Fourteen years ago, as Labor Day approached and her family looked forward to helping stage yet another Fair at New Boston, a car headed north on Ohio 72 approached Katie Rose Wright.
Then 17, she was heading south toward Camp Birch, where her father was involved at a Boy Scout summer camp, with a video her family wouldn’t get a chance to watch.
Ahead of her, she first saw unsteady headlights; then watched as the oncoming car crossed the center line; then realized it was going hit her.
A water pump broken that morning had sidelined her Nissan pickup, in which she’s sure she would have perished.
Even in her dad’s heavy duty Dodge work pickup, which she slowed as much as possible and tucked into the ditch, the impact shattered her pelvis and a femur and broke her nose. It was broken so badly, that as she asked the first person on the scene what the driver had been doing in her lane, an oversized blood bubble formed in front of her face.
When Wright recalled her dad’s advice to turn off the engine if ever in an accident and did so, she found it was sitting right next to her.
The other driver died in the accident, and the story of how she somehow managed to walk with a newly implanted steel rod in her leg that was released in time for that Labor Day weekend’s fair is the most dramatic of Wright’s fair-related stories.
But it’s not the only one for the now 31-year-old, who is one of three fair masters at this year’s event.
The first was actually prenatal.
“The News-Sun ran a picture of (my mother) pregnant with me” while at the fair, she said.
Her mother and father, Carol Ann Freeman and Mike Wright, divorced when daughter Katie was 2. But both “always loved history, and they are both artists and craftsmen in their own right,” Katie Wright said.
In the early days, her mother “was growing and drying period flowers and making period baskets.”
That meant “everything from chopping the tree down to making the staves” for the basket and arranging the flowers.
This year, she designed the T-shirt for the fair.
Katie Wright’s dad “restores old buildings,” she said.
He’s done several at George Rogers Clark Park, the log cabin in South Charleston, and worked at historic Zoar Village south of Canton. He even fashioned what are called Dutch biscuits — slats of mud, lath and straw German immigrants put between floors as insulation.
He’s also a former fair master and served a long stint as president of the sponsoring George Rogers Clark Heritage Association.
The Wright surname is associated with the trade of house wrights or builders. But the family’s longest tradition at the Fair at New Boston involves work as “food wrights.”
“The problem with the fair (in its early days) was that no one was doing period cooking,” Katie Wright explained.
The Wrights did — and do — authentic open-fire cooking, an approach Katie says turns the kitchen into “a burning inferno of heat” so uncomfortable “you feel your eyes are going to burn.”
To keep their three-store operation staffed, “I’m in charge of making sure all my brothers and sisters show up,” she said.
“All of us have lived away from Ohio at one point, but we all come back” for the Fair, she said.
All are experienced enough, too, to work barefoot, preferring the occasional touch of a coal on the bare foot to having one trapped in a period shoe.
Hot coals notwithstanding, Katie Wright has a compelling reason to stay involved: Family history.
“I really got the opportunity to grow up here,” she said.
Just as everyone knows the story of her accident, they know about her childhood days of losing her mop cap, into which someone eventually embroidered her name. (Note to history geeks: The mop cap name is now out of favor with historians, who prefer the term day cap.)
Likewise, everyone remembers when her brother Joe broke his arm after his bike skittered out of control into a creek at the park. And they can summon up the memory of the year brother Sam studied the way beavers make a dam, borrowed a little re-enactment sinew and fashioned a dam in the creek to make a swimming pool the adults only later discovered.
(Retired from the beaver dam trade, Sam now does authentic construction and restoration projects involving stone.)
But the Wright family stories don’t just involve Sam, Andrew, Annie, Joe, Anna and Simon — the kids in the family.
The stories also involve Brad and Colleen Campbell, Erin Zechman, Stephanie Wilkins and other kids who grew up at the fair.
They involve not only Maggie Rumpke Roberts, a second of this year’s fair masters, but Roberts’ son, Collin — Katie Wright’s godson.
Collin reminds Katie Wright of her dam building brother Sam in his earlier days.
“He doesn’t want to buy a fried pie (at the Wright restaurant),” she said, “He wants to know how to make it.”
“You can learn things at the fair” — including lessons about responsibility.
Even outside her duties as co-fair master, Wright has plenty to do: Rallying the family for the food service; continuing to be the property master who rallies the fair’s “fantastic” volunteers to work their magic; and thinking of how to get everything done with an aging volunteer base.
In her leadership role, she’s helping to restore the animal auction she liked so much as a child and trying to set the stage for re-enactors to bring the fair to life.
With Sue Buckles and John Wysocki leading the way, Wright also is trying to strengthen the fair’s education day.
One improvement is shaping it to fourth grade attention spans by rotating the students to a different display every 15 minutes, the rotation period being signaled by a musket blast.
Another is trying to identify sources of grants that will help schools pay for the busing needed to bring disadvantage students to the fair.
Growing up, “we weren’t what you’d call wealthy,” she said, and providing like youngsters with opportunities seems all the more important to her now.
All help to continue the tradition of the fair’s spirit of togetherness, which was hammered home to her 14 years ago.
Katie Wright remembers waking up in the hospital to find the family of Sheri Forness, the other co-fair master of this year’s fair, gathered round.
Forness’ son Michael had heard a radio report that said Wright had been involved in a fatal accident near Springfield and “freaked” when it wasn’t clear to him whether Katie Wright had been the fatality.
The daughter of fair founders Donna and the late Dick Ward, Forness “is like a surrogate mom to me,” Katie Wright said.
And that makes her part of what has allowed Katie Wright to only years afterwards honestly say that her near-fatal accident and all the trauma that went with it no longer defines her as a person.
Clearly the Fair at New Boston does a better job of that.
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