Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Off to the Warren County Fair

Dear George,
I think county fairs get in your blood.  Especially if you grow up in a small town in a rural area, traveling carnivals and county fairs are major local entertainment events of the year.  We had the Menominee County Fair in Stephenson, the Marinette County Fair in Wausaukee, and, greatest of all, the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba.  These were and are filled with the wonders of childhood -- bright lights, hot dogs and cotton candy, rabbits and chubby pigs, the Whirling Dervish and the Bumper Cars, the Tunnel of Love, and in the old days a politically incorrect “freak show”.   There’s usually a demolition derby on Saturday night, tractor pulls, the crowning of the Queen of the Fair, sometimes harness racing.  One of our most memorable experiences was seeing Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash and family perform at the Wausaukee Fair twenty-five or so years ago. 

The county fair is a time for farm folk and others to display their animals and poultry, vegetables and flowers, baked goods, and arts and crafts, as well as to socialize and enjoy the excitement of the midway.  We city-dwellers get a chance to reconnect with a world from which we’re one step removed.  In Cincinnati, when our son J was growing up, we went every August to the Hamilton County Fair at the Carthage Fairgrounds.  Despite a more urban flavor, it had plenty of goats, rabbits, and sheep to keep us enticed.  The Carthage highlight was Zambora the Gorilla Woman, an illusion in which a scantily clad young woman enters a booth on the stage, then is transformed in the midst of mirrors and flashing lights into a mammoth gorilla who roars and breaks out of the booth, leading younger members of the audience to run screaming from the exits.

We learned years ago that the biggest and most splendid fair in our area is the Warren County Fair in Lebanon, Ohio.  The fair, originally planned by future President William Henry Harrison, was first held in 1850 and had an initial budget of $354.50.  The 4-H program began in nearby Springfield in 1902 and soon became an integral part of the Warren County Fair.  I suggested to Katja that we go to it last week, but with her knee still recovering from surgery and a forecast of 97 degrees and the likelihood of serious thunderstorms, she declined.  I was able to recruit my friend Jennifer and her son Calvin though, and we set out early on Thursday morning.  Jennifer had grown up with county fairs in Minnesota, but Calvin had only been to one before.  With seniors and kids free, our total admission price was $8.  At first the Fairgrounds looked deserted, but then we discovered a large crowd at the 4-H sheep-judging competition. It soon became clear that sheep aren’t the most cooperative of show animals, but we watched admiringly as the girls and boys used wrestling holds to move their wards into proper positions.  Here’s how they looked. 

The Warren County Fairgrounds have about eight or nine buildings devoted to animals and poultry, and we took in most of them.  There was an impressive array of pigs, sheep, goats, and even alpaca.

Katja and I raised rabbits for years in the 1980’s, and we still enjoy seeing them the most.  There were lots of bunnies that I wished I could take home, as well as cages with hens, roosters, and geese. 

We stumbled upon a large horse-judging competition.  I think of our neighboring state of Kentucky as the main horse region around here, but Warren County has an impressive number of show horses.  They were the most magnificent animals that we saw. 

By noon we were getting hungry.  There were 50 or 60 different food vending operations that had been towed into the fairgrounds, all of them colorful, kitschy, and flamboyant.  Everything was over-priced, unhealthy, and completely appealing.  Jennifer and Calvin had crepes, and I settled on an Italian Sausage sandwich with the works for $6.  It was my best meal in recent memory.  

In the main Fairgrounds building we wandered about, checking booths by the Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians; Right to Life, Planned Parenthood, and the NRA; Warren County Parks; churches; Girl and Boy Scouts; 4-H; and many other organizations.  I bought a “Cyclists for Obama” button for a dollar, even though I haven’t cycled for quite a while.  My companions graciously posed for a picture at the Liberty Tax booth.

A chainsaw wood sculptor was pursuing his noisy but skillful task outside the grandstand. 

The arts and crafts exhibits weren’t an extensive as I’d remembered them, but they were enjoyable nonetheless.  It’s fun and inspiring to check out all of that amateur effort, which ranges from rough at the edges to professional in quality.

There were plenty of vegetables and flowers to go around.  Warren County’s biggest cabbage was huge – the photo doesn’t even do it justice.

The games and rides weren’t scheduled to open till after our scheduled departure time, so we looked them over but didn’t get to partake (which was fine with me).  

It started to rain about 1 p.m.  Calvin decided he should take a walk in the drizzle.  Then we got in the car and headed home on I-71.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fair, everything about it, and hope we get to take in another one this season.  It’s very homey and familiar, offers many different sights and experiences, and is a leisurely way to spend a day.  I hope everybody gets to go to the fair this season.

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