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  • #WomanCrushWednesday - Laffing Sal

    We heard her laughing before we saw her. It was the scarier side of laughter, almost sinister so I guess it could have been more of a cackle. When I first laid eyes on her she was bigger than I expected, because all the machines in the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco were about half her size. Laffing Sal (also known as the “Fat Lady”) was a staple in carnivals across the United States in the 1930s and 40s. For a coin or two her 6’10” frame would jiggle and laugh, much to the amusement or terror of the patron.

    She was a sloppy old stereotype of a fat woman that people could laugh at and fear. Some of the animatronic Laffing Sals were extra shabby but the one we encountered was quite dolled up, with a freshly restored face that included the missing front tooth that they all had. We popped in our 50 cents and she laughed for an uncomfortable amount of time. The record under her platform finished, reset itself and all the people who had gathered around moved on to their next antique game. My immediate reaction was to feel offended.

    Laffing Sal stuck with me since I saw her in March and actually I’ve been quite charmed. I kept wondering why, out of all of the machines, this one was so iconic and why so many had been cared for and preserved over the years. I love her bold, loud, terrifying laugh – she doesn’t give a shit what people think. Or she wouldn’t, if she was a real person. I’m still not clear what the original intentions were for Laffing Sal but I like to think she’s a misunderstood babe doing her own thing and I want to celebrate that.

    You can hear a sampling of her laugh on the Musée Mécanique site. It startled my sleeping cat when I opened it, you’ve been warned.  

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