Minstrel Shows, Woman-less Weddings and Donkey Basketball Games
Who needed TV? Cliffsiders were always nearly self-sufficient when it came to entertainment. They would put on a show at the drop of a hat, in the town hall or at the school. As late as 1967, when this photo was made, men were still dressing up like women to put on “weddings” and fashion shows, at which much hilarity would ensue. Here, “Painful Jack” Hunt, Cliffside’s dentist and state legislator, is a fetching but hairy-legged flower girl at such a wedding at the school. (Did it ever occur to the women to put on a man-less wedding?)
As for minstrel shows, they were popular up to the mid 1950’s or so, until the very thought of blacking one’s face and portraying a large number of our fellow men as stupid and shiftless became embarrassing, unfunny, and maybe not such a fine thing to do.
On April 21, 1945, just before the end of the war, they put on a doozy in the town hall, a combination minstrel show/woman-less fashion show/glee club recital/musical solo presentation. Here’s a printed minstrel show program in PDF format.
Some program notes: The last page of the program is a dedication to FDR, who died on April 12, in the week prior to the show date. Playing a banjo solo in the show was Junie Scruggs, older brother of the famous bluegrass star, Earl Scruggs.
Who knows when donkey basketball came into vogue? Perhaps somewhere it’s still being played. Here’s how it worked: Some entrepreneur, who happened to own at least a dozen donkeys and trucks to haul them, would arrange in advance with the school principal to hold the game in the school gymnasium on a certain date, with the school receiving a portion of the proceeds. (The donkey’s themselves wouldn’t play ball, their riders would. A number of local boys and men would be recruited to ride the docile little beasts.)
On the appointed night, the owner and his wranglers would arrive at the gym with the donkeys, would put skid-proof rubber shoes on their tiny hooves, and the game would begin. The “players” would urge their mounts up and down the court, while simultaneously trying to dribble and shoot the ball. The owner or one his men was the “referee,” while others stood by to clean up the floor, as needed. The fun was watching our boys stay on the animals— or fall off, as the case may be.
Consider the poor owner: It’s 11:00 pm, and he’s in Cliffside, a relatively isolated place, with a dozen hungry, tired and frustrated animals. Those were the days before fast food joints and chain motels, so there’s no convenient place to eat or sleep, or, for that matter, to house the donkeys. In which direction do you suppose he would lead his braying little troupe, and did the event raise enough money to make all this worthwhile?
Printed program courtesy Sam Davis