The Fair Is Coming!
By Bill Shepard
“If I could be a boy again in October, and watch the leaves turn yellow, then brown give way to the wind and flutter to the ground”…if I could be a boy again!
The above lines are taken from my book, “Mill Village Boy”.
October is here; come along with me, we’ll visit a time in any one of the years of the early 1930’s. The long, hot summer was over, school had reopened its long summer vacation, and we were a few weeks deep into the new school year. The children at St. John’s Elementary, (called grammar school in those times) were excited and eagerly awaiting to hear Mr. Daniels make an announcement that school would be letting out early on that day. J. C. Daniels was Darlington County’s school superintendent, and served as the principal at the grammar school. His “teaching” principal was Margaret Dargan. Anyone remember?
Mr. Daniels always allowed school to let out early the day before something special was here! This was the first day of Darlington County Fair and school children would be admitted free! The “fairground” was located a few miles outside of Darlington between Darlington and Florence.
The announcement was made, we would be dismissed at 1:15 o’clock; that meant I would need to hasten home and get the money I had saved just for this occasion, then find a ride to the fairground. The latter would not be easy as there were few cars on the village where I lived. I would need to get to the fairground by 6 p.m. in order to get in free! I never failed to do that!
I ran home and went straight to my little trunk where I kept my personal belongings. I moved a few things around until I found my money bank. It was an empty snuff can! I had managed to save a few cents each week of the money earned working in the fields. I picked cotton, pulled fodder, and worked in tobacco every summer. I didn’t earn a lot of money but a little went a long ways during the lean years of the 30’s! After purchasing my new wardrobe of school clothing for the coming year, my used schoolbooks, and sometimes a new pocket watch that cost a dollar, I would have a few nickels for my money bank. I always looked ahead to this time when the County Fair came to town. I did not need to count my money; I had done that several times already. Seldom would the amount be more than a dollar! With free entrance, a dollar went a long ways.
My favorite ride was the ferris wheel, and a ticket for the ride cost a nickel! If I chose to buy tickets at one of the booths I could get six for a quarter! Occasionally, I might ride the swings or bumper cars. My favorite food was hot dogs and they were a nickel each! I didn’t play the games but I liked to stand by and watch the older boys try to win a prize. Three balls for a dime and knock over three cats and get a pretty doll. It was hard to win one of those prizes.
I liked to attend the rodeo and see the pretty girls riding beautiful horses. The horses did not look like those I drove in the tobacco fields and cornfields. I thought it an amazing thing to see the girls stand on their horse’s back and ride.
I attended a sideshow once and experienced something I have never understood, not even to this day. I didn’t usually go in the sideshows but I was given free entrance to this one. The owner was standing on a platform in front of his tent making a noise to draw a crowd. I happened by and stopped. H asked if I wanted to help and I agreed. He handed my some razor blades and light bulbs then began his speech. Inside the tent he had a cannibal from Africa, and he ate razorblades, light bulbs, rattle snakes, etc. After his speech he sold tickets for entrance and I was allowed in free. Inside the tent there was a large walled-in space made of tin. Inside the cage-like structure there was a large black man that was scantily clothed. All about him were large snakes crawling all around. You get the picture? The owner would say words that no one understood and the man inside the cage-like enclosure would come to where he was and be fed the light bulbs and razor blades. Honest! He would then open his mouth and folk could see inside that there were no cuts or bleeding!
I knew that what I saw was not possible, but I don’t have any answers!
No, I haven’t lost my mind nor started telling lies, but this tale does sound questionable! What do you think?
A long time resident of Darlington, Thelma McKay, writes that she enjoys reading my column each week. She remembers working at the old mill alongside my brother and his wife. Thanks for being in touch. I have a few books, “‘Mill Village Boy” left. When these are gone, there will be no more. If you are interested, send $15 and receive your copy post-paid.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week. His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673.