I have had a tremendous time visiting with my cousins Lorrie and David at their home in Laramie. We call each other “cousins” though technically David is my Dad;s cousin, but whatever the term really is– “cousin” just works.

It’s hard pressed to think of more lively, story-filled, warm people as these two, and their 6 kids and various family tree extensions from there on.

However, I was determined to try and pin Lorrie down to share some stories from a childhood and time I always found fascinating- her family was a performing act in carnivals in the 1950-1960s, the old style kind of life where they spent their summers travelling up and down the east coast, sometimes in the midwest to perform their high dive act.

Lorrie did more than oblige, she told me an hours worth of stories of this life and times; I will share some excerpts below. The photos were ones I took quickly using my camera on ones from Lorrie’s collection.

First Recollections

Billy Outten 1935

Her Dad, Billy Outten, was the main part of the show, diving from a 110 foot high board attached to a ladder into a pool of water 6 feet deep.

He was a championship diver (1935 AAU National Champion), and transformed his skill into an act that included his wife, Kay, uncles doing clown parts, and eventually Lorrie and her sisters. The family not only performed, but also was part of the process of transporting the equipment for the act and setting ti up/taking it down.

Kay Outten

Lorrie described how over time, the promoters asked for more daring feats, so Billy did a double fire dive, lighting his pants on fire at 110 feet and diving through a lit hoop below.

Fire Dives

Magazine article on the fire dive
Fire Dive

Lorrie was put into the act at age 10 when her Mom, 6 months pregnant, could not perform any more. She describes herself as a “skinny little thing” asked by her Dad to do “pretty dives”- as she said, there was something enthralling to an audience to see a child dive, even from the lower heights she performed from.

Lorrie’s First Dives

And here is a great bit of history– video footage of Billy Outten’s dives (from Movietone news clips) were used in the movie The Right Stuff when the astronauts to be studied the bravery of dare devils.

How Lorrie shares it, the family never knew (Billy Outten was still alive at the time)– until they were at the theaters and Lorrie’s daughter shouted out, “That’s my Pop-Pop!”

Part of The Right Stuff

And lastly, Lorrie gave me a lesson in speaking “Carny Talk” a language invented by carnival people– she described how her parents used it in fron of their kids when they wanted tot talk about a secret topic. The did not know that Lorrie and her sister had quickly figure out how to understand what they were saying!

Carny Talk

I cannot thank Lorrie enough for recording her stories, and just listening to them highlights my interest in doing what I can to preserve stories (I made 10 audio CD copies for her to share with the family).

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And I need to come back for more, as David is also overflowing with stories (and a gifted natural storyteller), like his efforts to break into professional baseball.

Stories ARE what its all about, IMHO.

The post "Storytime With Cousin Lorrie" was originally zapped with 10,000 volts and declared "It's ALIVE" by Dr. Frankenstein at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2011/07/storytime-with-cousin-lorrie/) on July 6, 2011.

6 Comments

  • Stories are what it is all about. This post reminded me that I want to record stories from my mom, my aunt and other relatives before they are lost in time. Loved listening to the carny talk. I did not know there was practically a second language!

  • Ed Marciniak N/A

    A couple years ago I emailed you about my father being the photographer for West View Park, when Billy Outten and family performed there. All his photographs were assumed lost, when he passed. However, my nephew found a bunch of photographs that my sister (now deceased) placed in storage, and he scanned them and posted them on a web page. (Private).

    I downloaded about 8 photographs that were taken at West View Park (outside of Pittsburgh, Pa), that had to be from the late 40’s or early 50’s. If you want copies of these, let me know and I’ll be glad to send them to you.

    Regards, Ed Marciniak

  • Billy Henson

    When I was very young, I saw the Billy Outten “fire dive” at the Lions Club fair here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. To this day, it stands out in my memory as one of the most exciting acts I ever witnessed. I have been involved in country music for many years have seen many great acts at fairs I have worked, but his topped them all. Just wanted you to know that I am still an admirer. Please reply if possible.

  • Grace Robb Large

    I’m reading this and crying. I stumbled across your blog in the process of looking up information on my Uncle Bill and Aunt Kay. We would get to see their family, when they performed at Clementon Lake Park. Uncle Bill, Aunt Kay, Lorrie, Barbara Lee and Carolyn would sometimes be able to come to our tiny little row house in Philly. My memories of them were the kindest, funniest and most loving family that you would ever want to meet. I’ll be honest and say that I was so jealous of my cousin Carolyn’s swimming abilities that I almost drowned trying to prove that I could swim as well as her. At one time I had Lorrie and David’s address in Laramie, but have lost it since we moved. If there is any way to pass along our email, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      Hi Grace,

      Your memories of the family are just how I always describe David and Lorrie and their family. I will definitely send you their email (they have moved a few times in Laramie) and I hope to visit them in a few weeks.

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