NMHS Newsletter, November 2015
THE LIARS’ CONTEST &
SERVIA BIG DAYS
by Gladys Airgood
I was asked to talk to the North Manchester Historical Society (November 9, 2015) about the liars’ contests at the Servia Big Days. We didn’t have tape recorders back in those days and few of the lies told were actually recorded. In fact, most of them were probably forgotten almost as soon as they were spoken. Therefore, my talk will be mostly about the Servia Big Days. Did any of you remember or attend any of them?
Servia people did have the reputation of being great story-tellers, some of the stories being a bit far-fetched.
It’s interesting how a homecoming celebration with events for all ages became best known for its liars’ contest. Professional entertainment, visits from political figures, and many other events were not remembered as was the liars’ contest, a last-minute addition to the agenda. You may recognize some of the names. Few people had cameras at that time, so there were few pictures taken.
In 1925, Servia was a bustling little town in a prosperous farming community. The Manchester fairgrounds were being sold to the Peabodys. Five Servia businessmen and farmers on a fishing trip decided it was time for Servia to host its own fair: George Walters, a poultry and egg buyer with a gas station, Harve Gingerick, who ran the elevator, Charlie Partridge, who helped run the milk station, and farmers Frank and Gus Murphy.
The main purpose for the event was a horseshoe pitching contest to determine who in the county would advance to the state tournament. Horseshoe pitching was one of the main entertainments for men at that time.
I remember horseshoe stakes on the south side of the village store before the road was paved, and also on the north side later. To make the celebration appeal to more people, the organizers added many more contests: 300 yard dash for boys, men’s three-legged race, pie eating contest for small boys, bicycle races, pillow fights, greased pole climbing, and a wheelbarrow race. There was entertainment by the Urbana band, the Wellman brothers and an Urbana quartet.
On a whim, they added a liars’ contest. No admission was charged, and the public was invited to spend a happy day in Servia on September 1.
The News-Journal reported the success of the event: Servia’s first homecoming and fall celebration was a big success, and a crowd of happy people was there morning, afternoon and evening. Nelson B. Crawford and Gus Murphy were masters in charge of the event. It was under the management of the Servia Horse Shoe Pitchers organization. The big contest was to determine the county entrant to the state contest. Henry Walters and William Steel won. The greased pig was caught by Max Rager. The beauty contest was won by Miss Lela Kennedy. It took Servia ingenuity—the kind that sustains her reputation of “Servia ‘gainst the world”— to climb the greased pole—community spirit finally prevailed. Bigger boys surrounded the pole, smaller ones climbed on their shoulders, and still smaller ones on top of these, the last boy reaching the top of the pole and dividing the money. The Liars’ contest was won by Bubb Olen on Sunday. He told how long he had been in the used car business and he said he never did misrepresent a car in his life. He worked for Harry Leedy. (Leedy had a reputation of embellishing the condition of the cars he sold.)
The contests included a novelty ball game, 100 yard dash, goose driving contest, four-legged race, bicycle race, nail driving contest, team pulling contest, pie eating contest, greased pig, greased pole, beauty contest, obstacle race, slow auto race, tug of war between maids and bachelors, flag race, frog race – contestants to bring their own frog, pillow fight, egg rolling contest, liars’ contest, scramble race, and horseshoe pitching contest. In the liars’ contest Servia people said they may have to depend on people from surrounding towns to furnish contestants as they have no really proficient liars in Servia. In the horse shoe contest the Servia pitchers challenged the world, having become about as efficient at horse shoe pitching as Max Middleton’s famous ball team was on the diamond in years gone by.
The celebration was set for a Wednesday but due to rain was postponed to Friday. Gus Murphy was master of ceremonies, and at no time did he let the fun lag. There were races and contests of many kinds – some of the good old kind that everybody has seen and was glad to see again, and some of a kind no one had ever heard of. It had been the intention not to let any Servia liars in the contest, but folks from the outside were loath to show their inexperience, so it was necessary for Gus Murphy to start the contest, while the prize went to William Coble for a modest recital of the events of a fishing trip to Michigan. The frog race was the only one that did not materialize. Frogs have to be handled with a great deal of care, and must be conditioned by experienced hands to race well. Frogs had been trained for the race Wednesday, but as the race was postponed to Friday, many were out of condition. On general principles the prize was given to Frank Hockensmith, for it was generally accepted that his frog would have been the winner.
