Annual Sideshow Gathering brings the weird and wonderful to Wyoming Valley

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

Have you ever seen a man pound a nail into his face?

How about a few dozen people, all from different walks of life, from every corner of the globe? Ever see 36 different people all pounding nails into their faces?

Tyler Fleet has. In fact, that was the scene at Wilkes-Barre’s annual Sideshow Gathering in 2010, over which Fleet presided. There, a Guinness-recognized world record for the number of people simultaneously performing a classic gross-out act called the “Human Blockhead” was broken.

Over the years, Fleet’s seen a lot of weird and wonderful things. He’s seen people snack on fire, dance on glass, ram gleaming sabers down their own throats, and even lift heavy metal weights up off the ground via hooks attached to pierced ears, tongues or nipples.

These things may seem like the arcane activities of some fringe, psycho subculture, but on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 4, 5 and 6, the freaks take over Wilkes-Barre’s Woodlands Inn and Resort as part of the 2011 Sideshow Gathering. For that one weekend, the underground replaces the mainstream of the Wyoming Valley.

“It’s such a great idea,” Fleet said, “and it’s a crazy idea.”

Fleet, who goes by the stage name “Tyler Fyre,” is no stranger to crazy ideas. With his wife, Jill (aka “Thrill Kill Jill”), Fleet performs as one half of the only sword-swallowing husband-and-wife duo in the America. The two also act as joint masters of ceremonies for the Sideshow Gathering.

“Working in sideshow is a crazy enough idea to most people,” Fleet said, “but then the concept of getting together not just a group of performers for one sideshow, but getting together all the sideshows for a weekend of sideshow? In doing that, Franco created the greatest sideshow performance in history.”

Fleet is referring to Frank “Franco Zoob” Kossa, who founded the Sideshow Gathering in 2002. Though it may seem like an unlikely candidate for becoming a regional institution, the NEPA-based Sideshow Gathering —which runs concurrently with the Inkin’ the Valley Tattoo Convention— is now in its 10th year. It remains the only event of its kind in the world.

Despite Frank Kossa’s untimely passing in May, his wife Kim Kossa is confident that the Sideshow Gathering will continue to thrive, keeping the legacy of Frank Kossa and his unconventional conventionists alive and well in the heart of NEPA. Seeing how much the event has grown since its inception, Kim Kossa said she can’t imagine anything otherwise.

“I think Franco would be really amazed at how far it’s come,” Kim Kossa said. “He didn’t have any connections in the sideshow world before he started the Sideshow Gathering. … It was just something he wanted to see in his hometown, so he found a way to bring it here.”

James Mundie, another of the event’s organizers, hints that this year’s Sideshow Gathering will feature a somewhat risqué tribute to its founder that will allow Frank Kossa himself to be present and accounted for. Sort of.

“There’s a certain quantity of the population that might think that what we’re doing is disrespectful,” Mundie admitted. “However, we did run this by Kim, and she agreed that he would have loved it.”

Though Mundie is hesitant to go into detail, he promises that “people will get a chance to spend some quality time with Franco.” He added that the tribute will hearken back to a sideshow tradition known as the “blow-off,” an unadvertised “extra” attraction offered to more adventurous patrons at the end of a performance and secreted inside a separate tent closed off to the general public.

“It’s a very fitting tribute to Franco,” Mundie said. “This is a man who loved sideshow and loved mystery and loved the idea of drawing people into a tent with them having an idea of what’s going to happen, only to give them something completely different.”

Both the Sideshow Gathering and the Inkin’ The Valley Tattoo Convention will be held simultaneously at the Woodlands Inn and Resort in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 4, 5 and 6. Both events are all-ages and open to the public. Admission for both events together is $10 presale (tickets available at Marc’s Tattooing and Piercing locations in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Dallas), $15 at the door. For more information, visit