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May 08 , 2008

County Fair


During the early 20th century, county fairs were anticipated with a passion that might only be compared to the modern fans’ fervor about an approaching Super Bowl.  For most rural families the excitement built all year long, transmitted through the community and magnified to unendurable proportions as the opening of the county fair loomed.  Everyone in the community prepared for the competition with gusto, bragging and circulating whoppers of contentious proportions.  Governor Kraschel of Iowa (1933-37), for example, managed to humiliate the governors of neighboring states with the entry of a 19-foot cornstalk ― claiming that the 16-foot entries of the others were supposed to have been stolen by night from some thin patches in Iowa that had been replanted late in the season. 

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Author Phil Stong grew up in Iowa and spent fifteen years as a reporter for the evening Stock Shows at the Iowa State Fair.  County Fair is a summary of the highlights.  From 2000 pound hogs, “dainty-footed as ballerinas, deadly as scythes gone maniac” ― to a horse called Walnut, a seven-gaited wonder (only two gaits were forward) ― to the breathtaking career of Dan Patch, a harness racing horse purchased in 1902 for $60,000 and who never tasted defeat, County Fair is a collection of stories that is bound to give readers an insightful and entertaining glimpse into Iowa’s history and  evoke a nostalgic twinge or two for a bygone era.

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