Behind the Carousel: Life of a Carny, Part Two

Behind the Carousel: Life of a Carny, Part Two

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - At 18 years old, many kids are headed to college while others begin work following high school graduation, but Craig Womer went to the carnival.

“This was kind of a thing I just said, ‘Hey mom, I'm going to work for the carnival.'”

He said his mom's response was not affirmative, but he went anyway. Seven years later, Womer has seen every end of the United States.

As he walks through the Jones County fairgrounds, Womer can't help but smile. He's like a kid attracted to the bright lights and noisy rides, and that's exactly why he made this his career.

“I got into it basically because I saw all the rides, and I wondered how they split apart and how they went back together,” he said.

The word

appeared in North America in the early 1930's, used to refer to those who work at the carnivals. However, “carnies” prefer to be called something else.

“We are showmen, we're not carnies,” Womer responded quickly. “I want everybody to know that. We are showmen. It has changed. We're not the same people.”

That's not the only term associated with the carnival. A man who was in his twenty sixth year as a showman pointed out the different “cliques” on the fairgrounds, using the term “ride jocks” to describe those in charge of the rides and “jointies” for those at the booths.

Womer is new to the carnival, and his perspective is different.

“I don't use that term anymore,” he said. “I use game personnel, tickets personnel, and foods personnel. I mean, jointies, that's just labeling.”

As Womer shared his story about life in the fair, he was headed back to the bunkhouses for a two hour break before the fairgrounds closed for the night. After that fair, he headed home to see his family for the first time in two years. It may not be a “normal” lifestyle to the general public, but Womer said he's in it for the long run.

“I never want to give it up,” he said. “I mean, seeing all the lights, seeing all the people, the families. I miss my own, no lie I miss my own family.

The money isn't great, according to Womer, but that's not why he does it.

“[The money is] enough to get me through and basically what pays me more out of anything is seeing everybody's face smiling,” he said. “When you can literally say that you make everybody happy, that's an awesome lifestyle.”