RIVERVIEW — The Showmen's Riverfest kicks off at 5 p.m. on Thursday (March 22) and runs through March 25 at the Showmen's Club, 6915 Riverview Drive.
The event will feature midway rides, food, fun and family time. Admission and parking is free while there will be a nominal charge for wristbands for the rides.
Proceeds from the event benefit the adjacent International Independent Showmen's Museum, a nonprofit that strives to preserve the history of traveling shows in America. Attendees are invited to visit the museum while enjoying the rides.
The 52,000-square-foot, two-story warehouse offers visitors a chance to view carnival artifacts - from 1893 photos of the first Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair, to a life-size working carousel.
For four generations, Gibsonton has been the winter home for dozens of carnival workers who are attracted to the area, in part, because of a unique zoning ordinance that allows rides, exotic animals and other attractions on be housed on an individual's property.
The museum honors this local history with a video and rail car from the largest touring carnival, Royal American Shows. Carl Sedlmayr founded the company, which moved its headquarters to Tampa in the 1930s. In its heyday, the show employed nearly 1,000 people, many who traveled in the 96 railcars from city to city. Royal American closed in the mid 1980s and was auctioned in the '90s.
There's also a tribute to sideshow talent such as Johann Petursson, "The Viking Giant." In the glass display, visitors will marvel at the size 24 boots worn by one of the world's tallest men at nearly 9 feet, and the enormous gold rings he would sell as part of his act. Petursson has a local tie, too. He retired to Riverview until his death in 1984.