SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Weathering Indiana Festivals
In one of my books I included a photo of the Onion Days Festival, in Wolf Lake, Indiana. Never mind that it’s called Onion Days—that’s another story—but the photo was taken in the early 1900s, over a century ago.
Hey, I wrote the book; I never said I took the picture.
There are also photos in Albion of what would one day become the Chain O’ Lakes Festival. Those pictures were taken some fifty or sixty years before there was a Chain O’ Lakes State Park … so if the street fair had been called that at the time it would be some pretty amazing precognition.
While researching local history I was shown many photos of fairs, parades, and other gatherings from back a century or so: A late 1800s fair in downtown Kendallville, a 1914 wedding in the middle of Albion’s main intersection … to this day we’re still doing a lot of those same outdoor gatherings. (I assume they shut down traffic for that wedding, but maybe they had to use a team of wild horses to drag the groom in.)
"Do you take this man to put a roof over your head, hopefully before they invent cars that need this intersection?"
I know what you’re thinking: “But Mark, what do all these things have in common?”
Actually, you’re probably thinking, “Festivals? I love funnel cakes!” but that doesn’t fit where I’m going with this.
What they have in common is that they all took place outdoors. To this day, summer is festival season in Indiana. We tried doing an outdoor festival in January once, and they never did thaw out all the bodies.
(There actually is such a thing as a frost festival. There’s also such a thing as legal insanity.)
With summer, the only thing organizers of fairs, concerts, and parades have to worry about is rain, wind, cold snaps (they happen), heat waves, tornadoes, lightning, flooding, dust storms, and earthquakes. Actually, I guess I’d rather be outside for the earthquakes.
"Don't worry folks, it's just the cloud's ... tail. Yeah, that's it."
But otherwise, what are we thinking?
Recently I was contacted about being a vendor at the Avilla Freedom Days Festival, which as you might imagine happens in Avilla, June 22-24. What I have to sell is books. Are books? Our books. Specifically, the ones Emily and I wrote. Since we have nine published at this point, I can easily fill a table with a product. After all, most people who go to a festival are thinking, “Boy, I really hope I can find some good books there”.
I agreed to go, under the theory of “why not?” On the one hand, it’ll be something of a hard slog having what amounts to a three day book signing—my longest previous one took place in a few hours of one afternoon. On the other hand, I get to go to a festival. By the time I’m done with the pork burgers, funnel cakes, and lemon shakeups, I’ll be twice the man I used to be.
On the third hand, there are all those weather-related fears I mentioned previously. Plus books. We don’t even need rain—in a Midwest June, the humidity alone might be enough to make the pages curl. This is why most book signings are held inside, but I’m nothing if not imaginative and daring. (Did you catch that? I just totally lied.)
"My book is wilting! I never thought I'd need a blotter for sweat."
So what made us think this was a good idea to begin with, this outdoor gathering thing? Never mind outdoor book signings, that’s just a literary anomaly. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Tradition. We start doing a certain thing, and we just never stop. Think about it: In, say, 1880, when someone said “Let’s have an outdoor party!” everyone else said “Great idea!” Why? No air conditioning. Poor indoor lighting and ventilation. Most people couldn’t afford big homes, and there weren’t that many public buildings with large spaces. They went outside because it was closed in and miserable inside. These people had just spent a whole winter stuck inside with their families, and often their extended families. Heck yeah, they were ready to get out.
"The weather got so bad we were blown clean into another century!"
And they stayed out until harvest time, and then they stayed out for that. Many of us have air conditioning now, but those of us who are too smart for winter sports are stuck indoors from October to April. There are large indoor venues now, but have you ever tried to set up a Ferris Wheel in the school gymnasium? I mean, other than that one epic senior prank from ’93 that I deny any knowledge of?
There’s also that human desire to get together in large groups and share common experiences, then complain about them. My wife and I tend to be anti-social, which means we’re not against socializing in theory, but we’d rather be home writing about other people socializing. But even we need to get out now and then, and it’ll be nice to see the people go by, either enjoying themselves or hiding from a downpour.
There’s something to be said for getting together to share our commonalities, such as our common fear of the weather, and our love of food that’s bad for us. If I might make a suggestion, hit the vendors first, then the rides, and save the fair food for last.
But even if you don’t go in that order, take some time to enjoy and appreciate your local festivals. If you’re up for an adventure take in a walking taco, then ride the Scrambler, then try to keep the taco from walking back out.