1885 state fair ‘returning’ to Peabody Saturday

A group of Peabody residents appear to be the ingenious inventors of a time machine, taking them back to the Civil War era.

Every fall, the Peabody Historical Society plans a special event for the community. This year’s event is the re-creation of the State Fair of 1885 which was held in Peabody.

One year ago, Marilyn Jones, president of the society, met with her board and suggested re-creating the 1885 fair and calling it “Peabody’s Own Great Fair of 2001.”

In cooperation with the Peabody Main Street Association and the 8th Kansas Civil War Reenactment Group, the society has scheduled the fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, at Peabody City Park.

After closing ceremonies, a costume ball will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Peabody Elementary School.

Thoroughly researching local archives, the fair committee discovered historic events leading to Peabody hosting the fair in 1885. Specific fair events, exhibits and demonstrations were also uncovered in their research.

Muriel Wolfersperger, vice president of the historical society and fair secretary, explained the historic sequence of events.

“T.M. Potter, who was a prominent cattleman and a representative to the Kansas legislature, decided Peabody should (host the fair),” Wolfersperger said.

Although the fair was held in Topeka for many years, it was not scheduled to be held there in 1885.

“Now the county fair was held here in Peabody for several years. The grounds actually used to belong to Marion County Fair Association.

“And they held county fairs numerous years before 1885 and for three to four years following that.

“At that time, we had the race track where they raced the Morgan horses and the sulkys,” she said.

That track still exists in the park today.

Prior to the State Fair of 1885, the town was recovering from the “fire of 1881.” This devastating fire burned out almost two-thirds of the main block of Peabody.

Still in the midst of building new stone or brick structures, the community prepared for the onslaught of people.

From Sept. 1 to Sept. 4, people descended 116 years ago upon the small community of Peabody to attend the fair. The railroad offered special passenger and freight rates.

For the fair-goers who needed a place to stay, the town made arrangements for temporary accommodations. For some visitors, that meant sleeping on cots set up in one of the newly-built buildings.

The Peabody Gazette, Sept.3, 1885, listed the following information about the upcoming fair:

“The Methodist Church ladies will use Dr. Loose’s new building and can accommodate 50 overnight and provide for many more.

“Harry Hamilton & Co., of Emporia, have made arrangements to run a large dining hall during the State Fair on the grounds and will be prepared to feed 5,000 people daily.”

In August 1885, General Ulysses S. Grant died.

According to the St. Louis Globe Democrat, Sept. 10, 1885, in his honor, the people of Peabody built “the first of the Grant monuments-the Granger’s tribute” for the fair in September.

The Grant monument, an obelisk 40 feet high, was constructed of 40 bushels of yellow corn. On the four sides of the obelisk were the words “Union,” “Liberty,” “Peace” and “Plenty,” formed by ears of red “bloody butcher” corn.

“The obelisk stood on a square base decorated with cornstalks,” reported the Globe Democrat. “And on each side was a large portrait of General Grant, surrounded by a triumphal wreath of ears of popcorn with the husk on; with red peppers for the berries of the laurel crown.”

Each corner of the base was topped with pumpkins. And at every corner of the base, soldiers’ muskets with bayonets were stacked military-style.

Agricultural exhibits included corn, apples, pears, wheat, oats, timothy and clover seed, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, melons, tomatoes and corn.

Premiums listed in the 1885 fair were horses, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, farm products, fruit, provisions, domestic manufacture, children’s department, fine art, flowers and plants.

The Homan Chariot Races were held on the park’s circular race track. Two Roman-style chariots-a male driver for one and a female driver for the other-were pulled by large horses lined up four-across.

The chariots reportedly ran one-half mile in 59.5 seconds.

On display during the fair were reeled silk, buggies, short horns, crazy quilts, handmade rugs, minerals, shoes and farm implements.

Miss Mary Osborne won first place with her “hair wreath and a case of bugs,” reported the Peabody Gazette.

“But sadly we can’t all be winners. Mrs. J.M. Jolliffe, living near Florence, made a splendid display of canned fruits and jellies.

“She was unfortunate in bringing them by wagon, shaking them up too much. Otherwise she would doubtless have drawn the blue ribbon, having over 70 varieties exhibited and all put up in an excellent manner.”

The octagonal building, still standing today in the center of the park, was the Floral Exhibition Hall for the 1885 fair and was built by A.K. Stewart in 1881.

