Thursday, August 2, 2012

Neshoba County Fair: Mississippi's Giant Houseparty

For weeks, people around the office have been talking about the Neshoba County Fair, an hour-and-a-half northeast of Jackson in Philadelphia, MS. (Mississippi also boasts its own Madison, Cleveland, Little Rock, and Paris).

But the Neshoba County Fair is not your typical county fair. Sure, it's got a ferris wheel and prize-winning farm animals and abnormally large watermelons. It's also got deep-fried Oreos. But what sets it apart is that people actually live on the fairgrounds for the week of the festivities. And not in any old houses. There are these cabins that they live in--about 600 on the property--that get passed down from parent to child. They stay in the family line, and if you want one of them, you better marry in. They go for a lot of money but, get this, they are only occupied for the single week every year during which the fair takes place. People take a lot of pride in them, especially if your cabin is in the "Founder's Square" (the original square where the fair took place, where people started building them). They also take great care to decorate and personalize the (outsides) of the cabins, as you'll see below. Entire extended families come out for the year--even if they live nowhere near Mississippi anymore--and people cram as many as 25 people into the beds that litter the upper floor(s) of their cabins.

The other thing that sets the Neshoba County Fair apart is that it is, for lack of a better phrase, a haven of Republican politics [it's been called the Woodstock of Republicans]. Of the ten politicians who spoke, one was a democrat. The Secretary of State said, "I want to encourage ya'll to go out and vote for the Romney of your choice." And, since it's not a local-election year, nearly every other politician who spoke echoed that sentiment, touting Romney while flouting Obama. One said, "We want to make Washington [D.C.] like Mississippi." Perhaps he meant emulating the fact that Mississippi leads the country in obesity, diabetes and HIV, not to mention poverty...

Well, back to pictures. Can't let too much politics get into my blog (although there's plenty to go around in Mississippi!)

The prize-winning watermelon in the "children's section" whatever that means. Not sure how much this one weighed, but you can see that it's pretty large. Passed one later on that weighed in at 160 pounds, I believe.

Good to know that "postering" is still a verb post-college. This almost rivals the most number of posters I've ever seen on a lamppost, but certain popular weeks on campus have even the Neshoba County Fair politician-lineup beat in that regard.

Classic county fair

Not-so-classic county fair. Some of the 600+ cabins that are occupied during (and only during) the week of the fair. As I mentioned above, people go through great pains to individualize their cabins, which get passed down through family lines.  One person I met is the grandson of a man who was in the lumber-business in Philadelphia in the early years of the fair, so naturally he built a cabin. Still in the family!
Well, Dan, you've finally made it. There is a better picture of Dan (also a better picture of the horse-racing), but I figured one that included both of them was the best option. Plus, it's a classic look. 

Just a fun thing we saw: a small child sitting atop a rusted truck.

More classic-fair: small children showing prize animals. This boy couldn't have been more than 6, and looked about 6. 

Prize-winning canned things. I probably don't want to know all the kinds of things they're preserving in those Mason jars.

Dan and I took a walk around the fairgrounds, and we're pretty confident that we saw all 600 cabins (we didn't venture into the land of the 1200+ RV campers that set up for the week). Among the best things we saw was this little boy trying to sell rocks. I'm not sure why his parents didn't tell him that selling rocks was not going to be a successful business venture, but Dan played along well and bought two for the shockingly-low price of $.25. 

I'll spare you pictures of all the Confederate flags hung up on a number of cabins, but here's the  official Neshoba County Fair flag. "Mississippi's Giant Houseparty".

And, of course, the horse-racing. (Chariot-racing?). After the horse-racing, there's something called a "chair race". That means that everyone grabs their folding lawn chairs and races around the track with them to get the best seats for the concert that follows the race. Running with chairs seems only slightly less dangerous than running with scissors or standing on wiggly chairs