GREENVILLE — It lasts only 10 days each year, but for many people, both in Darke County and places further abroad, the “Great” Darke County Fair is a lifelong happening.
To celebrate, and commemorate, this annual gathering of food, fun and farm, the Garst Museum, 205 North Broadway Street, Greenville, is erecting a permanent exhibit dedicated to the fair.
Dustin Nealeigh, owner of Nealeigh Design Group, is installing the display, which the museum hopes to have ready for public viewing by March 25.
Putting together historical exhibits is not only Nealeigh’s profession, it is also a labor of love as he is an enthusiastic fair fan, evident when talking to him about what is being shown.
“The crowd, packed, infield, completely 10 people deep. Of course when there was event in those days, no one missed it, a big crowd, bigger than what they get today with any event,” he said, pointing out a photo of spectators viewing an ostrich race in the 1920s.
A video showing Don Fleenor’s “Hurricane Hell Drivers,” which performed car stunts at county fairs from the 1950s into the 1970s, will also be featured.
“They’d go up on a ramp, ride on two wheels, jumps, in old Plymouths,” said Nealeigh. “That was a big deal.”
Not all fair memories are happy, however. Another set of photos shows the hot air balloon in which Professor John Baldwin lost his life in 1905, as dynamite he was carrying to demonstrate aerial warfare tactics from the Spanish-American War unexpectedly ignited, killing the unfortunate showman.
Among advertising for the “largest county fair on earth,” the display features a facsimile of the oldest surviving fair poster, dated 1877, the 22nd annual event. The exhibit will also devote space to ribbons, medals, and coins.
When asked what message he’d like to see people take away after seeing the exhibit, Nealeigh said, “How deep the history of the fair is, how far back it does indeed go. I think a lot of people forget its origins.”
“As well, the reason the fair exists, its influence on community life,” he added. “It was the place to share technology, new information. And that’s what we want people to understand. People often only think of the fair as fun and entertaining, but really, to its root, it played an integral part of the rural life. It was very much a reflection of that daily life.”
“Why has ours lasted? Why has it grown to be the biggest and the best? That’s the big question,” Nealeigh said. “I’m not sure we have the answer to that, but that’s something for people to explore here and maybe come up with that conclusion on their own.”
“I really like the fair,” said Nancy Stump, head researcher at the Garst Museum, who, along with Garst Board Member Marilyn Robbins, was a driving force in gathering fair exhibit pieces to put in place. “Some of the things we have found are absolutely gorgeous, so I wanted it to be in a permanent display, so that people can come in and actually see it.”
Dr. Clay Johnson, Ph.D., Garst Museum President and CEO, expressed his thanks to everyone involved for their hard work and effort, such as Nealeigh, Robbins and Stump, as well as donors, including the Lydia E. Schaurer Memorial Trust Fund, Ansonia Lumber, the Darke County Historical Society Annual Fund, the City of Greenville, the Friends of Greenville Library, the Darke County Agricultural Society, and Doug Baker.
“We greatly appreciate all those who have donated to make this happen,” he said. “The Great Darke County Fair exhibit is something we’ve looked forward to putting on display for a long time and we hope the community enjoys seeing it.”
For more information on the Garst Museum’s offerings, call 937-548-5250, visit the museum’s Facebook page, or go online to www.garstmuseum.org
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com