A tribute today to sideshow artiste Mimi Garneau (Hazel Kirk Thomas,1890-1986). Here’s one I believe I have some kinship to, somewhere in the distant past. Her father was a Welsh coal miner; one of my great-grandmothers was also a Thomas with roots in Wales. Mimi’s dad settled in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, which is where Mimi was born and raised.
Mimi made her name as a sword swallower, originally under the name “Jude”. She married Fred Garneau in the early ’30s, which is around the time when she began performing. According to this obsessively researched article, Fred also worked in sideshows as a tattooed man. Mimi performed with Ringling Bros., Sells-Floto, Al G. Barnes, and Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, as well as several World’s Fairs, expositions and sideshows. She is reputed to be the first woman to swallow a neon “sword”. Garneau plied her trade for over three decades, rising as high as The Tonight Show with Steve Allen in 1961. And later years she traded the more strenuous art of sword swallowing for managing a flea circus. She retired to Florida in the mid-1970s.
A few years ago, Mimi Garneau was named to Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame.