Grange Fair

Tonight Harlan and I went out to Grange Fair in Centre Hall. It’s a very different fair than the charming Woodward Festival. This one has lots of rides, fried things, rednecks, Confederate symbols, and airbrushed license plates.

I’m not as big a fan of Grange Fair. I didn’t grow up with it; we never went. It was always sort of an abstraction to me, a time when all my friends would disappear for a week to live in a tent with flamingo lights, until my mid-twenties. There’s kind of an almost sinister undercurrent, coupled with claustrophobia, at this one – like there is with most summer carnivals. I love visiting the animals, though. There’s so many cute sheep and bunnies and goats and pigs. I’m especially fond of pigs.

I started off taking some groovy muted color multiple exposure shots of the fair while the light was still okay, then switched off into black and white.  I don’t know why there was a camel at this fair, but he was having none of it. I don’t blame him.

The best part of the Fair, and unfortunately the only place cameras were forbidden, was the honest-to-god sideshow. The banners read “FREAKS OF NATURE!” Of course I had to see it. It was at once disgusting, pitiful, and hilarious.

We saw a cow with 5 legs, one with half an unformed twin cow stuck to its neck; a two headed chicken, goats with 4 horns, shrunken human heads, a six-legged squirrel, a chicken with fur, and a whole multitude of dead animals stuffed inside mayonnaise and pickle jars, half covered in formaldehyde. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen; well worth the $3 admission. The live animals, despite being kind of freakydeaky, were pretty adorable. It was strange to see them surrounding the dead Mütter Museum castoffs flocking the pens. There was one goofy looking large-eared sheep that kept bugging Harlan and me for crunchies out of the machine in front of his pen.

The sounds of this fair are weird. The hydraulics operating the machinery, the rumbles of diesel chimneys on trucks doing the pickup pulls, the mumbly lazy chatter of people hunting for the next fried thing, the clackety clack of strollers,  the plunk plunk of the carnival stands. The sound of the Ring of Fire was especially scary.

There was a game where you threw plastic rings on knives to win them. There was a booth manned by a gloriously leather-faced smoking woman in a leather jacket who was selling “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and patches that said “If you were as fun to ride as my motorcycle I’d be home more.” So many Confederate flags. I saw a truck hand painted with at least 10 of them and “HERITAGE NOT HATE” scrawled out in white over them in childish letters.

The pickup pull is the main attraction. It’s just people in large trucks pulling a larger truck. The chimneys in the back of the pickups spurt out dark horrible clouds of toxic diesel smoke. It was so bad I had to put my scarf over my face. I heard one man behind me drawl, “IT’S A WONDER THEM TREEHUGGERS DON’T SHUT US DOWN.” Yes, it is.

There’s a lot of fair pictures out there in Etsy world – Ferris wheels and those terrifying swing rides, bathed in pastel candy color light and little bokeh twinkles. To me, those don’t accurately represent a Fair. The Grange Fair is weird, absurd, fun, and distracting. There’s lots to absorb in the few hours we spend walking around in one evening. To someone who spends most of her time working alone around a limited number of people, to be thrown in the mix with thousands of real folk is a little bit of a culture shock, too. I love it, but can only take one evening a year.

Anyway, I took some weird pictures tonight.

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