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Tag Archives: Yankee Doodle Fair
Westport’s annual rite of almost-summer — the Yankee Doodle Fair — kicked off last night at the Westport Woman’s Club.
The first night always attracts a horde of tweens and young teens. Alert “06880” reader Andrea Pouliot was there, with kids and a camera.
For 110 years, the Westport Woman’s Club has sponsored the Yankee Doodle Fair.
Attractions and entertainment have changed. But for 100 years, fair-goers have wondered “Who puts this on?”
When someone tells them, their next question is, “What’s the Westport Woman’s Club?”
To answer a century-plus of inquiring minds — and to honor their 110-year history — the WWC has hung a pop-up exhibit inside Bedford Hall. (That’s the wonderfully refurbished auditorium in their Imperial Avenue clubhouse, on the hill overlooking the Yankee Doodle Fair.)
Nearly 120 placards recount all those years of Westport Woman’s Club fundraising, and service to the town.
The story begins long before women could vote, and provides a fascinating window on women’s history, locally and nationally.
It also provides insight into public health and social services delivery here, before and after town government got involved.
It’s all for a great cause. Funds raised at the Fair go right back into the community, as grants and scholarships.
Just as they have for the past 110 years.
(The Yankee Doodle Fair — and accompanying exhibit — are open tonight and tomorrow [Thursday and Friday, June 15-16], 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday hours are 1 to 10 p.m.; Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.)
This weekend — as it has since 1907 — the Yankee Doodle Fair entertains thousands of kids of all ages. (Mostly kids.) (And their parents.)
Pam Ehrenburg — Pam Blackburn, as she was known in her Yankee Doodle-going days — has unearthed some fascinating old photos. All were taken by her father, famed magazine photographer George Barkentin.
They show the fair on what appears to be Jesup Green — or perhaps the topography of the sponsoring Westport Woman’s Club was different 60-plus yeas ago. (Pam believes the images were taken in 1952.)
Some of the fashions are different. But in many ways, the Yankee Doodle Fair is timeless too.
There are many reasons — probably more than 109 — to come to the 109th annual Yankee Doodle Fair.
But among the many — free admission! unlimited-ride wristbands! a bake sale with macaroons from 90-year-old Bev McArthur! — my favorite may be this:
Yankee Doodle himself is going.
The fictional colonial simpleton — who bears a striking resemblance to Westport artist Miggs Burroughs (designer of our town’s Minute Man flag) — will be there this week. In full costume.
With — of course — a feather in his cap.
For a $3 donation, you can take a selfie at the Yankee Doodle Fair (Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue). With Yankee Doodle.
You gotta hand it to Miggs. When he borrowed his costume from fellow illustrator Ed Vebell, he realized it was a better fit for a 1776-size guy.
So Miggs found a tailoring kit, and fixed it himself.
Betsy Ross would be proud.
Which is not just a clever line. Fun fact: Miggs actually dated Betsy Ross.
No, not that one. He isn’t that old.
Miggs met this Betsy Ross in 1998, at a New Year’s party at Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler’s house. She grew up in Westport — as Betsy Peterken– and left Staples after 10th grade.
By the time she returned for that party she’d married and divorced Thomas McCaughey, married (and was in the process of separating from) wealthy investment banker Wilbur Ross — and was, in her own right (using the name Betsy McCaughey Ross) lieutenant governor of New York, under George Pataki.
A staunch conservative, she was also in the process of defecting to the Democratic Party — so she could run against Pataki. (She lost in the primary.)
Which brings us — in a roundabout way — back to Yankee Doodle.
The costume is hot. So Miggs will be in air-conditioned Bedford Hall — part of the Yankee Doodle Fair grounds — for limited hours: 6-8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, June 16-17; 4-7 p.m. Saturday, June 18, and 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, June 19.
After 109 years, this Yankee Doodle Fair promises to be a historic occasion.
(Full hours for the Yankee Doodle Fair: 6-10 p.m. June 16-17, 1-10 p.m. June 18; 1-5 p.m. June 19. All proceeds help fund Westport Woman’s Club grants and scholarships. For more details, click here.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in the day, the Westport Woman’s Club’s Yankee Doodle Fair raised money to build sidewalks on Main Street, install toilets at Compo Beach, and bring hot meals and health care to our schools.
That day was 100 years ago.
Today we’ve got sidewalks (some in retro red brick). There are toilets at Compo (both permanent and portable). And our schools serve plenty of hot meals (though at least Two Angry Moms think they’re not exactly healthful).
But the Yankee Doodle Fair still raises money for local causes. Last year, the Woman’s Club donated $200,000 to community groups.
That would pay for a lot of Port-a-Potties.
This year’s Fair opens tomorrow (Thursday, June 17, 5-11 p.m.). It continues through Sunday at the Woman’s Club on Imperial Avenue.
There’ll be a Ferris wheel, flying Dumbo, kiddie cars, basketball toss, bumper cars, tower drop, giant slide, scrambler, and the “brand new and breath-taking Zero Gravity.”
For the less adventurous, there’s face painting, sand art, and plant and bake sales.
The Westport Woman’s Club downplays their civic contributions. Few Yankee Doodle Fair-goers — little kids enjoying the rides; middle schoolers primping and preening; adults reliving a relic of their youth — even realize they help the organizers support dozens of worthy charities.
That’s fine. The last thing you want to think about — hanging upside down on the banks of the Saugatuck River, your change falling out of your pockets — is where your money is going.
Well, let me rephrase that…
The Yankee Doodle Fair opens this week. There’s cotton candy, a roller coaster, semi-rigged games — all for less than the cost of a water bottle at Six Flags.
Though the Yankee Doodle Fair has been a Westport tradition for 100 years, it was not on my radar growing up. In junior high — the fair’s target age group — I was a Long Lots boy. An event on Imperial Avenue was irrelevant.
We had our own carnival. It sprawled across an empty, weed-filled Post Road lot, next to Dairy Queen (now Swanky Frank’s). That’s right: Every May there was a fair where Barnes & Noble now stands.
What I remember most were not the nights spent prowling the grounds, trying to impress other young teenagers by smoking cigarettes, sneaking into the sideshow and generally acting cool.
It was the fact that my friends and I set up the rides.
I don’t know where OSHA and state regulators were, but the carnival operators actually hired 13-year-old boys to build Ferris wheels, roller coasters and Tilt-‘Em whirls.
We had minimal training — toothless, tattooed men in T-shirts handed us wrenches and pointed us in the right direction — and even less supervision. We were not, at 13, the most conscientious of workers. And as Westport kids we were not exactly mechanical whizzes.
It’s a miracle the entire carnival did not collapse in a heap of twisted, teen-constructed metal.
But who thought about things like that? We did our “work.” We pocketed our $2 pay. And as we strolled around Long Lots all week, we thought of ourselves not as suburban boys, but as carny roustabouts.
As proof, we smoked the cigarettes the real ones — our bosses — had given us.