“For many years we thought it was a horse barn,” Wolfersperger said.

Cathy Ambler, a county fair and building researcher, said, “As counties became more affluent, they built special buildings on the fair grounds in unusual shapes as floral exhibition halls.”

For the past three months, three Peabody residents have worked in the historic octagonal building. They are duplicating a one-third scale model of the original Grant Monument, using old photos and records as their guide.

Carmen and James South and local carpenter Jim Palmer are recreating the obelisk out of plywood.

Covering the plywood with roofing paper and using a ban saw to slice yellow and red ears of corn lengthwise, they are nailing the halved ears of corn into the plywood with an air gun.

“The red corn was grown just for this event by Marti Nellans from Nebraska,” Carmen South said.

The group found a photo of Grant to duplicate and put on each side of the base.

A wreath of red peppers surrounds each photo and the entire base is covered with cornstalks.

South is quick to give credit for a good share of the work to Palmer, who said jokingly, “She volunteered me.”

Palmer said the monument is being constructed in three sections.

“The base is 42 inches tall, the shaft is 10 feet tall and the top is 2 feet tall,” he said.

When fully upright, it is 15 feet and 6 inches high. True to the original, there will be four pumpkins on each corner, and the bayonet rifles will be represented by tall stacks of corn stalks.

Due to the enormous weight of the finished structure, the group plans to use a forklift to move it onto the fair grounds Thursday, Oct. 11.

If moved before then, the concern is “wild critters” might want to make a meal of it before the fair opens, Carmen South said.

Gates will open for the 2001 fair 9 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 13.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 4 to 12, and children under 3 are free. Free parking is available outside the gates and handicapped parking is available inside.

Homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee will be offered for sale in the morning.

Tom Alstrom, Peabody’s school superintendent and the fair’s master of ceremonies, will introduce events from the stage area.

“He will be announcing the events and reminding people of what’s going on in the grounds,” Wolfersperger said.

The fair officially begins at 10 a.m. with a collection of patriotic songs by Stephanie Ax, city treasurer. She will sing three songs and end with the Star Spangled Banner.

Following Ax’s recital, is a flag- raising ceremony by local area Girl Scouts at the south end of the football field.

From that moment on, the day unfolds in a whirlwind of activities: entertainment, exhibits, demonstrations, reenactments, a drawing, food service, competitions, special events and a costume ball at the end of the day.

Fairgoers will have the opportunity to see Percherons, Clydesdales, Morgans, pleasure horses, cattle, sheep and swine set up in stock pens outside the race track.

Also on display will be farm machinery of the late 1800s; stage coaches; a sulky from Leroy Mosiman; carriages and buggies, courtesy of Wilson Ranch; a sleigh loaned from the Irvin McPheeters; knitting and hooking; and a “Dan Patch” look-alike from Rod and Winona Myers of Derby.

“Dan Patch was a Morgan that ran in our horse races here in 1885,” Wolfersperger said. “He was a renowned local horse who won lots of races.”

Exhibits will be judged by the following three judges:

n Kathleen Kelly, a free-lance home economist and veteran food editor of the Wichita Eagle.

n Joyce Suellentrop, an archivist at Kansas Newman University, Wichita, who has been a consultant for an updated version of “Peabody’s First 100 Years.”

n Rick Roberts, Marion County extension agent, will comment on the livestock. A recent member of the Peabody community, Roberts has previous experience judging livestock at Dodge City Junior College.

The domestics, flowers, foods and art, located in the octagonal building, will be judged in addition to grass, grains, fruits and vegetables, located on the fair grounds.

“Everyone entered will get a certificate,” Wolfersperger said. “But the ones in first place will be tied in blue ribbons and the ones in second place will be tied in red ribbons.

“Each division will be judged and then there will be a grand champion out of each division awarded a Sacagawea gold coin.”

The rare coins are being donated by Peabody State Bank.

Historian Ambler is scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. on floral exhibition buildings similar to the octagonal building.

In early afternoon, a drawing for “Civil War Commemorative Trees” is scheduled.

“Susan Marshall got information off the Internet that these trees were available,” Wolfersperger said. “They are offsprings of trees that were actually on the Civil War battle fields. We picked three of those (from a list) that we thought would grow well in Kansas.”

