Parish Fair Comes to Covington

 

A Fair Day All Around

By Jeff Salter

I’ve actually been to several fairs – on vastly different scales – including the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and a handful of Louisiana State Fairs, held each year in Shreveport. But the experiences which come to mind (when I think of a fair) go back to the late 50s through late 60s at the Parish Fair held each autumn in the St. Tammany Parish seat of Covington, LA. [I believe everybody knows this, but in Louisiana, the “counties” are called PARISHES.]

The Setting

First of all, even though I was a kid, I was well aware of how dirty everything was. The tents and other temporary structures were set up in a field, on grass and dirt… which often became mud if there’d been any rain. None of the rides had apparently been cleaned since the crew had dismantled them at the previous parish seat and reassembled them here. In fact, judging by the visible grime, I’d say those rides were not cleaned but once a year, after fair season was completely over.

I don’t recall a primary “midway”, so I’m thinking it was more like several “streets” of games and sideshows in one large area and the big rides in another large area. There were permanent buildings and pavilions for displays and for the various crafts, foods, and animals to be evaluated and awarded prize ribbons.

ferriswheel-2

The Employees

At that time I had never heard the term “carny” [or “carnie”] – which I believe nowadays describes the regular employees who travel with the fairs from town to town – but I noticed most of the rough-edged people taking my money (for whatever reason — games, food, sideshows, or rides) looked like they’d seen better days… and a long time ago.

The Rides

I mainly remember bumper cars which would not work well, tilt-a-whirls which made me dizzy, and antique ( ? wooden ? ) Ferris Wheels which seemed so rickety that each revolution could easily have been its last. For some reason I don’t recall go-karts… so I presume they became popular later or required too much upkeep to make them profitable. Sometimes there was a “fun-house” and there was always a separate collection of “kiddie rides” for little tykes.

The Sideshows

It is the sideshows where I really learned important lessons of youth: primarily those of false advertising and deliberate misrepresentation. The gigantic, colorful posters would depict a two-headed baby sitting in a crib crying and shaking his rattle… but when you paid your quarter and went inside the tent, all you saw was a (long) dead baby’s carcass in a big jar of formaldehyde. It was similar at every sideshow tent — you knew full well that the actual contents would be nothing whatsoever like the splashy advertisement, but somehow you were compelled anyhow to pay your money and take your peek at the oddities of the world like sword-swallowers, bearded ladies, contortionists, etc.

The Games

All the games were rigged and everybody knew it. The basketball hoops were smaller than regulation size, you could never get a dime to land on a shallow and slippery plate, the darts had blunted points that would never puncture a thick balloon, and the hoops would never go completely over the square wooden bases of the bottles we were supposed to ring. The BB rifles (when they still had them) were deliberately mis-sighted and the water pistols had no pressure. That said, and fully understood, I could not resist the games. My favorite of all was the booth with mechanical cranes. That, too, was rigged, of course. The crane never stopped when and where you wanted it to, its “claws” were rounded and had no grip whatsoever, and the “good” toys were stuffed down into the bin so tightly it would take pliers to remove them. Yet I could not resist the challenge of the cranes. And, yes, I did “win” some pitiful little prizes [that I could have purchased for a fraction of what I spent on the cranes].

The Food

To be truthful, I don’t recall much about the food, except that I was never a big fan of hot dogs anyway and the ones at the fair looked (and smelled) particularly unappetizing. My favorite was the cotton candy… and I was able to ignore the fact that the appliance (on which it was made) was filthy, as were the hands of the carny who prepared and served it. But it tasted SOOOO GOOOD.

Summary

As I’ve sat here and typed up all these recollections, I’m sensing anyone reading this would think, “Everything sounds absolutely awful. Why did he ever go back?” The true answer may be more complex than this, but I think it’s fair to say that – in somewhat sleepy Covington during the period of late 50s through late 60s – there wasn’t much other entertainment besides the movie theater and the high school football / basketball games. So when the parish fair came to town, school let out early one afternoon, and everybody in town went to see what they could ride, eat, examine, or play. Because it would be a full year before the fair returned.

Question

Did you ever visit a county / parish fair? How was it?

[JLS # 286]

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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21 Responses to Parish Fair Comes to Covington

  1. I don’t think I would have gone back to the slideshows after seeing a dead baby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      it was truly appalling. I was stunned and revulsed. I really believed — going in — that this was a living toddler… not a deceased infant.

      Like

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I have pretty much the same memories of carnivals as you. The county I grew up in doesn’t hold a fair or carnival, but there were small, traveling carnivals that would set up in the parking lots of large shopping centers. When my kids were young, their day care provider was a 4H craft leader and she’d do projects with them, so of course we had to go to the fair to see what ribbons they earned – and enjoy the rides and eat the junk food. For some reason these events just don’t hold the appeal they did when I was young.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I agree. Here in Somerset, there’s a county fair which visits annually. I’ve been here nearly 10 years and haven’t made it out there yet.

