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The Toothpick Carnival

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During the last 16 years as an inmate at Folsom State Prison, near Sacramento, California, William Jennings-Bryan Burke (Billy Burke) found a creative way to utilize his time that involved toothpicks, a small knife and glue.

The convicted burglar was able to use a basement near the warden’s office as his artistic studio. Relying on his memories and imagination, he constructed three expansive carnivals containing scaled iterations of Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, air plane rides, merry-go-rounds, and penny arcades—all made out of toothpicks.

One of Burke’s most impressive pieces is an eight-foot Ferris wheel that seats 32 miniature carved carnival attendees. Gleaming under lights, this delicate double-wheeled toothpick creation looks like it’s made out of glass or crystal.  It currently resides at Folsom Prison Museum. 

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