Meet Me on the Midway: A History of Wisconsin Fairs by Jerry Apps
Nonfiction, history 264
Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith
Meet Me on the Midway: A History of Wisconsin Fairs by Jerry Apps presents an engaging and informative history of Wisconsin’s state and county fairs. His book focuses on the stories of agricultural societies, county extension agents, fair organizers, judges, volunteers, exhibitors, workers, and 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. Because Apps never forgets that history is the story of people, he pulls readers into the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of state and county fairs. Readers will also appreciate the generous servings of photographs, which are as delectable as fair food and as eye catching as the midway.
In the introduction Apps shares some of his father’s memories of the Waushara County Fair from the 1920s, then Apps recounts his first trip to the fair in 1938. His descriptive writing evokes the enchantment and camaraderie fair participants experienced. His skillful writing and passion for fairs conveyed in the introduction continues throughout the book.
Apps organized his book into four parts. In “Part I: Origins and Organizations” readers learn why fairs were first initiated and about their continued importance to agriculture. Apps highlights successes and problems in establishing and sustaining fairs, which involve many people and different organizations. He includes quotes from people with strong connections to fairs, sharing their diverse experiences.
“Part II: What Makes a Fair a Fair” discusses exhibits, clubs, judges, judging, fair food, the carnival, and the midway. This is the heart of Apps’ history. Readers may find they have an urge to attend a fair after reading this section. And when they do, they will have a greater understanding about the role both state and county fairs play in educating future farmers and sharing agricultural expertise, all while providing fun for neighbors, friends, and family.
“Part III: County and State Fair Histories” gives a brief history of each Wisconsin county that had or still has a fair. Readers gain a sense of their common histories but are also treated to stories that are unique to each county’s fair.
“Part IV: Fair Memories and Meaning” features engaging stories from people who worked, volunteered, organized, or exhibited at the fair during their youth and adulthood. Using smooth segues between their narratives, Apps lets each person’s story shine.
Readers who exhibited or worked at fairs will enjoy this book because they will relish reading about fair experiences shared by fellow fair devotees. Casual fair attendees will appreciate this book because they will be impressed by what happens at a fair beyond the rides and food. All readers will appreciate the research and expertise Jerry Apps brings to his topic because he was a county extension agent, a professor of agriculture, a 4-H member, and a judge. Readers will treasure the touching, inspiring, funny, and sometimes eye-rolling stories throughout the book that capture the essence of the fair.
Finally, if you know someone with a close connection to the fair, this book will make a wonderful gift.
Reviewer Victoria Lynn Smith writes fiction and creative nonfiction. She lives by Lake Superior, a source of inspiration, happiness, and mystery. Her work has been published by Wisconsin Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television’s, Brevity Blog, Better Than Starbucks, Persimmon Tree, and regional journals. She’s working on a collection of short stories. More at: https://writingnearthelake.org/.
Wisconsin Writers Association
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