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“Thoughts by a Country Woman” by Clara Mack

Fair Memories

By Clara Mack




Little World’s Fair at Hemlock.

As soon as the first frosts come, turning Marrowback and Bald Hill from green to red-gold, as soon as corn is shocked, showing yellow pumpkins like fallen moons between the rows, I’m reminded of the “Little World’s Fair” at Hemlock. The fair was in its heyday just ahead of the auto age, and farmers for miles around would be starting for Hemlock early in the morning, their plow-teams carefully groomed, the brass harness buckles shining with recent polish, surrey clean as a hound’s tooth, summer dustrobe shaken, and if possible a new whip in the whip-socket.

We children used to climb eagerly into the fringe-topped surrey, with Dad and the two older boys in the front seat, and Mother and we three smaller ones in the back. We wore our Sunday shoes and clothes, and my fifteen cents, the day’s allowance, was tied tightly in the corner of my handkerchief.

All of the fair consessions were five cents each and it was usually afternoon before I could decide whether to plunge my entire bankroll on the alluring merry-go-round, or divide it between the ten-cent Japanese paper parasol and the five-cent balloon. Once, fascinated by a demonstration of glass blowing, I spent every penny on a tiny, fragile ship model, then fell and broke it, and mourned tragically until a doting grandparent bought me two rides on the merry-go-round.

In those days Rochesterians liked the Little World’s Fair. The Lehigh Railroad used to run special excursion trains and part of the day’s excitement was watching the passengers get off the day coaches at 11 a.m., some men dapperly swinging canes. To my country eyes the women appeared to be wearing Paris creations.

The palmistry racket must have been more flourishing at country fairs than it is now, for as I recall it there were wildly dramatic fortune tellers at every turn, big gold earrings dangling, bright eyes ever roving to catch a likely customer. I had been warned of the awful things that might befall me if I ever ventured inside a gypsy tent.

Harness races were, and are, my lasting love. I would hang on the rail in the broiling sun, yelling and screaming for number 5, or 9, or whatever horse and driver caught my fancy. Once the local Methodist minister was seen casually standing near the racing fence, watching a group of horses warm up for the opening heat. All that after noon I heard different “Ladies Aiders” talking in shocked tones about the conduct of the reverend, but when I asked my mother why the preacher wasn’t supposed to look at the horses, she shushed me and told me not to ask so many questions. Nobody has ever explained. If the good man had dared to buy a grandstand ticket and had actuallly witnessed a harness race, doubtless he’d have been tarred and feathered.



Ferris Wheel at the Hemlock Fair.

Fair followers from the city ate at hamburger stands of the Grange Hall, but we country folks always took basket lunches. Mother packed enough food for a dozen and at noon we all gathered around the surrey where blankets were spread on the ground and a red checkered tablecloth used, picnic style. There was fried chicken, homemade bread and butter, sweet pickles, cold tea in a brown gallon jug, a two-quart can of milk for the children, both pumpkin and mince pies, “store” cheese in a two-pound chunk, fat stems of blue grapes and a brown paper bag filled with bananas. Often an acquaintance or a hungry-looking youngster ate with us, and I believe my parents were disapponted if they didn’t have a chance to share the basket lunch.

Sometimes during the noon hour, rows of horses, their noses against the high boards of the hitching fence, would get scared when stray papers from the lunch baskets blew in their direction. They might kick at each other, or break loose from the hitch, and then there was a pleasant flurry of excitement, an incident we children always secretly hoped would occur.

Along the enticing midway every souvenir stand was a temptation. The fat lady at the sideshow tent seemed shocking in sleeveless dress with silver spangles, and my brain couldn’t understand the phenomenon of the individual, who, according to the wily barker, was “half man, half woman,” and looked that way. When this swarthy-skinned woman, in green, wound snakes round her neck, chills did a marathon up my back. Fair day was always too short.

In later years I went to Hemlock Fair with various beaus. We had our pictures taken together, ate popcorn fritters and hot dogs, drank soda pop, rode the ferris wheel and looked at the harness races and the farm stock parade from the grandstand angle. All day the mechanical music box on the merry-go-round shouted “I’d Love to Live in Loveland with a Girl Like You” followed by “Anybody Her Seen Kelly”. It was wonderful.

My last Little World’s Fair escort B. M. (before marriage) took me there in a shiny, black, 4-cylinder Ford car, and in addition to other luxuries, bought me a silver pin with my name on it. That year all the teen age groups thought it was cute to wear mottoes. He had a narrow felt band pinned to his hat which read “Don’t Make Eyes at My Girl” and my souvenir hat band admonished “Save Your Smiles for Me”. My beau wanted me to promise I’d go to Hemlock with him the next year but I hesitated about making such a long-term pact. However, I might as well have consented because the following spring we took one of those famous Niagara Falls journeys, so it naturally came about that he was my fair partner for many years.

Editor’s Note: Clara Mack wrote a column for the Wayland Register between 1935 and 1950. She published her articles in a book called “Thoughts by a Country Woman” in 1950. In 1938 she won second prize in a national contest for the selection of the best country newspaper correspondent for the year.