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Wades and Carnivals

Circus versus carnival

Both circus and carnivals have a midway, food and drink, and they may have performers (human and animal), tents, and sideshows.

If you ask circus performers to describe themselves, they will say they are artists. At a circus you sit down and are entertained by performers to a paced, historically organized performance performed in a ring, set to music.  A circus must have “a clown, a horse, a ring.”

If you ask carnival owners to describe themselves they will say they are business owners. At a carnival you select what you want to do to have fun: ride a ride, win a game, eat and drink carnival food, or enjoy a sideshow. A carnival has rides, food and drink, games of chance, and a sideshow. When we think carnival, we see the ferris or Eli wheel against the skyline.


Carnivals in MI

Kiddie RidesFrank Bostock brought the first carnival to the U.S in 1894. The first carnival in MI was the Pilbeam Amusement Co., owned by Frank E. Pilbeam, and his brother, Harry, 1903-1938. There have been many carnivals in MI over the years some of which lasted and others which existed for a year.

Past shows include: A. J. Carl Shows, Hastings; Carlson Shows, Manistee, Cavalcade of Amusements; Crown Amusements; Ingalls Amusements, Melville; Happyland Shows, Detroit; J. J. Frederick, Centerville; King’s United Shows; Lee United Shows; Midwest Attractions; Midwest Shows, Jackson; Motor City Shows, Detroit; Motor State Shows; Northwestern Shows; Zeidman & Pollie Shows and related shows, Grand Rapids; Seahl’s [Great] Northern Shows, Gaylord; Skerbeck Bros Shows, Inc. and related shows; [James E.] Strates Shows; Tri-State Shows, Detroit; Wade Shows and related shows; Whitey’s Amusements, Flint; Wilber’s Wolverine Shows; World of Pleasure Shows. 

Wade Shows spawned many of the 14 carnivals operating in MI today as many people worked for and/or with the Wade Shows.


W. G. Wade Shows

The Great Joyland MidwayDuring the last half of the 20th century Wade Shows was the major carnival in MI, and usually played the Michigan State Fair.

Lee Wade:

Leander Wade (1859-1946) was the son of John and Jane Wade, both Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. by 1850 and married about 1852. They had six children:  Alice, Mary E., Harriet, Leander “Lee”, Charles, and Nelly. Between 1870 and 1880 John died. By 1880 Jane married Issel Barber, a farmer, and they lived in Ogden.  Leander, then 21, farmed.

By 1900 Lee Wade married Hatti, and they lived in Madison Township, Lenawee County. They had five children, all of whom later were in the carnival business: Hazel B. (1884-); Lelia M. (1886-); Wallace G. (1889-); Roscoe T. (1892 or 1893?); and Ernest L., (1898-).  By 1910 Lee was a retired farmer living with his wife Adrian. With them lived their sons: [Wallace G.] Glenn, Roscoe, and Ernest.

In 1912 Lee and his sons formed the Imperial Shows. He remained with the show until 1938, when its title changed to Joyland Midway Attractions. In the 1920 census Lee, age 60, was listed as “partner, traveling carousel.”  In the Adrian directory of 1934 he was listed as a concessionaire.  In the 1936 and 1938 Adrian directories he was listed as a showman. Lee died at the age of 87 in 1946.


Hazel B. Wade:

Lee’s eldest daughter, Hazel married Allen P. Crane and they lived in Adrian. Allen was a “manager, traveling carnival” and operated Crane Shows.  In 1946 Hazel was a corn game operator with the W. G. Wade Shows.


Leila M. Wade:

Leila M. Wade (b. 1886) was Lee’s second daughter.  She married Edgar C. “Clay” May and they had a carnival called Wade and May Show by at least 1917.  In the 1920 census he was listed as a “Showman, Amusements.”  In 1923 and 1924 Wade and May Shows opened in Detroit, where they lived.  By 1930 they divorced.


W.[allace] G. Wade:

Wallace G. Wade (1889-1956) was the eldest son of Lee Wade.  With his brothers and father in 1912 W. G. formed a carnival, Imperial Shows.  In 1916 he formed the W. G. Wade Shows, which he operated until his death. 

W. G. Wade married Frances (Mitts) Wade.  In the 1920 census W. G. was listed as a “Manager, Amusements.” With their son, Wallace G. Wade [Jr.] (b.1919), the couple lived in Highland Park. By 1930 W.G. had a new wife, Rebecca, and a daughter, Constance.  W.G. was listed in the census as a “proprietor, carnival.”
 In 1938 W.G. and his son W. G. Wade, called Junior or “Glenn,” added a second unit to their carnival, Wade & Son Congress of Rides, and offered “a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a chairplane” for amusement seekers.