Servia’s big homecoming celebration Sept. 1 was a big success, the weather being ideal for an event of that kind, and there was enough entertainment during the day and evening to amuse everyone. There was good music by the Laketon band. N.B. Crawford and A.C. Murphy were masters of ceremonies and kept things moving all day long. N. Manchester is credited with having the biggest liar, Olin Sunday winning by saying he had sold automobiles all his life, and he had never once lied. (He had also won in 1925.) Serviaites were barred from the contest and that probably accounts for an outsider winning. The ball game was won by John Marburger’s team which defeated John Hanley’s 10-4. A rope could not be found stout enough to hold together in the rope pulling contest and after it broke three times, it was doubled and the east side, captained by N.B. Crawford, out-pulled the west side captained by A.C. Murphy. About 20 men were on a side. Carl Ohmart’s horse team out-pulled teams of Dewey Partridge and Louis Shanahan.
Servia entertained the world Thursday at its big homecoming celebration and did it well too. There were two orchestras, Chester and Bippus, the Erie band from Huntington in the evening and old time fiddlers and bone players. Servia people have only one regret, that No. Manchester won the liar’s contest. It was won by Glen Gearhart, who said he had come to this country on the Graf Zeppelin. Jack Myer won both the light and heavy team pulling contests.
Servia was host to the world Thursday, or at least part of the world. Bruce Meyer won the team pulling contest.. Others in the contest were Paul Shanahan, Jack Gillespie of Wabash, and William Bechtold. The ball game was won by the Peru colored team 4 to 2. Tolivar B. Clark was the oldest man there, he being 93. He once served Servia as postmaster and had a store there for a number of years. The oldest woman was Mrs. Sue Breckner, aged 83. There was music during the afternoon by old time fiddlers and by the Wabash girls band. Servia contested with the world in a tug of war, but her spirit was greater than her ability and the world won. There were so many entrants in the liars’ contest that it was declared a draw. Elmer Breckner, Edward Kitterman, Nelson Crawford and Howard Weaver each told incredible “Truths”. It was the biggest of Servia’s Big Days and the committee had the hearty cooperation of N. Manchester businessmen, who helped furnish prizes, and of the N. Manchester community that joined in the spirit of the occasion.
Servia was right at the front yesterday as far as entertaining a big crowd was concerned, but had to bow in submission to Laketon in the baseball game, and what hurt more than anything else, in the liars contest. The Sidney band and the Laketon Reub band made merry music during the day, and there was fun and frolic for all. A big part of the interest was centered in three contests. The baseball game was won by Laketon. Albert Drudge with his big team of twin horses won the team pulling contest. He lived not far from Servia, so that honor was kept at home. The liars’ prize went to Monroe Martin of Ijamsville, a member of the Laketon band, but he had to do a lot of lying to win it.
The celebration was held August 27. Everything was fully up to expectations, including the crowd. Jack Gillespie won the team pulling contest and David Buckingham was 2nd. The liar’s contest was won by Carl Fivecoat, an 11 year old boy from Macy. His family, the parents and 7 children age 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 17, & 19 years, presented a musical program in the afternoon. The ball game was won by Fort Wayne over Servia. The Sidney band made music during the afternoon and evening.
Servia’s big homecoming celebration was held Friday and Saturday. The crowd was estimated at 2500 Friday and 3000 on Saturday.(I don’t know who did the estimating.) A colt show was held on Friday. Dewey Partridge won the liars’ contest. He said he had a frog pond and it got so hot the water boiled. Cows waded in and he had boiled beef. Later dogs got in the pond and he had boiled weenies. Finally the water all evaporated and he had frog-hair soup.
August 25 is the day when the eyes of the world were centered on Servia. It is not known how many special trains the Erie Railroad ran to Servia but the committee reserved space in many fields for those who came by auto. The main committee consisted of George Walters, John Bechtold, Roy Krichbaum, and Homer Thomas. The program included team pulling contests, Colt show, 4-H show, races, pet parade, Home Ec clubs displays of quilts, cakes, canned goods, and cut flowers, a square dance, talk by Judge Byron Kennedy who grew up in Servia, and morning and afternoon programs by WLS radio stars Hoosier Sodbusters with Lillie May and Pat Butram. There were contests, games and fun-making. The highlight of the day was the liars’ contest. “It has long been conceded that women could outtalk men, but it was never thought that a woman could tell a bigger whopper.” Mrs. Harvey Smith won the liars’ contest over 11 competitors by saying that she chad never told a lie.
