 16, 2010


"Five hundred years from now, what will people be able to do, just by pressing on some buttons or working from a keyboard? They'll be able to access the [Ward] Hall and [Chris] Christ tapes and look at them just like they're alive. I think about this: You get this feeling you're being watched by the next 10 generations."
posted by chronkite at 4:27 PM on April 16, 2010


"Bruce Snowdon had a degree in paleontology, one in anthropology and one in chemistry," Hall claimed. "But he wanted to be a fat man in the sideshow. And he certainly was that."

The more degrees you have, the more you will understand that.

I've always had a strong interest in "freak" culture, although it's been gone for almost my entire lifetime. It wasn't much, but it was one thing that disabled people could do for themselves, with a great deal of satisfaction and even success. I only ever saw one sideshow "freak" at a carnival, 15 years ago, and it was a "Drug Addict." 50 cents to go into a trailer and see a dude in a thick black wig, nodding constantly and sitting in a wheelchair, pretending to be completely debilitated by heroin. (This sight is available in all major cities, perfectly authentic and free, although a donation of fifty cents is generally requested.)
posted by Countess Elena at 4:28 PM on April 16, 2010


Also: there are a variety of large people-focused shows on TV: One Big Happy Family (TLC), Losing It: Tales from Fat Camp (Discovery Channel?), The Biggest Loser (international variations), and Celebrity Fit Club (UK and US). Related: The Exploitation of Obesity: Why “Fat TV” Is a National Disgrace (Duke Health article).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:37 PM on April 16, 2010


Anyone who watches TLC knows that sideshows and freaks haven't gone away, they've just gotten better agents.
posted by briank at 4:38 PM on April 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


as fatness used to make one an outcast

Uh, this still totally happens.
posted by The Whelk at 4:58 PM on April 16, 2010


There's definitely been some sort of epidemiological change in the last 20 years.
HFCS
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 5:00 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite show on TLC.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:08 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The REAL fat Albert
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 5:16 PM on April 16, 2010


Certainly, it usually cost a lot of money. That's why fat was a marker of wealth -- or at least leisure.

Absolutely. Also, in addition to it being hard (but far from impossible) to get fat: people used to have really, really low standards for entertainment. And people were unbelievable provincial by modern American standards. The average TV-watching 8 year-old these days has seen more than most people in the 1800's saw in their lifetime.
posted by GuyZero at 5:24 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time it was really, really hard to get fat. And that time was not that long ago.

There was a popular radio show in the 1940s and 1950s, called The Fat Man. At the beginning of every episode, the Fat Man would go to a drugstore and weigh himself on a penny scale. Listen for yourself to what was a "fat man": 237 pounds, although it varied from show to show by a little.
posted by Houstonian at 6:00 PM on April 16, 2010


Jesus, look at those feet.
posted by gottabefunky at 6:13 PM on April 16, 2010


This was at a pretty hardscrabble, mostly blue collar public school--though most of us did have stay at home moms to prepare hand-packed lunches, and there was no such thing as "lunchables" yet (and soda was a rare treat, at least in my house).

Mmmmm, scrapple. Oh wait, never mind...
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:09 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It isn't just access to food that has changed, although obviously the amount and composition of food poor people can afford is vastly different now. But in the "good old days" of no longer ago than the 1970s people still spent more time on their feet. Since then the average person in the Western world spends several extra hours seated in a car, at a PC, on a console, or watching television. Activity levels are way down, opportunities to absent-mindedly eat are way up.

One thing about freak shows is that they give us a "legitimate" opportunity to really stare. Honestly, when I see an unusual person, I want to stare at them. I feel insanely curious and I want to examine them closely. This is of course completely unacceptable. The freak show allows one to indulge this without odium.

Of course nowadays the rise of web sites with gross picture collections has eliminated the need for the freak show.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:21 PM on April 16, 2010


It isn't just access to food that has changed, although obviously the amount and composition of food poor people can afford is vastly different now. But in the "good old days" of no longer ago than the 1970s people still spent more time on their feet.

Good point, and for children, it was probably no longer ago than the 80s. There was much less "stranger danger" hysteria (oddly enough, given that our parents were still freaked out by Adam) so we were allowed to play outside unsupervised "until the streetlamps came on"; TV wasn't so awesome (and cable was still optional); and video games weren't quite the time suck they seem to be now. And of course, it was pre-internet. The ultimate punishment was being trapped inside.
posted by availablelight at 7:34 PM on April 16, 2010


...we were allowed to play outside unsupervised "until the streetlamps came on"...
 posted by availablelight at 8:34 PM
 
Har!
posted by mazola at 8:31 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just want to say that the site linked to in this post, "Sideshow World" is pretty neat-o. I plan on plundering it to get my fix of all things circus/freakshow in the future. Thank you!
posted by the_royal_we at 9:59 PM on April 16, 2010


I think it's clear that there's an food problem in America, and that it is demonstrating itself in soaring diabetes rates. Diabetes is ultimately a hormonal problem, and a good chunk of the brain's functionality is done through hormone pathways.

I posit that America's food problem is causing mental problems as well. Which might explain a few things, indeed.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:51 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do people keep saying he's "not that fat"? Are you just looking at the first photo, from before we joined the professional leagues?
posted by roll truck roll at 10:56 PM on April 16, 2010


*he
posted by roll truck roll at 11:10 PM on April 16, 2010


Why do people keep saying he's "not that fat"?

Here is BBC's Bodyshock on the story of 800lb Billy.
posted by fuq at 1:25 PM on April 17, 2010


Imagine, if you will, what society would look like if 100 years from now if what passed as spectacularly obese today would not even turn heads at the mall.
WALL·E sort of beat us to the punch on that one.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:43 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


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