By Timothy Herrick
Photo courtesy of Bruce Nelson & Daily Herald
Lawrence Maturo, the former owner of Greater American Carnival Company and a member of a multi-generation carnival family known widely in Kentucky and Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area, passed away on June 2nd, following a brief illness. He was 87 years old.
Greater American Carnival Company was widely known for smaller fairs and events, including county fairs and church fund raisers. But in spite of the size of the shows the company played, Lawrence Maturo insisted that the midways be as professional, clean and family-friendly as any state fair.
Considered a visionary in terms of midway presentation - cleanliness, customer amenities and a neat and presentable crew - while now nearly common place throughout the industry, when Lawrence Maturo introduced these aspects in the 1950s, they were considered breakthroughs. "He had washrooms for the public, had the staff wear uniforms, made sure that the midway was broom-swept and trash bagged every night," said Greg Maturo, son of Lawrence and owner of Great American Shows, an offshoot of his father's company. "Every week, all the equipment was cleaned, and every burned-out light bulb was replaced. He raised the acceptable standard for the midway, and we do the same thing today but back then, nobody was thinking like that in the industry."
The family's entry point into the business - more than 100 years ago - is through Maturo's grandfather - Erasmus Mosco, who married Angelina Maturo, and owned a merry go round and other rides that he operated at Navy Pier in Chicago in 1912, the first amusement rides on the famous Chicago destination. Lorenzo Edward Maturo (Gaetano Maturo, Angelina's first husband, passed away before she married Erasmus Mosco, and Lorenzo was a product on her first marriage) better known as Lawrence - went on to found Angelus Amusements -named for his mother - Angelina - and he was the one who made the family's amusement business mobile, bringing the show on the road.
Lawrence Maturo grew up working for Angelus Amusements, before starting his own company as a third generation carnival company owner, Greater American Circus in the 1950s. The selling point for this venture was a carnival company that featured circus animal acts. The circus attractions were free to the public, acting as the customer draw - come see the animals, then go on the rides.
Eventually, the animals were phased out and the show was renamed Greater American Carnival Company. In the 1992, Lawrence Maturo retired from the amusement business as owner of Greater American Carnival Company, selling much of his equipment and some of his route to Miller Amusements of Chicago. Greg, along with his brother, Rick, founded Great American Shows, carrying on the family tradition, albeit on slightly smaller scale. Greg's son, Shawn has also started in the business, as a riding bull operator, marking the family's fifth generation in the show business. Lawrence Maturo was married to Lilly Mitchell for 61 years, who passed away in 2009. She worked with her husband with Greater American Carnival Company.
Great American Shows currently operates an active route in the greater states of Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, playing some of the dates Greater American Carnival Company played. After his retirement, Lawrence, when he wasn't fishing or spending time with friends and family, could be found in the machine shop helping out with repairs and recondition of midway equipment. He also acted as a consulted to Great American Shows, and provided a "lot of moral support," said Greg Maturo. "As the son of a carnival owner, you realize you are one of only about 200 people who run a carnival company. We weren't the biggest or the richest, but you were able to put smiles on people's faces and my father said this is the business we are in."
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