The Carnival Dancer’s vintage story

carnival dancer costume

This is a story about an amazing find of history being preserved for future generations when it could easily have been lost forever.

Cindy of Petticoats Plus sells vintage clothing. She was invited to attend a pre-sale to view the clothing at a nearby estate sale by a friend.  Neither the company holding the sale, nor the family, wanted to deal with the clothing.  Little did she know she would hit the mother lode.

When Cindy got to the home she found it packed with a lifetime of belongings. Most items were still packed away from the family’s last move. At first Cindy found nothing special, typical items found in an older woman’s wardrobe.  But – she caught a few glimpses of some unusual pieces that peaked her interest.

Having mentioned to the estate manager that she would purchase all of the clothing in the estate, she now had their attention. As she sorted and piled vintage dresses from the 40s, 50s and 60s getting them ready to move, a trunk was opened up.  The trunk contained a hoard of vintage handmade burlesque and dancer outfits.

The owner of all those fabulous outfits was a carnival dancer in the 1930’s and 1940’s. She had made all her own costumes.

Here is her story: Frances Gaito Parks was a dancer with the carnival of Pop Corey (owner) of “Corey Greater Shows.” Her career began in the 1930s and ended in the mid to late 40s.

Frances was the oldest of twelve children born to Ella and Joseph Gaito. Joseph Gaito was originally from Sicily – Ella Cobbler originally from North Carolina.

Frances worked as a carnival dancer for Corey, under the stage name of “Fay Parker.” She met her husband Lee Parks while on the job; he was the ride foreman. Story has it, Pop Corey made the match.

Frances and Lee had two children, Bill and John, with Bill being the oldest. Bill and John were both involved with the carnival to some extent. Each took dance lessons and learned to tap. Frances and Lee toured with the carnival until Bill was ready to begin kindergarten. They settled in Pittsburgh, with Lee working in the steel mills. It is unknown whether Fay continued to dance in any other venues.

There is little information on Fay’s dance career, other than she was self taught and quite the seamstress. The family shared two books she used, helping her with dance steps.

The costumes speak for themselves – marvelous work! Both sons took part in stringing the many beads for her skirts. Fay’s hair was dyed red and was kept that color well into her 90s. I’m told she had the temper and sharp tongue to match!

Fay moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Rolla, Missouri in 2001. She was tended by family until her passing at the age of 99 in 2016.

Cindy was able to purchase all of the clothing and accessories from the estate including over 200 pair of shoes. As Cindy began to post photos of the outfits and list them in her Etsy store, interest in both “Fay” and her outfits began to soar. The high point coming when Danielle Colby of American Pickers fame caught wind of the collection. Danielle, as well as others, have since purchased many of the fabulous costumes made by “Fay.” Many of the items Danielle purchased will be showcased in the Flamingo Rum Club opening in Chicago where she is a partner. Danielle may be famous for her part in the TV show American Pickers, but she is also very involved in the world of burlesque, including honoring the dancers, their costumes and history. It’s important to her that these women’s stories be told and not forgotten.

For Cindy, not only was this a buy of a lifetime, but she states that she learned so much about “Fay” and her family as well as meeting and connecting with some amazing people along the journey.

In Cindy’s words: “I don’t think it will ever be possible to top this pick! So many contacts were made. I was constantly learning something new. I grew to appreciate this marvelous dancer, someone I’d never met, but felt very close to. Danielle Colby became an unlikely acquaintance. I’m still working on marvelous items months later. It doesn’t get much better than that!”

You can find Cindy at Petticoats Plus.  She has lots more great vintage clothing items too.

The best is yet to come! Pam, Vintage Renude

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