Word from Servia was that new entries for the annual liars’ contest were pouring in every day from all over the country. That may have been true, but then members of the committee may have been just practicing themselves. From Laketon came the report that the local liars’ bench, 5 seats wide, was full from morning until night, with aspirants who hoped to wrest the title away from Servia.
We invite the world, but for lack of space we bar foreign countries.
A Huntington man’s conception of mosquitoes big enough to milk cows and paint barns was too much for the judges at Servia’s annual homecoming. They concluded that George Musser unquestionably was the biggest liar of 1938.
The World’s Fair at Servia came and went, and nothing but a memory remains. It was said that the attendance at Servia Wednesday made quite a dent in World’s Fair attendance at New York that day, and New Yorkers are plenty sore at Servia for holding a counter attraction. Wabash took the honors in the liars’ contest, winning first and second in a field of seven contestants. Officially it was denied, but confidentially it was said that the winning lie was furnished by a Serviaite, who was ashamed for Servia to win so often. Toni Dozi of Wabash was the winner and he told a big one about chopping wood. The proof of its size lay in the fact that the committee could not tell what he said five minutes after he said it. Lois Roff of Wabash was second.
The ball game was won by the Latty, Ohio colored team, 6 to 4. Gordon Myers won the team pulling contest, Early Felabom was second and Paul Shanahan was third. The amateur contest was won by Christie (Chris) and Junior Schenkel, sons of Philip Schenkel of Bippus. The “ladies” cigar smoking contest was won by Carl Eiler. All went well until one of the loaded cigars exploded, and the ladies jumped about in a way no dignified lady would do, and it was then realized they were men, cleverly disguised. The good looking ladies were Obed Aughinbaugh, Early Felabom, Morris Akers and Floyd Ulrey. The liar’s contest was won by Clyde Connelly of Silver Lake. Grace Partridge was second.
John Hanley of Dowagiac, Michigan, won the liar’s contest at Servia, thereby proving the old saying that a person’s early training will assert itself. John was reared in the neighborhood and apparently never forgot the lies Servia champions were so proficient in telling. John’s lie however, showed the effects of his Michigan environment. John did not tell the story of his own experience but rather that of a customer who had purchased a fly rod and other equipment This fisherman claimed to have been fishing with artificial lures without success, and was looking about for live bait. He saw a snake trying to swallow a frog and offered the snake a shot of whiskey if it would release the frog. It did, and using it as bait, the fisherman caught several bass. Noticing the frog was nearly dead, he was looking about for another frog when he felt a peck on his leg, and there was the snake with another frog, looking up at him thirstily. The crowd agreed it was the best lie told and quite in keeping with the Servia tradition. Neil Rish
of Wabash was adjudged second best liar.
Neither the counter attractions of the Wabash County 4-H Fair, the Huntington Centennial, or hot weather kept people from attending Servia’s Big Day. People no doubt figured there were other days to see the others but only one day to see the attractions at Servia. The evening crowd especially was large. Candidates for governor were both present and gave short talks. W.F. Patterson of Wabash, who told a long-winded tale of experiences in Arkansas, won the liars’ contest. Second prize went to A.L. Dupriest, former pastor of the Servia church and now a jeweler in Huntington. He said he always wanted to tell a lie while he was in Servia but because he was a preacher and because of the good influence of Servia people his conscience would not let him. Apparently the good influence of the Servia people struck the crowd as being about as big a whopper as could be told and he was awarded 2nd place. Lowell Poer acted as master of ceremonies. There were 11 teams entered in the horse-pulling contest. First place was won by John Oakerson of Modoc; with Wesley Hodson of Yorktown second. Refrigerator drawing was won by Lawrence Westafer, cake walk by Harry Wible.
The weatherman finally caught up with the Servia homecoming and for the first time in 20 years the scheduled program could not be given on Wednesday evening because of rain. The wind blew down several tents and did some minor damage.
