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The Enigma: Sideshow Star Moves to Denver

Freakshow superstar The Enigma has relocated to Denver and hopes to open a sideshow attraction.

His longtime Show Devils touring partner, Serana Rose, lives in Denver.

Enigma began his jigsaw puzzle piece tattoo in the early 1990s.

In 1882, P.T. Barnum purchased 760 acres in Denver near Alameda Avenue and the Platte River as a place for the Barnum & Bailey Circus to winter.

The Enigma apparently got a little lost moving to Denver.

Freakshow superstar The Enigma has relocated to Denver, with plans to make the city much freakier. He and his cohorts are planning a sideshow-themed attraction to rival Coney Island.
The Enigma, a performance artist tattooed head-to-toe in blue puzzle pieces with nubs of horns jutting from his skull, is one of the world's most famous freaks.

Now he's calling Denver home and he and his partners are starting to put together a puzzle that could make the city a little more freaky and establish it as an American hub for sideshows of past, present and future.

After a stint in Los Angeles didn't take, The Enigma was in the market for a new home base. He travels relentlessly across the U.S. and world -- for instance, he'll be touring Austria for most of November.

"I was already thinking about Denver because of the location," he says. "It is one of the main transfer spots for airports," he explains. "Being in Denver would cut off a lot of my time transferring as I go from East Coast to West Coast, and everywhere else in the world."

The Enigma had a host of other reasons to move to Denver. His longtime Show Devils touring partner, Serana Rose, lives in Denver. But it goes beyond that.

Local artist Dan Crosier has created an Enigma comic book. Greeley's Distortions Unlimited makes Enigma masks. Denver filmmaker Ryan Policky of Bloodshed Deathbath Productions is yet another Colorado-based collaborator.

"So there's the film company, the comic book and the mask -- and there's all this industry happening in Denver and I'm going, 'Why am I not here in Denver. What am I doing here in L.A.?' This is kind of like of my little China, but with made-in-the-U.S.A. products and it's awesome," he jests.

Freakshow superstar The Enigma has relocated to Denver and hopes to open a sideshow attraction. Becoming The Enigma

The Enigma has been part of the Americana sideshow revival since, well, it first revived. "I left for tour in '92 on that Lollapalooza sideshow [as part of the original Jim Rose Circus] and just haven't looked back," he explains. That's about the time he started getting his puzzle pieces tattooed, too.

"Growing up, my friends were the X-Men and Marvel Comics in general -- I went to school exchanging dreams of boundless grandeur for realities of very little worth," he says, paraphrasing Frankenstein. "I stumbled upon the sideshow at 15 years old and started swallowing swords, pounding spikes in my skull, eating fire, et cetera, because it was real magic. Everyone sees one thing and you show them another -- the truth appears as magic. That's part of the why of what we do."

Another big part of his involvement with the sideshow is keeping up tradition. "Back in the day, before television, people read the newspapers and would go see the circus, the older people would see the elephants and the menagerie and the kids would see the clowns," explains The Enigma. "But kids would also want to see the strange, the bizarre and the unusual, and they would go to see the sideshow."

The Enigma has been spotted around town at grocery stores and other mundane spots, and he's read to children at Mutiny Information Cafe. "I'm kind of the angry troll under the bridge, but I'm still in love with the world," he explains.

A mile-high sideshowIn 1882, P.T. Barnum purchased 760 acres in Denver near Alameda Avenue and the Platte River as a place for the Barnum & Bailey Circus to winter.

The Enigma wants to bring that love of the world and the sideshow tradition to life in the form of a theme park. He sees Denver as an ideal location for such an attraction.

He's collaborating with Shea FreeLove and a host of local artists on the concept, and points to his partners' enthusiasm for the subculture. "It's just amazing how much they are gung-ho, there's tons of steam, lots of moxie," he says. "I guess I'm riding the wave. I'm not trying to be an opportunist but I happen to see the potential and am gravitated towards it."

Denver also has some curious ties to the circus. "There's a place here called Barnum in the confines of Denver," The Enigma says. "Barnum owned all that land."

Indeed, in 1882, P.T. Barnum purchased 760 acres in Denver near Alameda Avenue and the Platte River as a place for the Barnum & Bailey Circus to winter.

The Enigma and FreeLove are still piecing together plans for theme park and it's not as if Barnum is a pre-selected sight for the park's home. "It's an evolutionary cycle and it's going to take time," he cautions. But The Enigma is ambitious about it, likening it to Coney Island in New York and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle and predicting it will bring "a lot of jobs" to Denver.

"We'll probably employ a lot of different sideshow performers through the years -- circus performers as well, because we will have animal acts and a petting zoo," he says. "We'll have the museum of strange and unusual items. These are things that inspire kids to explore this giant world that we live in. This world is so huge and big and beautiful and when you travel, it opens your mind to other ideas, cultures and customs."

The Enigma is hosting the Monsters of Mock show at 3 Kings Tavern on Halloween (Fri. Oct. 31) and performing with Serana Rose at the same venue on Sat. Nov. 1.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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