Animal Attractions

I was always a tad jealous of the fair kids.

Summer was over for everyone else: No more baseball, swimming or daylong bike rides. But kids who showed animals at the fair got a reprieve for a few extra, glorious days surrounded by french fries, demolition derbies, spinning rides and fireworks. At least that's what I imagined while stuck at my school desk.

My actual fair experience was shorter than a shorn sheep's coat: One trip to the Canfield Fair on a day made exclusively for sweating. I was probably 10 years old and remember eating a sausage sandwich, trying to escape the heat and being told to not raise my hand at the livestock auction.

So I might have misunderstood all that went into those end-of-summer days at the fairgrounds. In places such as Trumbull, Mahoning and Medina counties, the fair is a tradition that dates back more than 160 years.

In Geauga County in 1823, settlers of the Western Reserve set up rail pens on the Chardon square for the first Fair & Cattle Show. For one day in late October, those early Ohio residents came to share advances in farm implements, celebrate their hard work and offer the best of their harvests in competition. That day, Eleazer Hickox earned a $10 premium for his bull, Edward Paine received an $8 prize for his heifer and Catherine Kerr won $5 for a piece of bleached linen. The Great Geauga County Fair (the "great" was added to signify its standing as Ohio's oldest fair) has never missed a year since, not for the Civil War or World War II or any struggle before or after.

You can see that same kind of dedication in Barbara Ricca. She began playing trumpet in the Geauga County Fair Band when it was founded in 1938. At 90, she's the only original member of the group, which usually performs twice a day during the fair.

Don't mistake the annual festival as a relic of the past, either. Our current move toward local food and artisan producers means the fair might be more important now than any time in the past 50 years.

Consider 18-year-old Clayton Boyert, whose day begins around 6 a.m. and ends near 10 p.m. He raises six heifers and nine pigs on his family's Medina County farm. "I want to live off the farm and have a big cattle operation while still keeping it based around family," he says. "Why lose sight of that?"

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