Wall of Death, Two-Headed Monsters and the Girlie Show – The Fair’s in Town! I loved the fair as a kid, all the smells, the feels, the sights and the sounds, from greasy grilled onions on a hot dog to baby pigs and cows, sawdust to mud puddles, bright neon lights to hawkers hawking wares: “Get Your Weight Guessed Right Here,” “Get Your Foot Long Dogs Right Here,” “Get Your Fortune Told Right Here!”
In the very early 1950’s I was thrilled at the possibility of riding the big wheel – not the Big Wheel my children peddled in later years – the really big wheel. The Ferris Wheel. Every year I”d beg to go on that ride but every year either my parents or the ticket taker would crush my hopes with “Maybe next year, you’re a little too short.”
Finally the year of my dreams came when I was eight or so and I got to go on that wonderful contraption. With some strange kid I’d never met in the seat beside me, we rode up, up and away. We thought the headlights on Highway 76 looked like strings of glowing pearls in the night as cars lined up to turn into the fairgrounds. The wheel paused occasionally to let people on or off and once we sat at the tip-top for a few moments. We gripped the hand-bar for dear life as the car jerked to a stop, but we could see everything for miles and miles and I wished the ride would last forever.
It didn’t, of course, so we made the circle of the fairway and my brother Harold and I rode everything we could. The Bullet looked too scary even for me but there was plenty of other stuff to do, rings to toss over Coke bottles and coins to skip across plates hoping to win a prize. We ate sticky cotton candy and corn dogs on a stick, then tried our hand at shooting the little assembly line of moving ducks. Lacking enough muscle power in our skinny little arms, we watched teenage athletes throwing power pitches to dunk guys in a vat of chilly water. That was a blast.
We passed by the multicolored Fortune Teller’s Tent, tripped through the House of Mirrors and Fun House and ended up with the Tunnel of Love. When spooky vampires jumped out of the walls or Frankenstein’s monster dropped suddenly from the ceiling, teenage girls squealed in fear and inched closer to their boyfriends. (After a few years I understood all that a bit better.)
Right outside the fairway was Hit the Bell with the big sledge hammer. No winners there. A few yards over, the weight-guesser was so good at it that I wondered if a scale was hidden under the dirt somewhere. For supper we headed to a civic club booth for hamburgers, fries and Pepsis, then meandered through the Exhibition Buildings to look at all the blue-ribbon winners. Pumpkins. Pumpkin pies. Quilts. Tractors. Chicks. Hogs.
Every year Mama played Bingo at least one night. Harold and I wandered around the Exhibition Buildings with Daddy while she tried for a table lamp or a portable radio. She always brought something home but I’m sure she paid full value for it. “B-9 is the number,” I can still hear that voice ringing out.
By the late 1950’s my teenage friends and I disdained the Ferris Wheel for the Tilt-A-Whirl and Round-Up, then made our way to The Wall of Death, the Two-Headed Monsters and the Girlie Show! The Wall of Death is still around, motorcycles zooming around a circular wooden wall or even inside a ball-shaped metal cage. (I watched that online one day, complete with sound effects. Still impressive!)
The two-headed monsters were disappointing, just cloudy pickle jars with unfortunate dead lizards floating in formaldehyde. What next? The boys talked us into it, and we made a beeline for the Girlie Show.
I was about 16 years old and my date 17, but the bored ticket-taker acted like he thought we were grownups and let us in. We huddled like criminals in the dimly-lit tent but when the show started there wasn’t much to see. A plump lady wearing lots of greasepaint, pink feathers, silver sequins and high-heel slippers did a modified burlesque number, flung her feather boa into the “crowd” (all five of us), then ducked behind a curtain and tossed out what was supposedly the rest of her costume.
That ended the Girlie Show, all five or six minutes of it. Of course, if we had actually been adults the performance may have gone a little differently.
When my children were small they loved the fair as much as I did. One year my daughter won a nearly life-size purple gorilla, bigger than she was. She happily lugged him home where he lived among her teddy bears for many years. One day he got left outdoors in damp weather and developed a bad case of dirt-and-mold smell. Too big for the washer, he resided in the outside storage room until it became obvious that his lumpy stuffing and purple fake fur were beyond redemption. We held a sad burial service for him in the back garden.
These days I don’t have the energy to tromp around the fairway and my stomach doesn’t dare try the rides. But I wouldn’t mind touring the blue-ribbon winners or enjoying a foot-long hot dog slathered with grilled onions. I don’t think they have Girlie Shows at the fair any more, do they?