The County Fair

August has cooled down for the fair,
For the cinnamon sugar donut air,
And dust and breeze and first gold leaf on the fairgrounds.
~ Kristie Woll

There’s just something about going to a county fair that reminds me of the good things in the world. Perhaps it is the innocence in the giggles and squeals of children flying free across the sky on the once-a-year rides. Maybe it is the smells swirling in the hot sticky air, tinged with the scents of food stands and animal barns.

But for me, going to a county fair is really about the history. The concept of the fair or festival is centuries old and began continents away. Here in the U.S., Knox County, Indiana, claims to be the oldest county fair in the nation, going strong at 202 years this year. From their origins in the early 1800s, agricultural fairs have always been a gathering place. Rural farm life was isolating, and farm families found both education and a chance to socialize. As state and county fairs developed, so did their content, eventually including displays of technology, educational programs, and competitive activities of domestic arts and agricultural prowess. Following the harsh realities of the Civil War, fairs after 1870 became more permanent fixtures, adding elements which are now tradition, including food and games along the midway.

Fair book, 1959 (Courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University Libraries)

Writing in 1881, Elaine Goodale‘s description of going to the county fair is that of a “yearly holiday” and a chance for “merry-making:”

Gathering together, as it does, the rural population for miles around, it takes on the added importance of a social occasion, and affords to the many a safe resort for harmless gossip and pleasant chat, to the few a free interchange of ideas and remaking of opinions. But this is only an aside from more substantial gains, the fostering of an honest pride, a generous rivalry, and the schooling of the modern progressive farmer to better methods and larger results. (pgs. 130-131

After recounting the activities of the three days of the fair, Goodale also describes one of the best reasons to go to the fair — to people watch:

But while an intelligent interest may go the rounds, from mammoth pumpkins to floral wonders, from farm wagons and implements to patchwork quilts, from snowy bread and biscuit to indifferent art, — the universal study of character is best worth while. There are types here of every degree of markedness ; the grubbing, hard-featured farmer and the amateurish young dairyman elbow each other in the crowd; the round-eyed, red-cheeked country lass and the loud-mannered, overdressed village girl are jostled together; here is a comely, prosperous matron, and there a gaunt spinster with the worn sharpness, the aggressive ignorance of lone New England women. (pg. 134)

Whether going to learn new things about agriculture, see the largest vegetables produced this year, or to lose yourself among the rides and food booths dotting the midway, going to a county fair is just plain fun.

Here’s the full poem by Kristie Woll, celebrating the spirit of the county fair:

Fair

August has cooled down for the fair,
For the cinnamon sugar donut air,
And dust and breeze and first gold leaf on the fairgrounds.

O holy prairie night.
Tonight the stars are outdone
By the dazzling lights on the edge of town.
The townspeople
Walk the dirt aisles,
Past farm kids selling pulled pork in a white shed,
Past kids sitting with cows and sheep in a white barn.

Spinning in carnival circles,
below us, the townspeople parade,
For their communion of corn dogs and caramel apples
To pay for their indulgences at the ticket booths.

O holy night.
The farmers will be in the fields
(The harvest is yet to come),
Big sweaters will be unpacked
From trunks in the basement,
And Esther will serve her prize-winning pie to the neighbors
When this is all through.

Oh holy prairie night.
The music of the carousel and buzz of the electric lights:
Your benediction for a fading summer.

Kristie Woll
Copyright © 2006 Kristie Woll
Prairie Poetry

What’s your favorite part of going to the fair?

Custer Park Car (photo courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University Libraries)

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2 Comments

Filed under History, Life

2 responses to “The County Fair

  1. FryGuy

    Fair Food. Specifically, Fair Fries. Malt vinegar spritz, to hold the salt, then the ketchup. Ahhhh. 😀

  2. K. Woll

    It is delightful to stumble across your blog … and to see my poem here. Glad it inspired you!

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