A crowd estimated at about 1500 crowded about the temporary stage at the Servia Big Day. As usual the feature of the evening was the World’s Championship Liars’ contest. William Patterson of Wabash, who established a reputation by winning last year, successfully defended his title for the second straight year. His tale concerned a day in the life of him and his brother Jake, told in a certain inimical style that pleased the large audience. Other popular attractions included the Dixie Four, Nancy Lee and the Hilltoppers from Ft. Wayne, Chester Township’s Rhythm Rascals, magician Marion Myers from Sidney and Ike Vrooman’s orchestra from Wabash, featuring Izzy Dizzy the one-man band.
All the plans have been made for the Annual Servia Homecoming held August 16-17. Featured on this year’s program was a return engagement of the Dixie Four. The liars’ contest was held on Wednesday evening and this year there was also a separate contest for mailed in entries. Ike Vrooman’s band also appeared on the program. On Thursday evening the Junior City Slickers gave about an hour and a half of Musical Depreciation. If you liked Spike Jones way of tearing music to pieces, you would have liked these boys. All entertainment was absolutely free and there was no carnival in connection with the program. All concessions were operated directly by the Servia Community Association, and all proceeds of the celebration put into a fund to be used for the betterment of the community.
Wesley Hammond of North Manchester won the mail-in liar’s contest and Bill Patterson of Wabash, age 83, won for the third time with a series of three lies. He was stopped only by the approaching rainstorm.
In 1951 the State of Indiana made playing bingo for money or prizes illegal. That had been the biggest money-maker for the Big Day other than advertising. The committee decided they couldn’t come up with another source of income and would have to discontinue the celebration. So 1950 was the last of the big liars’ contests.
Gladys Airgood’s article is based on a presentation to the North Manchester Historical Society on November 9, 2015. Airgood has been a life-long resident of the Servia area. She and many family members attended Servia School and were active in the church there. Airgood graduated from Chester High School, and attended Indiana University and took courses at Purdue, Ivy Tech and Manchester College. She has done extensive local research, publishing articles on local history and has completed several genealogy studies. In 2014 she was named Volunteer of the Year by the North Manchester Historical Society. She also has compiled the comprehensive history, Servia, Indiana 1834-2011: The friendly town you will always call home! Copies of Airgood’s book are available for sale at the North Manchester Center for History.
Also in 1849-50 the North Manchester-Lagro Plank Road Company was formed and Storey and Bowser of Ft. Wayne purchased about 3 acres of the Charles Fudger land and built a steam sawmill for the express purpose of building a plank road from North Manchester to Lagro and the Wabash-Erie Canal. This road followed the present county road 300E and the Philabaum Road, then north into Manchester. The present location of Servia was a halfway point between Liberty Mills and Manchester areas and the canal. Livestock drovers could get that far in a day, then overnight there and go the rest of the way the second day. After the Plank road was finished, the sawmill made wooden parts for buggies built by the Studebaker buggy works in South Bend. ...Seeing the need for a place for travelers to the canal to rest overnight and replenish supplies, on December 15, 1856, Peter Honius platted a town of New Madison in the northwest corner of Section 22. It is quite likely he took the name of New Madison from the church group meeting near there. [pp. 4-5]
...[October 1883] The names of New Madison and New Harrisburg have been changed since the C & A passed through them. They got their names by sanction of the authorities at Washington last week. The former is now known as Corfew and the latter as Disko. Their names are somewhat shorter than the old ones. ...New Madison, who essayed to have her name changed and who, it is reported, was rechristened Corfew, did not succeed. We were informed by Postmaster Wallace that the authorities had decided to leave the name as it is. ...[January 1884] Lately another application has been made with better success, and that place will go forth in future history under the cognomen of “Servia”. If there is any truth in the old adage, “Brevity is the soul of wit”, the new name is much improvement over the old one. (Although the name was officially changed at this time, people continued to call it New Madison for some time.) [p. 26]
VISITORS TO THE CENTER FOR HISTORY IN 2015
CAME TO US FROM THE FOLLOWING COMMUNITIES, STATES & COUNTRIES
Out of State
Brooklyn, New York
Camillus, New York
El Paso, Texas
Forest Grove, Oregon
Monarch Beach, Calif.
New York, New York
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Rockaway, New Jersey
Sun City Center, Florida
The Villages, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Woodland Hills, Calif.
Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada