Remembering the Fair

By Mary Baird (Special to the Source)

How many of us took a trip back through time to our childhood and teenage years when we passed through the gates and into the Morgan County Fairgrounds this week? The fairground area becomes its own little city for five days each summer, and every summer, after summer, after summer. Those of us who remember all the hard work it took to get our animals to the show ring, and our cookies baked and shape perfectly are thrilled to see that the tradition continues, as it should. Young people still crave those ribbons, and exhibit their animals with all the pride that earlier generations (including their own parents and grandparents) displayed.

The Feelings and memories created this week are permanent, and come back to mind so easily once we enter this magic little kingdom each summer. For those of us whose background is farming, we know how much depends upon each generation continuing these traditions and the business of “the family farm”.

Some of us remember when each road district was responsible for nominating a fair queen contestant. She rode in a convertible down the track in front of the grandstand. As she stepped out of the car and onto the judge’s platform for the Queen Contest, all her neighbors cheered. After the Queen Contest, each evening’s entertainment was the horse show, the type comparable to the horse shows held at the Illinois State Fair, and in fact, many of the same horses were also shown here.

My family would spend every day at the fair, from early morning until chores were done in the afternoon, as we took care of animals and tried to keep them as cool as possible. (At that time, ALL animals shown, had to remain at the fair during the entire fair period.) Even so, each year at least one animal would die due to the heat. I still remember sitting behind a family one evening at the horse show, whose young son cried most of the evening as the little pig he had raised into a fine hog, had died that day at the fair. I knew the pain he was going through, as I thought to myself how MUCH my animals meant to me! They are more than animals, they are God’s creatures, and they easily become the friends we talk to and share our feelings with. Losing them is very hard.

Each day, farm families would either eat the picnic lunch their mother’s had packed, or they would eat at the Homemaker’s Extension food area, under the Grandstand. This was a large tent under the east end of the Grandstands. Each homemaker’s extension unit took a turn working at the tent, providing the food, service, and the best pies ever. Late afternoons, after animals were taken care of, farm families surrounding Jacksonville would return to their own farms, feed the waiting animals at home, clean up, and come back each evening for the horse shows. Another memory that remains with me is the night the Show Horse Barn burned. It started after we had left that afternoons, and when we returned, the barn was nothing but ashes, and several valuable show horses had died in the fire….another sad event.

The last night of the fair was the Horse Show Stake night. This is also held at the State Fair. It’s kind of a “Best of Show” in the horse world. On this night, there was a special class for hackney ponies. They were hitched to a small buggy and would be driven by a young man (around 6-8 years old) in a Tuxedo. Their partner would be a little girl, wearing hoop-skirted dress whose skirt completely covered the buggy. Upon receiving their ribbons, each little boy would take off his top-hat, turn to his partner, and hide their faces for a minute. This may seem odd now, but it was quite fun to watch and enjoyed by each little couple that participated in the event. Granted, each pair of children were the sons and daughters of horse owners, and knew exactly how to drive a show pony in this event. It was an honor for them to participate in the event.

All in all, the sweat, tears, rewards, and persistence that is learned in raising your animals, baking your bread, sewing your 4-H project item pays off. When you learn to “make the best better”, it carries through your lifetime, and makes you a very good person to have has an employee and /or a friend. Someone that can be counted on, and knows that the best rewards are obtained only through hard work, trial and error.

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