The Firemen’s Carnival at Colt Park was one of the highlights of growing up in Gettysburg, but, in looking back, nothing compares to my first visit to the Meyersdale Fair in Somerset County. Meyersdale is tucked away in a deep river valley below Mount Davis on the edge of Pennsylvania and Western Maryland and is famous for the Maple Festival held there every year. Though, for the longest time, the chief industry in Meyersdale was not maple syrup but coal, and even today with coal in decline in the area, the town continues to survive. The Meyersdale I recall as a boy was a dirty, fighting town, tight against a river with steep, clear-cut hills and not a lot of fun to be had. What I remember is that when the carnival came to town, the locals really hooped it up and had a good time — they earned it though, toughing it out for a year at the top of the Allegheny Mountains.
One summer evening back in the early 1960s when we lived on the farm in Somerset County, we decided to go to the Meyersdale Fair –just like we went to the Firemen’s Carnival in Gettysburg a number of years later. The fair was farm-boy fun, full of ruckus, family entertainment and the promise of wild rides, stuff-animal winnings, cotton candy treats and, yes, vinegar fries. When we got to the fair, my recollection is that my family split up with my sister Allison and I promising to stay together. My sister, Allison is just a year-and-a-half older than me and we were often together – much like an Irish Hansel and Gretel. I am sure my mother watched over us when we were at the fair, but she also gave us money and allowed us to choose our own rides and to explore the grounds without supervision. Growing up on a farm reading Boys Life and going to Sunday school every week, I don’t think I had the slightest idea what a freak show was. When we came up on the barker who convinced us to pay our two quarters and go behind the closed flap of the tent, I don’t think we had a clue as to what we would see. After all, what is a Lobster Lady anyway and, for that matter, what did we know about lobsters growing up on a farm in the mountains? Trout maybe, but lobster?
Inside the tent, I recall vividly that the lighting was really dim, but there were chairs on which to sit and a platform at the far end with a closed curtain. When the room was full of laughing kids, teenagers, and young couples, the show began. To tell the truth, Allison and I were really too young to be there, especially on our own, but we tried to look older and more confident than we were, especially as the lights went down in the room and the lights came up on the platform. The curtain slowly opened displaying a strange, aging lady with long curly black hair and a massive amount of red lipstick and deep eye shadow. She was lying on a small dirty sofa wearing a glittering bathing suit staring at us as we gasped at her — purposefully she moved, and we saw her large lobster claws instead of hands and legs that weren’t legs at all — but flippers! Allison and I were horrified — not because of her deformities, but because she looked like a cross between a human and a monster fish! Could such a thing be real? She started cackling at us, snapping her claws and thumping her flipper-like legs, and I remember everyone started pointing and laughing at her and calling her names, but Allison and I simply wanted out of there. She was horrible looking, and mean, and she started yelling at us, telling us all how she was going to rip us apart with her snapping claws! This was worse than a scary movie — this was real! A live, living half-human woman who also was a live, living half-lobster who also was threatening to tear us to shreds! Could others be out there like her and could these decrepit lobster/people/things be on our farm or, worse yet, near our bedrooms?
The Lobster Lady and her inhuman claws ruined our visit to the Meyersdale Fair and had us in a frightful panic for many a night the rest of the summer. To this day, both Allison and I laugh about our encounter, and, even now, we try to rationalize what we saw, but, as kids, we knew what was inside that tent, and we knew we were taking our lives into our hands if we ever met up again with the Lobster Lady of the Meyersdale Fair.