In the 1940s the Wade Shows played Manton, the Gratiot County Fair, and the Alpena Fair, as well as many other towns and events. They “cracked” Highland Park in April 1946, a city which “had no carnival there for 15 years.”  “Cracking” means to win/get a contract to supply the carnival for a town/event. 
W. G. Wade died in 1956 and his business assets went to his son, W. G. Wade, Jr., called Glenn.


Glenn Wade:

W. [Wallace] G. “Glenn” Wade (b. Adrian 1918-2008), the eldest son of Wallace G., Sr. and Frances (Mitts) Wade, “worked with his father in summers until 1938 when they started a second unit, Wade & Congress of Rides.”  During World War II Glenn served in the U.S. Navy.  He returned home to work with his father in 1945. 

In 1948, Glenn Wade formed Glenn Wade Amusement Rides with only a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. This developed into a medium-sized midway (carnival) by 1956, when his father died. Glenn combined their assets. The W. G. Wade Shows played at the Michigan State Fair for the first time in 1952.  W. G. Wade Shows played 17 of the 20 seasons of the fair between 1952 and 1972.

Glenn also owned Down Rivers Shows, south of Detroit. Between the 1965 and 1966 season W.G. Wade Shows joined the International Amusement Corporation, later the Amusement Corporation of America, part of a large carnival syndicate. 

Glenn served as The Outdoor Amusement Business Association’s first president and was a member from 1965 until his death. Since its inception in 1964, OABA has “lobbied for an ethics code, ride safety, safety training programs and guidelines for carnival games.” 

In 1942 Glenn Wade married Helen Berry (d. 2003). They had three daughters: Linda,Debbie and Frances.  Debbie died in a car accident in 1974. Glenn Wade died in 2008.  For most of the company’s history, the W. G. Wade Shows was the premiere carnival in Michigan.  Since 1984, Frank Zaitshik has owned and operated Wade Shows, Inc. which is now based in Florida. 


Ernest Wade:

Ernest L. Wade (1898-), the youngest son of Lee Wade, married Nellie M. Wade. and they lived in Adrian.  Ernest was listed as a traveling agent [for the shows] in the 1928 Adrian Directory. In his father’s, Lee’s, 1946 obituary Ernest was listed as an “agent for the shows.”


Roscoe T. Wade:

Roscoe Wade (b. 1892 or 1893-), the second son of Lee Wade, married Mayme.  They lived in Adrian and had two children:  Harriet  (1915-), and Douglas (1918-). In Adrian directories between 1921 and 1938, Roscoe was listed as a [carnival] concessionist, showman, or “Manager, Amusements.”   In 1926 “R.T. Wade had the Michigan Greater Shows.” 

Roscoe was willing to cut John Pollie a “small percentage of the rides and shows & cut concession money” for help booking extra shows. When John noted his many trips and calls to Hudsonville to get business had failed, Roscoe wrote “Don’t worry about Hudsonville as there will be other spots with business as good again. Myself, I don’t think the spot is big enough for so many rides…”  Roscoe also kept information to himself as needed. One December 27, probably in 1950, John wrote to Roscoe, “Unless you are keeping you[r] route a secret, Roscoe, it would be very helpful if you were able to divulge at least part of the intended route to me when you can.” 

Roscoe’s route over the years included Remus, Manton, White Cloud, Barryton, Marion, Rockford, Ovid, Howard City, Hart, Onekema, Hastings, Port Sanilac, Charlotte, Gladwin, Petoskey, and Hudsonville, among other cities and towns. In 1941 Roscoe offered a fun house, motor drome, and a flat ride for Hudsonville.  In 1951, Mayme noted “the entire state [IN] has been closed to all gambling, so no concessions...It surely is getting tough.”


Douglas Wade:

Douglas Wade (1918-), the son of Roscoe Wade, worked for the shows as an agent. In 1948 letter of John Pollie to W. G. Wade John wrote, “I presume Doug is booking for your #1 and #2 and for Junior’s unit, too?” In Lee’s 1946 obituary, Doug was listed as Lee’s grandson and a representative of the Wade Shows.


Walt O. King

Walt O. King owned King Amusement Co. in Mount Clemens. The company manufactured kiddie rides, such as merry-go-rounds with horses, boats, and cars, trains, boat rides, rollercoasters, bumper cars, as well as fun houses and related equipment including towers,  fences, music boxes, trailers for food, shooting galleries and other uses, timers, signs, and decorations.  Everything was shipped by railway freight or truck at 25 cents/mile, 1949-1957.