      Like

  3. jbrayweber says:

    I can’t say that I’ve been to a fair like what you described, which is exactly like I would imagine (and reminds me of one of my favorite movies Something Wicked This Way Comes). However, we have a yearly festival – The Texas Crawfish Festival – that was a lot like the fair. It’s grown into a huge event now and is more the definition of a festival – food, several stages of live music and other entertainment with puppets or trained animals, pony rides, fair rides, midway, etc. You can even get a helicopter ride. But this festival started out some 30 years ago as a street party. I was a teen at the time. In a couple of years, it graduated to the grimy, questionable rides, toothless carnys, rigged games, etc. The only thing it didn’t have was the side/freak show tents. Darn it.

    Jenn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      “…it graduated to the grimy, questionable rides, toothless carnys, rigged games, etc…”
      Yep, Jenn… that captures it perfectly.
      Although the crawfish festival sounds pretty cool.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jbrayweber says:

        We go every other year or so and last 2 weekends. It is literally 3 miles away from my house. But like all festivals these days, it has become expensive – admission, food, rides, games, parking, it all costs money.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jeff7salter says:

        glad you reminded me about parking. As I recall this Parish Fair, it was a big money maker for the folks who lived in houses surrounding the fairgrounds. They would open their yards for parking at $2 per vehicle. I bet they made a fortune during Fair Week.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fair Day! Our St. Tammany Parish fair was always held in October. Jeff does not remember this part as I do because he lived in town! On Friday of fair week we were offered the opportunity to go to the fair during school – leaving in the morning and getting back before 3pm. We did have to pay for our own food and rides, but were provided a sack school lunch which you had to find the school bus to get (baloney sandwich, apple, chips, and milk). The time spent at the fair was our own to use! Yes, we were urged to see the 4-H exhibits and other educational displays, however, the most fun was watching the Duck Tank of the FFA Club! Required food was funnel cake, candied apple, and corn dog. Oh, wait! The most fun was following the “boys” and trying not to get caught following them! Then, playing it cool when one asked you to ride a ride with them!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jbrayweber says:

      Sounds like wonderful memories, Denise.
      I have similar memories for when we went to Six Flags Astroworld (before they closed it down a few years back) during school trips, and even just summer days/nights spent at the park. Especially the following the boys part. 😀 Good times, good times…

      Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      yeah, following the girls was fun — heh heh heh

      Liked by 1 person

  5. jbrayweber says:

    Sorry for my atrocious grammar. I’ve worn the letters off my keyboard and sometimes type too fast to catch my mistakes. Ugh… Guess I’m just so excited to reply to your posts… Yeah, we’ll go with that. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My sister liked to go to carnovals and she got her daughters to love them but I always found them…unseemly. I am afraid I was always judgemental about the carnival people; it seemed a trashy life. I was talked into going into one sideshow tent once and was embarrassed for the two men, who were misrepresented as human-hybrids on the outside of the tent, but were actually two poor fellows who had severe birth defects.
    County fairs are another story, the animals and displays are fun.
    I went to the World’s Fair in New York when I was 11…so much to see, so much to do…and many memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      in the spring of ’64, we drove past the place where the NY world’s fair would soon open, though we did not stop. So I have told people Iv’e been to TWO world’s fairs. Which is only partly true.
      Many years later, my kids when with my dad and step-mom to the WF in New Orleans. Don’t recall the year. Maybe ’94.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Joselyn says:

    During the summer, our small downtown closes in favor of the carnival for a week. We, unfortunately live a block away from downtown. We hear the screams from the rides and see the variety of folk who come into town for the festival (see my post about cryptozoology). It’s great that so many people come out, but it is disconcerting to have so many people walking by my house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I don’t think I’d like that either — being so close to the temporary hustle-bustle.
      I bet it drives your pets crazy (or do you have pets?)

      Like

  8. Desiree Maestri says:

    I remember the St. Tammany Parish Fair so differently than you described. I thought the carnival was magical and never noticed the grime. I close my eyes and can recall the smell, sound and ambiance of that wonderful holiday from school – freedom. Since I attended an all-girl’s Catholic school, the fair presented a rare unchaperoned day to glance at boys – public school boys! Rarely having the courage to actually ride the dangerous rides, I found myself looking up at those who did with awe and amazement. I never went into any side shows or played carnival games because we had been warned by the nuns, “Gypsies,” they told us, “were dangerous to our immortal souls.” Needless to say, that made the entire fair experience all the more memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kathleen Loyd says:

    The Fair was wonderful. Not only did we get off school, but for us country kids whose daddies took the family’s only car to work, the school bus would run its usual route, picking up kids and their parents to give us a ride to the fair. Then, the bus would give us a ride home at the end of the day. Funny, but I never noticed the uncleanliness. But, I really loved the cotton candy. Years later, as an adult, I learned to make cotton candy for a fair at our church. It was fun, but I really can’t tolerate the stuff now. It is just too sweet. I think I remember going to the rodeo at the fair with my parents, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I never saw the rodeo or the horse events, even though my friend Nanette was a highly awarded competitor in those. Somehow, I was PULLED to those deceitful little mechanical cranes!

      Like

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