Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter May 2003

Reliving the Excitement of the North Manchester Fair

By Jack Miller, former curator of the

Wabash County Historical Museum

When I visit my old home town of North Manchester, I most often include a drive around the beautiful Peabody Retirement Home. It is like a magnet to me. Not the home so much as the ground on which it stands. I wonder if any of the good people living there feel the vibrations of excitement that generated on these grounds so many years ago. I am talking about the North Manchester Fairgrounds.

When I was a kid, for one week in August, this was my Disneyland and Seven Flags of America all rolled up into one. I think it even surpassed Santa Claus in excitement. I was four years old when I started anticipating the fair. We lived on West Third Street and on the week of the fair I was allowed to walk down Beckley Street to the Big Four Railroad crossing at Peabody factory. From there I could look northeast out over Seventh Street and there it stood so far away the

May, 2003 Page Three

ferris wheel - the symbol of excitement.

Come on, would you like to go to the Fair with me? Good, but wait as I had to. My mother and aunt always said Wednesday afternoon was the best day at the Fair. Don't ask this impatient kid why. The year is 1923 and this seven year old boy and his mother walk over to Grandma Miller's house across from the West End grocery. My aunt Iona and cousin Margaret are waiting for us. Buffalo Street is right across from the house and that magic street will lead us directly through the archways into the south entrance to the fairgrounds,

The sidewalks are crowded now as we cross Seventh Street. Only a block to go. There is a line at the ticket booth to get into the grounds. Look who is selling tickets, that big man, John Isenbarger, who owns the fairgrounds. The first thing facing us is the high bank of the south west turn of the half-mile race track. Wow! A race is on. Listen to the clomping of those trotters as they race by on that clay track, and the people cheering their favorites on from the big white grandstand on the west side of the track.

A glance to the southeast turn and look at all the horse and buggies tied up there. There is a good turnout of the old order Dunkards today. We glance to the southwest of the grounds. Wow! What a big tent! A Wild West Show with cowboys and Indians! Right out in front of that is the merry-go- round and the ferris wheel a short distance north of that. We have arrived. Mother gives me a dime and I mount the meanest looking horse while my cousin Margaret sits with the women in the couch-like seats. The music starts booming and we start going around as my horse moves up and down. I am Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Buck Jones all rolled into one.

Next, we ride the Ferris wheel, each with our mothers. We can see all the race track from up here. There is Jonnie Warvel's deer park to the east, and Peabody Factory and Oaklawn Cemetery to the west. Oh, that sensation as that ferris wheel drops you down. A few rounds and the man stops our car, releases the safety bar and it is all over for another year.

There is the whirling chair swing, but mother says perhaps later on in the afternoon. Let's walk the fair and look at other things. There is a row of "throw the ball and knock the dolls off the rack." If you

Page Four May, 2003

can knock one off the shelf, you might win a Kewpie Doll. Another one had dishes and another, ashtrays. These were for the big boys to impress their girlfriends with what good arms they had. Once in a while one of them would succeed in knocking one off the shelf. Oh look, something new. Throw the ball at a bulls-eye target. A good hit and up in the balcony a little pen would open and a small pig would come sliding down to the ground on a slide. There was a big crowd of people standing around watching this.

There were all kinds of tents or stands, barkers selling everything from kitchenware to magic tricks to snake oil.

The building our mothers were working their way to was the big, white frame building, just to the west of the grandstand, The Memorial Exhibition Building. This was the ladies' section of the fair. Here they showed off their good work of home canning, dress-making, food demonstrations and the latest household gadgets. It seemed like we spent too much time in there for a seven year-old boy.

Once outside we had a pink lemonade from a stand and over by the west fence was a row of HIS and HERS outhouses. I don't believe they had any connection to the city sewer lines. Just north of that was the poultry tent with chickens, ducks, geese and then the north end of the fair grounds the horse barns on Ninth Street. These were for the beautiful trotters and pacers the race horses that excited the male attendees of the fair.

I hope this gives you residents who live at the Peabody Home some idea of what took place on these grounds before it all ended at the 1929 fair which was a flop as a dispute arose over the price of rental and all the concessionaires walked out. The only thing at the fair that year was a rodeo show in front of the grandstand.

Oh! I could talk about other events that took place during the summer on your grounds. Automobile racing with souped up Model T engines, local talent productions in front of the grandstand. How about the House of David baseball games with the North Manchester Giants and the year they had the brawl in which bats and skulls were fractured out there in the infield.

How about those early Twenties when the KKK had their big parade downtown in North Manchester and then the hundred or so

May, 2003 Page Five


whitehooded clan would march out to the grounds you sleep on tonight and burn the fiery cross. Hey! Enough of this! Sleep tight tonight you who are sleeping on my old North Manchester Fairgrounds.

Reprinted from The Paper with permission of Jack Miller