Rubin and Cherry Carnival Came to Johnson City in April, 1917

In the past, I wrote about several carnivals and circuses that came to Northeast Tennessee. They included the Mighty Haag Railroad Shows, Gentry Brothers, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, The Great New York and New Orleans Zoological and Equestrian Exposition, John Robinson's Circus and J.J. Page Carnival. The latter wintered in Johnson City along Love Street.

Today, I am adding another one to the list – the Rubin & Cherry Shows, known as “The Barnum & Bailey of All Carnival Shows,” came to the city on April 29, 1917.

Rubin and Cherrry Shows Advertisement from 1917

This was described as the biggest, best and most up-to-date show of its kind on the road that year. There were 18 paid attractions, 50 concession stands, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, merry widow swings and the exciting $40,000 “Whip the Whip,” referred to as the “joy ride supreme.”

The amusement company traveled on its own special train of 15-foot cars. Locals were strongly urged to meet and greet the show train as it arrived in town. It offered a grand free band concert two hours after arrival that featured 400 show musicians. A plea was made in the local newspaper for residents who had unfurnished rooms available to let them know.

There was every kind of entertainment act imaginable, from trained fleas, a plantation show, the “wild west” and numerous amusements for young and old.

Cowboys, cowgirls, Costello Post's Drum and Fife Corps, Rubin & Cherry bands, eight floats and numerous other features occupied the procession.

The ad spoke of a monopoly of the world's greatest attractions: Through the Trenches, Monkey Speedway, Underground Chinatown, Broadway Cabaret, Motordrame, Prince William, The Spider Girl, Musical Review, One Ring Circus, Joyland Fun Factory, Dixieland Minstrels, Crystal Haze, Hawaiian Village and European Flea Circus.

The superior excellence of the organization over smaller carnival shows of that era was too well-known around Johnson City to give it much competition. Suffice it to say, there was a large and well-pleased crowd each day on the big lot. Mr. Sam Arh, the advance agent of Rubin & Cherry Shows had been affiliated with the famous Robines Shows and the K.G. Barkoot Shows.

My source offered another unusual aspect of the carnival that year. At a special called meeting, city council “suspended 'verboten' (forbidden, prohibitive, banned) and granted permission to the Reuben and Cherry shows to exhibit within the corporation limits at the price of a $250 license to be collected by the city recorder.” No mention was made as to the specific showground site, but it was understood that the carnival would be seen the following week on one of the lots in the Southwest Addition.

Carnival companies often showed just outside the city limits at the end of S. Roan Street. Beyond this location, the city was the unfortunate beneficiary of all of the ills and objectionable features associated with unsavory traveling entertainment companies. The council reasoned that it would be better to allow potential undesirables to come within the city limits where, under police scrutiny, they could be watched and regulated. It was noted that outside the corporation limits, there were no restraints whatsoever. 

The Rubin & Cherry Shows stayed in Johnson City for six days before rolling to its next scheduled performance. Note in the photo that the carnival performed on Walnut Street that year opposite the Post Office, which would later became the site of the Ashe Street Courthouse after the post office relocated to E. Main Street.