Fair 100 years ago…


DARKE COUNTY — It’s been said that change is inevitable.

One hundred years ago, the world was undergoing rapid changes.

In 1915, World War I was in full swing. In Europe, French and British troops were slugging it out with German forces in the muddy, disease-filled trenches of Northern France — a form of warfare, in its scope, unlike anything seen before.

The May 7 sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat, and the subsequent deaths of 128 Americans, threatened the United States’ traditional avoidance of overseas conflicts. Two years later, American doughboys would go “Over There.”

Domestically, America was also changing. The horse and carriage’s days were numbered. Henry Ford’s assembly lines cranked out more than 300,000 Model T’s in 1915. For $390 — about $9,000 in today’s money — one could travel farther and faster than ever before.

In 1915 America, baseball had become a huge sport. In that year, then-Boston Red Sox player Babe Ruth hit his first home run. The Red Sox would beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1915 World Series four games to one.

Temperance and woman suffrage had become the topic of discussion at dinner tables and churches in 1915. By 1920, alcohol was “verboten” and women could vote.

Americans young, old, and all ages in between began spending less time at home and more time “at the movies” watching silent-screen epics such as D.W. Griffin’s “Birth of a Nation” and comedy shorts starring Charlie Chaplin.

Though somewhat secluded in the heart of the Midwest, Darke Countians would experience all these changes, and more, over time. At the 60th Annual Great Darke County Fair, however, it was more or less business as usual.

A hundred years hence, many things about the fair have changed, but surprisingly, some things have remained similar, or even the same.

Here is a run down of some differences and similarities.

The length of the fair? Significantly different. The 1915 fair was a five-day event, running from August 23 to 25, half the length of today’s 10-day-long festival.

The cost of admission? Surprisingly similar. The 1915 ticket prices may seem ridiculously low to 2015 eyes, but keep in mind that a dollar stretched much farther in those days than it does now. The price for family tickets in 1915 was $1 ($23.63 in 2015); single day tickets were 25 cents ($5.91) — prices close to a 2015 single day ticket for $6 and a nine-day single person pass for $20. That $1 for a family ticket in 1915, though, was a bargain.

Premium book? Big difference. The 1915 fair’s 112-page premium book is significantly smaller and thinner and packed with much less information than today’s full-color premium book of 298 pages. Advertising and mention of amusements in the 1915 book are almost non-existent. The book can best be described as “utilitarian.” Unlike today’s catalog, yesteryear’s book could be carried in a pocket or purse comfortably.

As for attractions, there are a lot more of them now. The 1915 event would have seen its fair share of animal acts, jugglers, acrobats, clowns, racing, music, games and rides, but not nearly as many, nor as elaborate, as in 2015.

Judging categories? Some the same, some different. In the Arts Department, in addition to painting and sculpture, Darke County students could submit papers on algebra, geometry, and Latin; essays on the Constitution; displays of penmanship and map drawing; and drawings of physiology and geography, among many other academic skills.

Photography, an expensive endeavor in 1915, was not a judged category in the arts like today.

As for live animals, today’s agriculturalists still exhibit their horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and swine much as they did in 1915. Poultry could be added to that list as well, though all birds have been banned at the 2015 fair due to Avian Flu concerns. Maybe next year.

In the kitchen arts, the canned and preserved goods category remains remarkably similar. Should it be any surprise that canned peaches and strawberry preserves were just as popular then as they are now?

Food? Did someone say “food?” It’s all good, then and now. Americans love their fair food. A fairgoer in 1915 enjoyed many of the same delicacies available at today’s fair: hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, ice cream, cotton candy, and all manner of deep-fat fried goodness — all were commonly consumed in 1915.

The rules? Much different. The most striking distinction between rules in 1915 versus 2015 is in the sheer number of rules. Whether governing the treatment or raising of animals, the judging of exhibits, or rules related to camping accommodations, there is a lot more regulation.

The Fair Board? Different, and yet similar. Today’s fair board has 12 members, while in 1915 the Darke County Agricultural Society had 10 members: M.L. Weisenbarger (president), L.N. Reed (vice president), Ed. Ammon (treasurer), J.E. Folkerth (secretary), J.H. Dunham, George H. Worch, T.S. Mitchell, B.G. Eidson, T.C. Maher, and Theo. Finnarn.

So what’s similar? In all likelihood, the 1915 governors were probably just as busy as 2015’s board members, quickly moving from event to event.

Parking? In 1915 there were automobiles parked on the grounds, but horse-driven vehicles were still the norm. Within 10 years, however, the “horseless carriage” had become the conveyance of choice across America.

In our age, as things continue to change rapidly, perhaps even at a faster pace than in 1915, it’s good to know some things are similar, or still the same, and what does change can sometimes be for the better. People enjoyed their time at the fair in 1915 and will surely feel much of the same sense of enjoyment in 2015.

Erik Martin may be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 937-569-4314.

One could easily fit the 1915 Darke County Fair premium book in his or her pocket or purse. Not so with today’s fair book.
https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_DC-Fair-1915-RGB.jpgOne could easily fit the 1915 Darke County Fair premium book in his or her pocket or purse. Not so with today’s fair book. Garst Museum/Darke County Historical Society

On a picture postcard, two stylish young men sit in a “horseless carriage” at the 1915 Darke County Fair.
https://www.dailyadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/web1_IMG_2597-RGB.jpgOn a picture postcard, two stylish young men sit in a “horseless carriage” at the 1915 Darke County Fair. Garst Museum/Darke County Historical Society
1915 vs. 2015 fairs

By Erik Martin

[email protected]

Erik Martin may be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 937-569-4314.

No posts to display