Athens County Fair

Things have changed since the first county fairs in Athens County. Until this century, after the Great Depression, most folks lived in rural areas. Not until the last quarter of the last century did we witness an exodus to the city – people left to find “good jobs.” The pendulum swings again, the “good jobs” have evaporated. . . . demographics shift again. But  people still gather at county fairs or church celebrations to share a sense of community with others. . . in fact, fairs in medieval Europe had the same festive atmosphere that our county fairs have today. As luck would have it, recently, quite a few boxes of papers have landed in my lap . . .  from Amesville spanning eighty years. It is a treasure trove filled with notebooks distributed to farmers to keep records of planting time, fertilization and crop yields; guides for putting foods by; guides for young people in the Grange; beautiful cards distributed by a baking company with illustrations of birds that were “good for the land” – and photographs of boys with girls posing for school pictures, yearbooks among so many things precious and rare. . . IMG_5271 But perhaps, the strangest and most interesting of all is the story, “Travels of a Rolled Oat” published by the Quaker Oats Company in 1930. in this pamphlet, we see oats that are first planted, processed and finally eaten by a young child.  The story starts like Moby Dick . . . “being an account of an old man in Sweden” who keeps a shop. . . and tells Nils how it is that oats are grown. The oats are depicted as if they are living organisms that finally become a part of the young man. It is the rolled oats who tell the story and in the end, “the rolled oats become a part of Nils.” IMG_4432There are other pamphlets as well, such as Pigmies. In this tale, germs are represented as pigmies – the smallest of characters taken from myth by the author to tell the morality tale that Hercules could not fight against an army of these! Another pamphlet, The Jungle Pow-Wow published by Colgate Palmolive to teach the universal benefit of brushing teeth. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the hygienic movement addressed many concerns. Teaching children the virtues and benefits of cleanliness, good health and an adequate diet were among the topics that teachers, like Mrs. Linscott at Amesville-Bern Middle School addressed. Teachers used materials provided by private industry to teach. Funds were limited and resourceful teachers used these aids. . . The radio and television were just new mediums for major companies to influence our tastes. From my vantage point, the pamphlets are priceless – they often have amazing graphics. And the pamphlets tell a story of all the resources that one teacher pulled together to address the needs of her class. I am humbled by this rural school teacher . . . who has left me with new insight into how it is that we became a “great melting pot.”