Wednesday, November 2, 2011

John Strong's sideshow tent

Every once in a while you used to be able to find sideshow banner artist John Hiner holding court inside this tent. He'd been friends with John Strong forever and In later years he repainted or touched up some of the old sideshow banners visible in this photograph although according to him they weren't his best or most notable work. Once John stopped painting entirely, someone else came along and finished what he wasn't able to.

He admired my photo vest one year (2006) and we agreed that if I would send him one he'd paint me something. His choice. It's important to note that John wasn't feeling all that well at the time, he was sober but ailing. I knew the chances of my getting a painting were slim. I couldn't afford to buy him a vest but I wanted to believe it might magically turn into an original John Hiner sideshow banner. Whether it was on canvas or painted on a pizza cardboard didn't really matter so one day before Christmas I spontaneously tossed a black vest on the counter at the camera store and mailed it off to John's mom Dorothy's apartment. Then I waited. After a few weeks I called him on the telephone only to find out that the package never reached him.

We talked one other time a couple of years after that. He was staying somewhere near his brother in a place where they had asked him not to use the phone. I was so pleased to be the person he thought of in that moment. Not only was he using the phone but long distance for an hour and fifteen minutes! It was glorious to hear from him but somehow I knew it would be the last time.

John Hiner died in his home town of Indianapolis on February 7, 2010. He was sixty-one.The John Strong Circus is still very much at large, playing at Coney Island and other venues. We'd love to give them a shout in fact, wish them all the best. Their last date at the Tennessee State Fair was (if I'm not mistaken) in 2007. If I am mistaken - someone will correct me eventually.

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