Named after a German term which can be rendered as "confusion", the Katzenjammer Castle was a common sideshow attraction found at exhibitions and amusement parks in many countries throughout the Edwardian period. After purchasing their ticket, visitors would enter the castle through a door on the left. Inside they would find themselves confronted by distorted mirrors, mazes, moving staircases and slides.
However, the Katzenjammer Castle at the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition had a more sinister twist to it. It was described as:
...a house of marvellous and terrible things. Visitors to it will meet with amazing adventures at every turn. Horrible grinning skeletons will direct them on through dark passages, the floors will rock, jets of smoke will shoot out from the walls; and uncanny occurrences will dog their footsteps from the time they enter the building until they leave it.
Visitors were advised to tour the interior in groups rather than brave it on their own. Rumours also circulated that pickpockets operated within its darkened interior.
Perhaps as a marketing stunt, a series of romantic messages between two lovers, "George" and "Alice", were exchanged in The Star and Lyttelton Times, where they arranged to meet each other inside the Katzenjammer Castle. Alice's "mother" even threatened to meet George there herself if he ever dared to take her daughter to the Katzenjammer Castle again.
Following the closure of the exhibition in April 1907, the Katzenjammer Castle, along with the other sideshow amusements of Wonderland, was dismantled and relocated to a new "Wonderland" in Miramar, Wellington (where it would remain until 1912).
Do you have any photographs of sideshows in Canterbury? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.
The Discovery Wall is a large interactive exhibition which allows several people to simultaneously explore images and stories of the history of the people and places of Christchurch. It is viewable on the ground floor of Tūranga, 60 Cathedral Square, Christchurch, New Zealand or on the Mobile Discovery Wall. Images displayed on the Wall can also be found on the Discovery Wall website.
- Our webpages about the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906
- Visit the Discovery Wall
- View more Picturing Canterbury posts