The 60th anniversary Pemberville Free Fair that starts tonight in eastern Wood County more than lives up to its "free" billing.
Admission is indeed free to all events and groups that perform in its Saturday afternoon parade get paid. The fair is paying $550 each to 10 high school bands from Wood and surrounding counties to march in its mile-long parade and perform in downtown Pemberville or at the fair in Memorial Park.
With displays of baked goods, produce, livestock, flowers, and quilts, the Pemberville Free Fair is "kind of a miniature version of a county fair," said Todd Sheets, chairman of the fair's parade.
What it lacks - besides the $4 to $7 gate admission prices area county fairs charge - are the tractor pulls, harness races, and demolition derbies that are mainstays of county fair entertainment. It has substitutes for all those, however.
Instead of roaring farm or modified tractors, the free fair has a kid's pedal tractor pull tomorrow evening. Instead of horse races, it has a human race - a five-mile run Friday evening. And instead of crashing cars, it has a new contest called Fair Factor, billed as "two nights of grueling competition" based on television's Fear Factor show.
The entry form asks applicants if they are afraid of rodents, flying insects, eating live things, worms, spiders, snakes, small spaces, the dark, water, and drowning.
Mr. Sheets said fair organizers are keeping specifics under wraps. But the list of sponsors, which includes R&K Bait Shop, C&L Sanitation, and Marsh Funeral Homes, might provide clues to the events tomorrow and Saturday nights.
Other than Fair Factor, almost everything will be traditional about the fair, which Mr. Sheets predicted will draw up to 25,000 people over four days to the village of 1,376.
The Pemberville American Legion Post 183 Auxiliary is preparing to sell 100 homemade pies a day, one piece at a time. The post's stand typically boasts a wide variety of fruit and meringue-topped pies.
Tomorrow evening, the fair's calf club will sell its slow-cooked barbecued beef. Friday evening, the Sons of the American Legion will sell roast pork.
A frog-jumping contest for youth 14 and under on Saturday afternoon is often one of the fair's funniest offerings.
"Some people are screaming. Some people are jumping up and down. Some people are trying to blow on their frog," Mr. Sheets said of the rules that allow competitors to do almost anything except touch their frog.
The fair opens this evening with a kiddie parade featuring children 14 and younger on bicycles, in wagons, with pets, and sometimes in elaborate floats their parents helped design.
But even some of the fair's most traditional events have changed over the years. When animal rights activists complained about the fair's greased pig contest that gave youngsters 35-pound pigs to raise and sell, the fair made changes.
It changed the name of the contest where 135 children try to catch 95 pigs to the swine scramble. And, instead of greasing the pigs, the fair now greases the children.
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