Demonstrations will be held throughout the day on the fair grounds, including the following:

n Machinery. Jones and her husband will demonstrate an old treadmill, designed for sheep to run on and generate power for machinery.

n Cider press and butter churn. At 10:30 a.m., local volunteers will work with a cider press and butter churn. The bonus might just be a taste of fresh cider or buttermilk for onlookers.

n Chariot race. “There’s a man from Florence who has built a chariot,” Wolfersperger said. “Now it’s only pulled by one horse. He’s going to circle the track. Marilyn Jones was so emphatic we had to have a chariot, so we have one.”

n Sickle sharpening and corn/ walnut shelling. “They’re the old sickle sharpeners that you sat on and pumped. And the whetstone would turn and sharpen your sickle,” Wolfersperger said.

“Corn shellers shuck ears of corn and walnut shellers shell walnuts; so those two pieces will be there on the grounds.”

n Artist. Ellen Langsford, an artist from Mississippi, will be at work on the fair grounds.

n Medical gymnastics. “That’s gals who give massages,” Wolfersperger said. “They actually were doing that kind of thing back in 1885 at fairs and it was called gymnastics.”

Local masseuses Shirley Davis and Cheri Ouellette are planning to re-create the time-worn art for customers throughout the day.

n Champion chemical fire engine. Richard Janne is scheduled to demonstrate his mint-condition chemical fire engine, dated 1885.

“We have a lot of information about our local firemen,” Wolfersperger said. “They used to keep in practice by running races to be ready to run the fire wagon to a fire.

“So some of our local firemen are gong to be (at the fair). They will pull this thing and use chemicals to put an actual fire out.”

n Taboo, the dog. A large dog, owned by Tom and Lisa Clark, will be hooked to a vintage cart, originally designed to haul produce.

n Antique veterinarian equipment. “Mike Jones is a veterinarian who has quite a large collection of antique veterinarian equipment that he will put on display,” Wolfersperger said.

n Kill the old red rooster. “We have a stump to put a rubber chicken on,” she said. “I bet you never thought about how many ways there were to kill a chicken-something very appropriate back in that time period.”

The entertainment roster is full. Jeff Prichard and his son Jake, 10, will play fiddles at noon while lunch is being served.

Lunch will be available at the concession stands.

“We’re going to be serving what they would have served back then,” Wolfersperger said.

Society board members, in charge of the food, will offer homemade chicken noodle soup, chili soup, pie, lemonade and coffee to be purchased around the noon hour.

Entertaining fairgoers with her guitar music, Janet Post will play tunes appropriate to the 1800s at 3 p.m.

As part of the show put on by the Civil War reenactors, tents will be set up on the fair grounds.

Led by Tom Schmidt of Wichita, the group will reenact the governor’s speech in 1885, encouraging the community of Peabody to form a local Grand Army of the Republic Veteran’s Group.

Vintage baseball, as it was played in the 1880s, will take place on the fair grounds. It will be a match between the local Coneburg Captains and the visiting Union Soldiers of the reenactors group. This special event will start at 2 p.m. in front of the grandstand.

Replica costumes of the period, made by Schmidt’s wife, will be worn by both teams. The game will last three innings and be played according to rules established in 1845 for the New York Knickerbockers, a gentlemen’s club in New York City.

According to the rules-the foundation for baseball as we know it today-there was no bunting, base stealing, leading off base and no uncivil language, Schmidt said.

Until the 1870s, it was a gentleman’s game for exercise. The game of baseball spread during the Civil War as the soldiers from the North and South played during their leisure time.

The reenactors will close the park events by performing a flag-lowering ceremony at 5 p.m.

Not long after the closing ceremony, a period-costume ball will be be underway at 6:30 p.m., in the Multi Purpose Room at Peabody Elementary School.

The reenactors will be dressed in costumes reminiscent of the movie “Gone With The Wind,” Wolfersperger said.

Sponsored by the historical society and reenacted by the group, the ball is $5 for couples and $3 for singles.

Musical entertainment will feature the Flatland String Band performing music of the 1860s through the 1880s.

“They’ll be dancing the waltz or maybe the Virginia reel,” Wolfersperger said. “In fact, at 6:30 they will take you through these steps if you don’t know how to do them.”

Fairgoers are invited to come in costume or casual clothes.

“The idea is to have fun,” she said.

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