How Gibtown Came To Be
Just about twenty minutes south of Tampa on U.S. Highway 41 lies the small town of Gibsonton, Florida. On the surface it appears to be yet another non-descript, backwater town; a town frozen in time since the Interstate system replaced the original U.S. highways. But Gibsonton has a secret, a hidden identity to be discovered if one ventures down the side streets of town. Down these streets you may discover monkeys or elephants in a front yard or a variety of carnival rides. You may have even met Aunt Dotty “The Fat Lady.”
Gibsonton, also known as “Showtown, U.S.A., has been the winter home for a large population of circus and carnival sideshow performers for nearly 70 years. And it’s probably the only place in America where your local police chief was once a dwarf and your former fire chief was over 8 feet tall.
Gibtown became a popular winter fishing destination for many carnival and sideshow workers in the 1920s. Shortly after this time, Al and Jeanie Tomaini opened a fishing camp and restaurant called “Giant’s Fish Camp.” Al stood at over 8 feet tall while his wife Jeanie was approximately 2 and a half feet tall and toured the carnival sideshow circuit as the “half-woman.” But to Jeanie, the size difference was never an issue. Soon after the Tomaini’s settled in to town, many carnival folks seeking a sense of community and acceptance, followed. As carnival folk spent more than half of the year on the road and were strangers in every town they passed through, Gibsonton was the natural choice for many carnival folks. And the town embraced them, even enacting special zoning laws known as “Residential Business Zoning” which still allow for people to keep show animals and carnival rides and exhibits on their property. Roy Huston, an illusionist and Gibsonton resident says, “It’s the only settlement in America classed as RSB: a Residential Business Zone which gives the locals the right to train grizzly bears or store dodgem cars in their gardens.”