Yankee Doodle Comes To Town

For 108 years, June in Westport has meant 2 things:

  • The end of school
  • The Yankee Doodle Fair.

For longer than any man or woman here has been alive, the Westport Woman’s Club event has signaled the start of summer. It’s also the long-lived civic organization’s main fundraiser, helping them help dozens of local charities and provide important scholarships to Staples grads.

I’m sure that back in the pre-internet, pre-TV, pre-radio (!) day, there were lots of old-fashioned, carnival-style fairs. I remember them at Compo Beach, the empty lot where Barnes & Noble now sits, and (of course) Festival Italiano.

The Yankee Doodle Fair is the only one still alive. Generations of Westporters have fond memories of it.

Some have more tangible images.

Ann Sheffer - Yankee Doodle FairIn 1952, 4-year-old Ann Sheffer attended the Fair. She keeps a photo of herself on a carousel (left) — and gets a kick out of watching 21st-century 4-year-0lds ride them.

When Ann was growing up, many Woman’s Club members were either artists themselves, or married to artists. Affordable portrait drawing was a big Yankee Doodle Fair attraction.

Howard Munce — who at nearly 100 years old is still 8 years younger than the Fair — drew portraits at the Fair. So did Miggs’ Burroughs father, Bernie.

But Bernie didn’t draw his son. The charcoal portrait below was done around 1956 by Westporter Tom Lovell. He later became a famed book cover artist and painter of Western art, whose works sold for up to $400,000.

This portrait of Miggs probably cost $1. But he still has it.

Miggs Burroughs by Tom Lovett

Years after sitting (while watching all his friends going on rides), Miggs went on to curate the Woman’s Club Art Show Fundraiser last month. It featured local artists — and honored Ann Sheffer’s aunt, Susan Malloy. Interesting how the Yankee Doodle Fair connects them all.

Linda Gramatky Smith remembers the Yankee Doodle Fair too. Every year, her parents — Hardie (“Little Toot” author/illustrator) Gramatky and Dorothea Cooke — took turns in the portrait booth.

Her father’s diary from June 28, 1956 notes he went to the Fair that day with famed artists Ward Brackett, Dolli Tingle, Herb Olsen, Donald Purdy, Arpi Ermoyan and Johnny Gannam.

But they were not just drawing caricatures. In 1953, Hardie Gramatky matted a watercolor as a gift to the Fair. Just one more Westporter helping the Westport Woman’s Club make money.

This year’s edition opens tomorrow. There’ll be many chances for today’s kids to make their own memories for years to come.

A caricature by T.C. Ford

A T. C. Ford caricature

Besides the traditional rides and games, new this year are a “Children’s Garden” area, a photo opp board, a “Fountain of Wishes,” face painting (fun or fierce), sand art, and (Saturday and Sunday only), caricaturist T.C. Ford (with his sidekick, all-natural henna artist Brigid Fleming).

The timing is perfect. School is out. Summer is about to begin. After 108 years, things still haven’t changed.

The Yankee Doodle Fair runs Thursday and Friday (June 18 and 19, 6-10 p.m.), Saturday (June 20, 1-10 p.m.) and Sunday (June 21, 1-5 p.m.) at the Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue. Admission is free! Click here for more information.

One response to “Yankee Doodle Comes To Town

  1. Sally Palmer

    I’m looking right now at a portrait on the wall of me done at the Yankee Doodle Fair in the early 50’s by Bob Skemp. At that time the fair took place on what was then the grounds of Bedford Jr High (Kings Highway School). Always a good time.