2012: Increased temperatures and an economic downturn have taken their toll on local fairs across America. The New York Times paid a visit to the Ozaukee County Fair in Wisconsin, only to find livestock and vegetable competitions with lackluster entries and decreased spectatorship in the face of heat and other hardships:
At county and state fairs across corn country this year, the most widespread drought since the 1950s is also evident. While the fairs are soldiering on, dousing themselves in Lemon Shake-Ups and Midwestern resolve, the hot, dry, endless summer has seeped in to even the cheeriest, oldest tradition.
“You see the stress of this all on individuals everywhere you go—even the fair,” said Vivian Hallett, who most years has entries (and winners) in nearly every imaginable plant category at the Coles County Fair in Illinois. Not this year.
Fair judges speak of discolored, shrunken vegetables and nearly empty categories (only one gladiola appeared at the Dane County Fair, a judge there said). But in some places, human attendance has shriveled, too—some combination, organizers say, of miserably hot weather and larger, overwhelming concerns back home on the farms.
1867: A hot summer meant visitors and exhibitors at the Illinois State Fair had to prepare for the heat’s impact on their animals and their persons. The Chicago Tribune, in its announcement of the fair’s opening, was especially concerned about personal hygiene:
The Fifteenth Annual Fair of the Illinois State Agricultural Society opened to-day on the grounds of the Adams County Agricultural Society. These grounds are about two miles east of Quincy, on a high bluff, overlooking the country for a long distance in every direction. If it was not for certain drawbacks incidental to the condition of the weather, these would be the finest in the West, but having a high, sandy soil, and not a drop of rain having moistened the earth hereabouts within six or eight weeks, the dust is three of four inches deep and almost light as air. It is almost unbearable, and completely overshadows all present and anticipated pleasures. An attempt was made in the City Council this morning to make provision—to have the grounds sprinkled, and the road leading to them, but it was voted down by a decided majority, and nothing seems left but to stand and take the dust as it comes, trusting to ablutionary exercises hereafter to rid yourself of the pollution.
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