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The Adair County Fair - memories
'They say, though, that county fairs are becoming relics of the past. That television and movies and big sports events and things as un-Bible as discos and rock concerts are the big draws today. That the fairs aren't even a part of the 20th century, much less the 21st. But this isn't the 20th century. This is A-dare County! And as long as it is, there will be an A-dare County Fair. And People. Making memories from the column, "Around Adair" 7/04/1980
Re-posted by Linda Waggener, Father's Day, 2016.
By Ed Waggener
Founder and publisher of The Daily Statesman, Columbia, KY - LINDA
The fair for me is memories. There is a haunting voice I can still hear. It was, for years, the voice of the man who was the "Voice of the Fair." The man who possessed it might have been mistaken, on first seeing and hearing him, for a United States Senator, or a Governor of Kentucky, or a great minister. The voice he had rang out clearly, with perfect dignity, full of wit and color. To me, the voice of the late John Shelley was as distinctive as that of radio announcer Paul Clark, or Milton Cross, or President Kennedy or Winston Churchill. He was that good. Now, new memories of announcers are being made by Robert Bell and Garnett Baker - today's "Voices of the Fair."
There were brave people who went to the fair. Of them all, the bravest I remember is a guy I only knew by his nickname: Muletrain. He wasn't scared of anything: Not of the ferris wheel. Not of the Tilt-a-Whirl. Not of the Rocket Ship. And not of the Octopus. His special feat of derring do was to stand up in his seat on the Octopus, when it reached its highest point, and grab a leaf or a branch from the oak tree overhead. He always had an adoring audience of small boys.
There was great concern, too, a quarter of a century ago, about the man they called "Sabu." (I'm not sure of the spelling. It was pronounced "Sy Boo.) He entertained by eating the heads off live snakes and chickens. He was supposed to be a wild man. The barkers said so. But the kids didn't think so. Some thought Sabu was a college man. "He makes $100,000 a year." kids would tell kids, "that's why he does it." Others speculated he was a lawyer whose wife had left him. "He comes from Boston," they'd say. Asked how they knew, kids would tell kids, "I talked with him after the show. He's intelligent. He talks just like you and me. Only smarter. I think he's a genius." I never found out for sure. But I always remember, when fair time comes around.
I remember the carnivals, and the nickel pitching concession. And my oldest brother, Arthur Lee, who could win a dish every time he pitched. And he'd pitch until the concessionaire made him quit. My dad didn't think it was too smart. "Even when you win, you haven't won anything." It was that shimmery, bumpy, orange colored carnival glass. Only a decade or so ago did the stuff take on extraordinary value as collectors' items. My brother must have had a fortune in it. Since he died, I don't know what happened to that treasure.
My father always had one supreme accolade for the finest: "That would take a premium at the fair," he'd say when he saw a fine animal, or ate a scrumptious cake or pie. They put great stock in the fair, then. My granny, his mother, claimed to be the champeen at the fair. She'd say, "And when Sally Kelly saw me walk in with my white cake, her face just fell." Sally Kelly, I think really was the champeen at the fair.
And I remember the car giveaways Every year I'd buy just one ticket, because Momma and Daddy didn't believe in gambling. One ticket was a donation to the fair. More was gambling. There was always great concern when the fair car was won by a well-to-do person. "Alvin Lewis don't need a car," they said about Columbia's then wealthiest man, "it looks like somebody would have won it who needed it. Like me," they'd say.
There were the girlie shows which created great moral temptations in the finest Columbia households. Every year, some of Columbia's outstanding citizens would make their way in to see the show. And every year at least one wife would march right in and drag one out, by the ear. Today there isn't as much titillation in the call of the hootchie kootchie barker. Hollywood has all but usurped their place on the American scene.
And I remember working the midway with an ice cream truck. I remember getting sawdust from Lancaster's Mill with a "Guess-Your-Weight" man. "How do you think you'll do here?" I asked him, as we were loading the sawdust. "I don't know. I just don't know," he protested. He was obviously upset about Columbia. "Why?" I asked. "Bob's put me up at the front of the lot," he said. Bob was Bob Boling, owner then and now of the carnival which plays Columbia. "I've never been at the head of the lot. I've always been halfway down the midway. I just don't know," he said, and I learned something about superstitions of the show people."
The old fair was the Free Act There were high wire performers. Escape artists. Thrill masters of all kinds. The story liked best is about the time the Adair County fairman sent to check out the free act at the state convention of county fairs came back with a good report. "I've got just the free act for this year!" he exclaimed. "There's a fellow up there who's got a trained zeal. It can do anything, even balance a ball on its head and play a horn. Heck," he said, "I doubt if anybody in Adair County has ever seen a zeal."
And I remember the former editor of the Adair County News. Every year at fair time, he'd run the same lead story. It was about the fair coming to town. People commented on that. But they didn't grow tired of it.
The fair is memories. Of people you saw on the midways. Of money lost on the golddiggers. Of Sam Burdette and the sulky races. Of G.V. Yarberry's elation at owning the winning horse in the Adair County Derby. Of the Bardstown Old Star Band. Of Louella Lambert at the organ. Of Grover Gilpin as the ringmaster.
They say, though, that county fairs are becoming relics of the past. That television and movies and big sports events and things as un-Bible as discos and rock concerts are the big draws today. That the fairs aren't even a part of the 20th century, much less the 21st.
But this isn't the 20th century.
This is A-dare County!
And as long as it is, there will be an A-dare County Fair.
This story was posted on 2016-06-19 09:05:43
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