At religious festival, freak show opens

Paris Jenkins, 54, sits under the tent of the traveling freak show that stopped in downtown Manhattan yesterday. Jenkins is an operator and handyman for the show. Photo by Emily Canal

At the Feast of San Gennaro yesterday, attendees nibbled on Italian pastries while watching Krystine Kadaverous gargle rubbing alcohol before she ignited the air with flames.

The freak show tent, a dark horse in a festival devoted to tradition and religtion, was nestled between a sausage stand and a cannoli cart on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.

“My boss calls me hot lips,” said Kadaverous, a 28-year-old Detroit native, before she spat the flammable liquid into the air. “Tastes better than a cannoli.”

This is the first year a freak show  joined the likes of Italian cuisine and keepsakes. The unnamed red and white tent advertised classic attractions such as the sword swallower, elephant woman and two-headed kid, none of which were present.

“People either love it or tell other people it’s not worth it,” said Paris Jenkins, 54, an operator and handyman for the traveling show. “You can’t please everyone, but there’s nothing like it here.”

The feast, which honors San Gennaro as the patron of saints of Naples, began in 1926.

Jenkins said the group formed about two years ago on Coney Island at Sideshows by the Seashore. A friend of the team, who owns a parking lot on Mulberry, invited the crew to use the space during the festival. Jenkins said it was a good use of space because traffic is blocked during the festivities.

“All in all, it came together pretty good,” said Jenkins, a Texas resident, as he smoked a fat cigar outside the tent while collecting tickets. “We aren’t making crazy money, but we will make a dime.”

For a $2 admission, customers got a 10-minute show with Kadaverous and a peak at glass aquariums holding faux models of a mermaid girl, lizard boy and Siamese twin turtles. Jenkins said about 100 people visit the tent each day.

“We came to get lunch and this looked like a funny and stupid thing to see,” said Ali Ahearn, 25, from Long Island. “It’s new, and for $2, why not?”

Kadaverous waited for at least 10 customers to arrive before beginning her show. The patrons hovered near the stage, but promptly moved away when she began her fire-breathing tricks.

“The poster with big snakes on it caught our eye,” said Yvette Dendugn, 37, a tourist from Holland who was selected from the audience to participate. “Freak shows are such an American thing.”

Kadaverous finagled her way out of shackles, stood on ignited shards of glass and put her hand in an animal trap for an audience that neglected to clap and left before the show ended.

“Usually I have more volunteers,” Kadaverous said after her performance. “Sometimes I make it too scary from the beginning.”

Jenkins said the only change to the group’s show was the exclusion of the snakes that are usually displayed outside the tent. He said one of the organizers of the feast didn’t like snakes.

“I think it was a personal thing for him and had nothing to do with safety,” Jenkins said. “Nothing attracts people like snakes – well, except a monkey, but we don’t have one.”