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Cottrel: Fair at New Boston like Brigadoon?


The Fair at New Boston at George Rogers Clark Park in Bethel Twp. has been compared to Brigadoon.

After all, the mythical Scottish village of Brigadoon appeared magically for one day every hundred years. There was even a Broadway musical and a movie called Brigadoon.

But New Boston is no Brigadoon — even though there’s music in the streets.

Yes, it’s true that the Clark County town of New Boston disappeared in the early 1800s, but it had nothing to do with magic. Folks just moved away.

And it’s definitely not magic that makes the town of New Boston re-appear each year on Labor Day weekend.

Setting up the Fair at New Boston takes a lot of hard work, muscle and sweat — and a year of planning by a group of unpaid volunteers who are members of the George Rogers Clark Heritage Association.

Some of the volunteers are from Bethel and Mad River twps. I’m crazy enough to be one of them.

The Fairmaster this year is Bill Smith, fairmaster for the fifth time. Smith is known in Mad River Twp. as a former basketball coach and business teacher. He was athletic director at Kenton Ridge and coached at Northwestern.

That business knowledge comes in handy when managing the fair.

“It helps me with organization of the event and in working with a wide variety of people,” Smith said. “I love it how the Fair offers the public different slices of early American life. Our Native American village attracts people from all over the area.”

“This is important, not just for the townships, but for all of Clark County. We are as authentic as we can be, and I think this is something Clark County should be proud of and get behind,” he said.

Smith’s assistant, Fairmistress Maggie Rumpke Roberts, graduated from Shawnee not that long ago. She’s a part of the new generation learning the ropes.

Sue Buckles, a recently retired teacher from Tecumseh Middle School, is in charge of Education Day for the first time. Education Day is the free field trip for 800 to 1,200 students on the day before the fair begins.

“I’ve been a part of the fair for 20 years. My children took part, and it was an integral part of our family life,” she said.

But she never got to attend Education Day until she retired from teaching. She is looking forward to using her teaching skills and knowledge of state curriculum to make this field trip worthwhile and educational.

Another recently retired teacher, Carolyn Shuirr, from Northwestern, and her husband Andy, have been busy mowing the grounds all summer. The Shuirrs are in charge of the taverns at the event, and Andy is GRCHA president.

Bethel Twp. residents Doris and Bob Dressel are very busy in fair preparations. Doris is a member of the jury that makes sure all costuming meets 1790- to 1813-era standards. She’s also an excellent seamstress.

Bob can often be found out on the field with the crew putting up tents and booths or working at the forge.

Mad River Twp. resident Elaine Kingery is chairman of the Entertainment Committee. It’s her responsibility to book a variety of musicians, puppet shows, actors, and acrobats from all over the country.

Entertainers and artisans are the only paid people on the field. At other times, these talented folks can be found at historical venues like Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon, or Sturbridge Village. Some of them have to be reserved a year in advance.

Kingery is also the expert on the construction of the canvas-walled theater called Cheapside.

“Setting up is not as much fun as the fair, but the fair makes it all worth it,” Kingery said.

The map of the field is really important to the set up. Organizers must have careful dimensions of the tents of every merchant and artisan.

The field layout is actually professionally surveyed so that every structure will fit into the nearly five-acre area with only inches to spare. If just one tent is bigger than the space reserved, a chaotic domino effect takes place that can take hours to resolve.

With less than one week to go, the emerging town of New Boston gets new tents daily. The field is divided into four quadrants, and field marshals oversee placement of tents.

By the time the free Education Day for local fourth- and fifth-grade students is held — this year on Friday — the fair will be 80 percent set up. Since it all must be in place by the next morning, final set up goes on all night.

Just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, the organizers make one last run through the field to make sure that no 21st Century items are in view.

For the following 32 hours — Saturday through Sunday — New Boston will seem to go back in time with nothing modern allowed except for visitors during open hours.

Then on Labor Day, New Boston will disappear. Amazingly it’s torn down in one day, and inconceivably it fits into the GRCHA barn for storage until next August.

Then New Boston, like Brigadoon, will live only in memories.


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