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What Are Legitimate Features of the Fair?

Sideshows have become institutions at most fairs--so much so that it just wouldn't seem like
the fair without "the amazing two-headed calf." A hundred years ago, when Nebraska county
fairs were brand new, sideshows weren't a given. In fact, the question, "What are legitimate
features of the fair?" received serious consideration, as this special Knox County Fair issue of
the Creighton Pioneer (1885) attests.

"What may with propriety be properly admitted to the fair grounds, and on the other hand,
what should be excluded? We do not introduce this topic with the idea by so doing we can in
any sense settle a vexed question, or even that any opinion expressed will have special weight
with the reader. This is a subject on which people are inclined to think very differently, and it
is difficult even in the small number of men belonging to a fair board to find unanimity on
this point. The legitimate features of a fair, as all will admit, include--First. The exhibition
of livestock, farm implements and machinery, farm products, household manufactures and
the prosecution of such ordinary business as may really belong to the interests of agriculture.
Second. Such institutions as may contribute to the physical comfort and pleasure of the
crowds in attendance, and Third. Such entertainments and innocent and harmless
amusements as may serve to vary the monotony of an exhibition and furnish the young with
sufficiency of spice to season what to them are the less attractive portions of the fair.

There is but little difficulty, generally, in arranging the two first points, from a moral
standpoint; but it is the latter that discrimination becomes a matter difficult of adjustment.
There are somethings, however, which should without question be shut out of the fair
grounds of agricultural exhibitions. One is gambling and intoxicating drinks. Many would
stop just here and say admit everything else. But as we view this question, side-shows of
every description, and the lesser catch-penny schemes of whatever kind should follow the
beer stand and gamblers beyond the gates. We anticipate your argument--'We cannot afford,'
many fair managers would say,'to throw away such a source of revenue.'

"While we must admit that there are fair associations having attained a high financial
standing that threw open their gates to everything, we believe it was done at the sacrifice of
the general financial and society interests of those neighborhoods. The line must be drawn
somewhere between the legitimate and illegitimate features of a fair, and where shall it be
drawn?"

 

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Last updated 14 September 2005

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