WORLD’S LARGEST MIDWAY!
Founded by Carl J. Sedlmayr, who was born in Nebraska in 1886, Royal American Shows was one of the largest American carnivals throughout most of the twentieth century. Although Royal American’s first contract with the Calgary Stampede was in 1934, the company was unable to travel to Canada from 1942 to 1945, during the Second World War, as it relied on a large train (up to 90 rail cars) for transportation. During the war, use of the rail system was restricted by the United States government to the movement of military personnel and equipment.
In 1967 Royal American Shows was at its pinnacle in terms of size, “over 800 people along with livestock and equipment and over 80 railroad cars,” and by 1971, “Royal American Shows carried the greatest number of flatcars ever carried by any traveling amusement organization in the world.” The show traveled with a full complement of “carpenters, canvas men, electricians, painters, full working machine shops with mills, lathes, drills, welders, mechanics, cookhouse, portable showers, [and] mail department.” A somewhat sentimental history of Royal American Shows takes a sad turn as the author describes how the changing economy in the latter 1970′s led to a loss of revenue for Royal American Shows, “due to longer distances involved in the carnival’s season, culminating in the loss of its Canadian route in 1977 [sic] during a tax evasion scandal that led to Carl Sedlmayr’s arrest. Although Carl Jr. was fully exonerated, Royal American was now locked out of Canada.”
The carnival equipment seized from the 1975 raids at Edmonton and Regina was held in storage until the mid-1990′s, at which time the assets were sold at auction and the proceeds were used to pay the outstanding fines. Royal American Shows continued to operate in the United States for the next twenty years, diminishing in size over time; its last show was in Lubbock, Texas, in October 1997.
The show played its last dates in 1997, following an illustrious run that had earned it the title of the world’s largest midway (AB, March 15). The show once traveled through the United States and Canada on 99 railroad cars and played the biggest of the state fairs and Canadian exhibitions. The remains of the carnival were sold by Norton Auctioneers, Coldwater, Mich., at the show’s winter quarters near the Tampa airport. Carnival executives, employees, railroad and circus buffs from 26 states and two countries attended the sale.
The International independent Showmen’s museum is lucky to have several wagons, wagon wheels, and lots of other interesting items on display at the museum.