I’ll lay dollars to donuts I’ll hear from friends who personally knew lady sword swallower Estelline Pike (Estelline Lovin, 1908-1990). In fact my time in NYC overlapped with hers by 3 or 4 years. If I had it to do over I’d go and look her up, but of course I didn’t know anything about her at the time.
Estelline was named after the Texas town where she was born, though she grew mostly in Hoxie, Kansas. When she was 20, sword swallower Lucky Ball came to town. The pair married and hit the road, and of course it was Lucky who taught her his skill and introduced her to the performing life. Later, their son Jim Ball (also nicknamed Lucky) would learn the family trade and become a performer. Estelline and Lucky Sr. broke up after a decade of marriage; that was when she married Blackie Pike, who passed away in 1944.
In her earlier years, Estelline had worked state and county fairs and carnivals. In the mid 1950s things really started to pick up for her. She moved to New York City, where she performed regularly at Hubert’s Museum, which she alternated for a decade with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Sideshow. She also performed with Ward Hall’s World of Wonders and the Royal American Shows, and even appeared on the TV show What’s My LIne? in 1958.
In 1967, nearly 60, she went into semi-retirement, becoming the cashier at Hubert’s and the arcade that replaced it. In the 1970s, she also performed at the Times Square Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Odditorium (an ealier incarnation) and a short-lived venue called The American Theatre of Magic. Her death in 1990 made her one of the last of the old time sideshow performers, but it also meant she lived long enough to witness some of the first signs of the sideshow revival. For a bit more on Estelline and much more about sideshow, see the terrific site Sideshow World.
For more on variety arts history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,