Human roulette featured at 1922 fair

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

The residents of Jamestown were looking forward to the Stutsman County Fair in the spring of 1922.

The event was scheduled for early July with a long list of attractions scheduled for “the amusement loving people of Jamestown.”

Featured attractions of fairs of that era were carnivals, freak shows and other traveling attractions that the local residents would not have been able to see at any other time.

After all, there was no television or internet to watch to see all the things that weren’t available locally.

In 1922, the Stutsman County Fair midway featured the “Wortham Shows.”


Clarence Wortham was known as the “Carnival King of the World,” according to national publications of the era. He was from Texas and started his first carnival in 1910. He had some tough times along the way; one biography said at one point his business holdings were reduced to some sickly lions and a railroad boxcar of pecans.

From that point, he rebuilt his business and by 1922 was operating seven carnivals all around the United States and western Canada.

The Wortham Show brought a number of special attractions to Jamestown in 1922.

According toThe Jamestown Alert, there was the Tex-Mex Wild West show, the Royal Hippodrome and Wild Animal Arena, Beautiful Hawaii, the Wortham Freak Animal show and the Crazy House, just to name a few.

One of the attractions was more of a carnival ride than a carnival show.

Folks attending the 1922 Stutsman County Fair had the chance to ride the human roulette wheel.

The human roulette wheel was a large rotating platform. At the start of the ride, with the platform stopped, people moved to the center of the platform which the operator would then begin spinning.

The faster the wheel spun, the harder it would be to stay at the center of the platform with the riders ultimately spinning off the rotating platform onto a stationary space.


A padded rail surrounded the stationary space. I suppose the intent was to prevent injury but occasionally folks had to smash together by accident.

The spaces along the rail were numbered but laws prohibiting gambling would have prohibited any wagers.

The shows and events weren’t the first attraction of the fair.

People were invited to come out on Sunday afternoon to watch the carnival and shows unload from the railroad cars that brought all the gear to Jamestown, parade through the town and finally set up at the fairgrounds in what is now McElroy Park.

Gates opened for the Wortham Shows and related shows on Monday while the local exhibits of the Stutsman County Fair didn’t open until Wednesday. The fair and carnival operated through Saturday.

Which gave the good folks of Jamestown six days to going spinning off the human roulette wheel.

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