What Are Legitimate Features of the Fair?

The Flying Millers performed September 3, 1924, at the Nebraska State Fair. RG3356.PH:22-17.

Sideshows have become institutions at most fairs–it just wouldn’t seem like the fair without “the amazing two-headed calf.” More than 125 years ago, when Nebraska county fairs were new, sideshows sometimes caused contentious debate. In fact, the question “What are legitimate features of the fair?” received serious consideration, as a special Knox County Fair issue of the Creighton Pioneer indicated on September 25, 1885:

The Pioneer listed what it considered to be the legitimate features of a fair: “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.”

The Swenson “Ride of Death” was brought to the State Fair by Thrillcade about 1960. RG3356.PH:58-2.

The Pioneer believed that a fair’s “entertainments and innocent and harmless amusements” should never include gambling, liquor, “side-shows of every description, and the lesser catch-penny schemes of whatever kind.” Read more of its editorial comment in this Timeline column. Photographs of the Nebraska State Fair, which include exhibits, novelty racing, rides, and livestock shows, are also online in History Nebraska’s digital collections. — Patricia C. Gaster, (former) Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

(Updated: June 2023)

Ostrich racing at the State Fair about 1960. RG3356.PH:57-1.

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