The Fair, Revisited


A ”Rite of Fall” for Swainsboro takes place this week. If you lived your childhood growing up in Emanuel County, chances are you learned that the month of October was a very special time. You knew that one day soon a convoy of big trucks carrying all sorts of exciting, mysterious looking equipment would pull into town bringing rides, tent shows, thrills, chills, and exhibits along with local livestock competition and all other manner of merriment. It was time for the Fair, and ever since 1917, this annual event has managed to maintain its appeal even though it has had different names at different locations with different sponsors during the years. Way back when, the schools canceled classes for a day so everyone could go to the fair. There was a parade on Monday with floats and beauty queens that would go through downtown out to the old fairgrounds where Hardee’s is located now. The old 4H Clubhouse sat on a hill on that corner before it was moved on back up the hill a little more. The first Walmart store was many years off, and that whole shopping center was nothing but a field where the Forestry Unit had a lookout tower. The fair's Exhibit Hall sat right behind the 4H building back then and made for an imposing and very “official looking gateway” to the sawdust covered fairgrounds. Inside the big exhibit barn were wonders to behold. Table after table was covered with cakes, pies, preserves, canned and bottled delicacies, prize-winning potatoes, pumpkins, and squash, and they were all adorned with red, blue, and gold ribbons. Back then nobody ever heard of the SPCA and you could see just about every animal in the forest stuffed and looking proud to be on display in the hall. Forestry folks not only had Smokey the Bear there, but a live black bear on a leash as well, who seemed to be carefully eyeing some chickens penned up in the next stall. Some years, the brand-new Ford, Chevy and Plymouth models were on display. Out on the Midway, you could see a lot of sights and learn a lot of things that sure weren’t being taught in grammar school back then. A giant snake from India, a pygmy from the Amazon, and the tallest man in the world were all waiting for you behind the flap that opened into the side shows. It was a great chance for the kids who lived on farms to show their livestock, and it was good for the city kids who had never milked a cow or fed hogs to see it up close. But the best show of all was just watching the people walking around and taking it all in. In those days, for many folks the Fair was the highlight entertainment event of the year. It was a chance for the whole county to gather and take pride in who we were and what we did. Agriculture was the major part of the economy. Family farms were everywhere you looked and producing something on your own was a way of life. Today, it’s a different way of life no doubt, but a connection to that past is still around, and thanks to the Swainsboro Jaycees and the Southeast Georgia Jaycee Fair, you can still enjoy a little reminder, or better still, create some new memories, even if its just watching the crowd "taking it all in." This year’s Fair began Tuesday night and will run through Saturday night, October 22nd.