And just like that, summer collapsed into fall. – Oscar Wilde

It would be honest to say that Oscar Wilde’s words regarding fall are nearly my favorite way to describe how I feel about this particular change of the season. The others seem to be gradual, but it feels like summer, all at once, finds itself collapsing into giggles and dances as it realizes cooler weather arrived and with it, the natural colors of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. The rustling of dying, trembling leaves high up in the branches of trees herald a time of rebirth when at last, they let go and swirl willingly to the earth.

In Farmington, Maine, last week was the Franklin County Agricultural Fair. For fun, I entered several items to be judged and left on display in the agricultural building.

The agrarian exhibits are my favorite part of any fair, and if people don’t participate, there is nothing to see. That said, it’s been many years since I’ve been organized enough to participate. I’m happy to report that I won several blue ribbons and one yellow. Exciting news indeed! My cookies have won blue ribbons in other contests, but for me, a blue ribbon for my yeast bread was a first!

Photo credit: Lillian Lake

Even though I was only doing it for fun, I was elated to see those bright blue ribbons! My momma would be proud.

In the United States, agricultural fairs are big draws for people wanting to connect with old friends, make new friends, display what they raise on their farm, and see what neighbors create. In addition, there are often horse races, demonstrations of equipment and particular skills, and viewing of country creativity such as baking, needlework, and flower arranging. Did you know that in 1807 the first agriculture Fair was in Pittsfield, Massachusetts? It was the brainchild of Elkanah Watson and consisted only of Watson’s sheep and shearing demonstrations. Three years later, he organized the wildly successful “Berkshire Cattle Show.” However, the idea of fairs has a much older history.

Fairs date back to Biblical times. They were when producers would buy and sell wares when large numbers of people would come together to worship. Indeed, it’s thought that the name for this event originated in the Latin word for “feria” or holy day. The fairs happened in cities. People traveled many miles to attend and needed to bring supplies with them to last several days. Often they would get enough to trade for something they needed or wanted. Eventually, churches charged merchants to display their goods and used the money to expand their reach.

Such traditions as French markets (marché couvert) and fairs both have opportunities for trade and fun. However, French and other markets tend to be smaller and as frequent every day or week, whereas fairs are generally seasonal. People come from all over, many from great distances, to attend a fair. I think of markets as a trading center, neighbor to neighbor. Still, a fair is more significant and invites trade that involves everything from small exchanges to more significant automobiles, livestock, and crops. In addition, fairs have the added opportunity of entertainment in the form of carnival rides, magicians, jugglers, fortune readers, and games.

Besides exhibits, present-day fairs include small museums, lighted carnival rides, and numerous deliciously greasy and sugary treats, like cotton candy, fried Oreos, doughboys, and blooming onions!

Photo Credit Richard Cohen

Every fair also seems to have a Ferris Wheel. In the 1890s, George Washington Ferris invented the Ferris Wheel, which he built for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. At 1300 tons, it is still the largest to have ever been made and held over 1400 passengers!

Mr. Ferris died from typhoid fever at 37, but his invention spurred other “Ferris Wheel” renditions. Today they are highlighted on boardwalks and at festivals and fairs. The thrill of going round and round – where it will stop, nobody knows – is instilled in the most daring of carnival attendees when they seek to take a ride on one of these brightly lit modern-day wheels.