RIVERVIEW – A $1 million anonymous donation has jump-started stalled plans for a museum that will highlight the colorful history of carnivals and those who run them.
A lack of available money had put the International Independent Showmen’s Association Museum plans on hold for months, long enough that zoning approvals for the property had expired, said Beau Pugh, a member of the International Independent Showmen’s Association. Changing the zoning from residential to a planned development would allow a museum in a residential area.
Museum officials went back to the county’s Zoning Hearing Master May 18 asking for a waiver, since the showmen’s association offices are already located on Riverview Drive and the museum will be located next door.
“We had an anonymous contribution that will put a big dent in getting the project going,” Pugh said. If the zoning is approved by the county commission, the association will get plans for the museum out to bid, he said.
A zoning hearing recommendation is due today. The matter is scheduled to go before the Hillsborough County Commission July 21.
Gibsonton and Riverview have for decades, been a wintering ground and retirement village for those in the carnival industry. Twenty-five trailers at the association’s offices house a world-class collection of carnival rides, midway food stands and side-show displays.
The association has already invested about $1 million in a 25,500 square foot museum building shell on the site. And even with the big donation, another $1 million is needed to get the museum fully operational, said Chuck Mayo, who serves as a voluntary archivist for thousands of carnival photos passed down through the generations.
“This is a big step for us,” Mayo said. “An even bigger step is raising the money. We need another million and that is based on how soon it gets done, since construction prices still keep going up.”
Still, getting the project back on track is a big plus, Pugh said.
“We have such a large collection of stuff, including an antique wooden Ferris wheel that will be put together as the centerpiece for the museum.
“So many from around Gibsonton and Riverview come from the carnival industry,” Pugh said. “People think we still live in tents and have no teeth.” This museum, Pugh said, will give the public a much more intimate look at the carnival and the life that surrounds it.
Pugh, whose father and grandfather started a carnival, is still traveling with Reithoffer Shows along the Eastern Seaboard, along with his dad.
Like him, about 85 percent of the association’s members still travel, he said. Many of the rest live in retirement areas in southern Hillsborough County.
Mayo, who is semi-retired, started about a year ago, archiving thousands of pictures of carnival life dating back to the late 1800s. Already, about 250 photos are on line and accessible to the public through the University of South Florida’s archive page. Go to www.museumoftheamericancarnival.org, then click on the association’s logo and follow it to the USF site.
“The museum will be a real showcase for carnival memorabilia,” Mayo said.
There is also an open invitation for other area museums that want to participate, Mayo said. “There’s a railroad museum in Dade City.” Groups like that can contact the showmen to get information on setting up an exhibit in the new museum, he said.
The showmen’s association’s office telephone number is (813) 677-3590.