A good time at the Fair
The past three days have belonged to the Cuyahoga County Fair and our exhibit, "Memories of Cleveland." The library staff has been manning the exhibit in shifts since Monday afternoon and it's been a marvelous and instructive experience for us all.
We've set up in a third of the Home & Hobby Building, where we've installed 100 poster-size enlargements of some of our favorite pictures of Cleveland landmarks, events and people from years past. We have the Terminal Tower being built, the Cuyahoga River on fire, the Sterling Lindner Christmas Tree, Dorothy Fuldheim interviewing Bob Hope, the 1948 Indians winning the series, the 1964 Browns winning the championship game, Jesse Owens winning gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, Sam Sheppard and Eliot Ness, Big Chuck and Little John, Ghoulardi, Barnaby, Captain Penny and a host of other visual memories from the past of most middle-aged Clevelanders. The Cleveland Memory home page will be featuring shots from the fair all week, so go and see both the images themselves and the exhibit being constructed and enjoyed.
We expect 100,000 people to go through the fair and based on what we've seen so far, we're getting a very good percentage of everyone who's attended so far. The daytime crowds are streaming through the exhibit, 30 or 40 at a time and the evenings drop off only a little bit, right up to closing. Something like the announced start of the Demolition Derby or the fireworks display will momentarily empty the exhibit, but within a half hour it's right back up to normal. The people drift through the site, pausing for many minutes at each section of photos and often launch into explanations to their spouse, children or friends about one photo or another that has caught their eye. We've taken to hovering near such people, to ask if we may record what they have to say, and will be mounting their interviews to Cleveland Memory and/or the MemoryArchive.
There has also been a crew of graduate students from the CSU History Department working the crowds in the late afternoons, finding interesting folks to interview more extensively in a back room. And, after a slow start, our memory book is attracting many positive comments and favorite recollections from people, as well.
If there's been a common denominator to the memories people seem to have, they are 1) the downtown shopping experience, especially at Christmas time, 2) the city's sports teams and 3) the television celebrities. It makes us wonder what the children and teenagers in the crowd will have as memories of Cleveland, 40 years from now. There isn't the local programming like we saw in the '50s and '60s, so with the exceptions of people like Big Chuck and Dick Goddard, who themselves are legacies from that period, there aren't many distinctive individuals left to develop followings like Ghoulardi or Mr. Jingeling had.
Another benefit of this exhibit, besides introducing people to our holding and the Cleveland Memory Project and hearing about their memories, is the way that this exhibit has involved the library's staff in the Cleveland Memory Project. Much of the work on the CMP is done in a couple of library departments, but the staffing of this exhibit has cut across all departments and given everyone, from the director on down, the chance to be directly involved in the project and see how enjoyable and worthwhile our local history services are.
Memories are just one aspect of local history work and the range of information in Special Collections and the Cleveland Memory Project range from such casual recollections of the past to serious, scholarly research projects, but being in contact with people enjoying themselves like this reminds us all of how important a sense of place and a shared heritage is for the community. This exhibit has helped us emphasize the "Cleveland" in "Cleveland State" and we're very thankful that the Fair Board and National City have given us this opportunity to interact with the thousands of fair-goers. I think everyone's come out ahead.