Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi

July 28, 2008 | By | Comments (41)

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(Photos by Jennifer V. Cole and Kathryn Cole)

This week, on a twisty stretch of Highway 21 outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, the 119-year-old Neshoba County Fair celebrates the very essence of Southern hospitality (July 25-August 1). I’ve been going since I was 3-months-old, and I can tell you, there’s a reason it’s known as "Mississippi’s Giant House Party." For seven days, folks do a lot of eating (fried foods required), drinking (you might find some ‘shine), front porch sittin’, and late-night pickin’. It’s a time to slow down. To forget laptops and cell phones. And to practice the art of conversation and storytelling on a lazy summer day. I just spent a weekend at the Fair catching up with friends and chasing around after my nieces and nephews (I’ve got the red-clay-stained feet to prove it), and I can’t think of a better place to be in the month of July. If you’ve never been, add it to your list.  If you have been, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here are a few photos of life at the Fair:

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Neshobacounty

As you walk past the rows of cabins, you’ll inevitably hear kids say "Mommmmm! When can we go to the Midway?" The Midway is home to 20 different rides and an assortment of carnival games. Step right up for a chance to win a stuffed animal, or climb aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Ring of Fire to feel a little G-force pull. As kids, my brothers and I would wait until the Midway closed each night, and then go look under the Zipper for money that fell out of people’s pockets during the ride. It was the perfect way to fund our own Midway exploits without constantly dipping into the Daddy-ATM.

 

Happyhollow

Afternoon rain storms are a welcome break from the stifling summer heat–Mississippi in July isn’t exactly temperate. Some folks are content to wait out the showers from the safety of a front-porch swing. The more free-spirited head straight for the red mud at the racetrack to go "swimming" in the puddles. Even if you don’t take a dive into the puddles, expect a little bit of that red Neshoba clay to leave it’s mark. Word of advice: Don’t wear white to the Fair.

Pettingbarn

Girlcow

The Neshoba County Fair started in 1889 as a meeting of local farmers, and it’s still rooted in agriculture. Throughout the week, there are three livestock shows (beef, dairy, and sheep), a calf scramble, and a Friday-night rodeo. The Petting Barn is open during the day for kids to get a hand’s-on (notice the hand-washing station) look at the animals, from cows and horses to baby chicks and rabbits.

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For one week in July during the Fair, the fairgrounds operate like a self-contained city. About 600 brightly painted wooden cabins are divided into neighborhoods with names like Founders’ Square, Happy Hollow, and Sunset Strip. Trucks drive around making daily ice deliveries (you go through a LOT of ice at the Fair). And there’s even a post office on-site, where you can get your own Neshoba County Fair postmark.

Freshbeans

Whether it’s a deep-fried corndog and a fresh-squeezed lemonade from Lindsey’s at the Midway, a local farmer selling fresh vegetables, or an invitation to share fried chicken and cat-head biscuits at a nearby cabin, you’re never far from your next meal. This is not the time to try out a new diet.

 

Woodedpavillion

Welcome to a bastion of old-fashioned, tree-stump politics. Ronald Reagan announced his bid for the Presidency here. Michael Dukakis made it a stop on his campaign trail. Gubernatorial candidates show up to press the flesh. And local politicians make empassioned pleas to voters under the eaves of the old wooden Pavilion in Founder’s Square.

Neshobahorses

Every afternoon, Sunday through Friday, spectators line up around the track to watch the harness races. Though there’s no organized betting, it’s not uncommon to find folks placing a friendly wager. Whether you watch from the grandstand, from the bed of a pick-up truck, or from a cabin porch, you’ll hear shouts of "Go number 5!" (or 4 or 7) echoing around the dusty track.

But the real action happens right after the last horse race, when the Chair Race begins. People line up with lawn chairs to flood the infield as soon as the last horse is off the track. You’ll see lines of chairs duct-taped together. People leaping fences. Elbows being thrown. It’s a rowdy fight for a nightly prize: seats for that evening’s entertainment. Whether it’s the Miss Neshoba County Fair pageant or the Cross Canadian Ragweed concert, a front-row seat is a point of pride at the Neshoba County Fair. You can’t buy it or get special passes for it. A front-row seat is earned at the Fair.

COMMENTS

  1. Kathryn Cole

    Who’s your photographer… :)

    July 28, 2008 at 10:01 pm
  2. Melany

    Next year count us in! I hope Obama planned to stop in for some good ol’ Southern polotican’

    July 28, 2008 at 10:07 pm
  3. AJ in London

    the memories of my first time seeing a cow get vacuumed….

    July 29, 2008 at 3:49 am
  4. Macs

    What a wonderful place to create “FFF” (forced family fun) and leave with the best memories of your life!

    July 29, 2008 at 7:46 am
  5. Keri

    Great pictures and great story!

    July 29, 2008 at 8:28 am
  6. d-ashes

    AJ in London: you’ve seen a cow being vacuumed since? (because I haven’t)

    July 29, 2008 at 9:21 am
  7. AJ in London

    d-ashes: no but I’m expecting to next time I see you at Neshoba!

    July 29, 2008 at 11:07 am
  8. Evelyn

    Thank you Jennifer for bringing the Fair to me here in NYC. Like you I used to go every year since the womb. Your descriptions and pictures were the second best thing to being there this year!
    Evelyn

    July 30, 2008 at 9:24 am
  9. Debbie

    Great job! Loved your pictures! The only this missing is the smell of sawdust.

    August 1, 2008 at 10:37 pm
  10. Debbie

    Great job! Loved your pictures! The only THING missing is the smell of sawdust!

    August 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm
  11. Regina

    Excellent coverage of our Fair! Really enjoyed it–you put a smile on my face.

    August 2, 2008 at 4:21 pm
  12. Sherry

    You caught the essence! Sure wish I could get a copy of your pix to put in our Fair cabin- especially loved the Ferris wheel and horse race shots!!

    August 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm
  13. Bill

    Great story! Brought back many memories.

    August 2, 2008 at 5:29 pm
  14. Jan

    Great article–you did a wonderful job of describing the southern hospitality in Mississippi!

    August 2, 2008 at 9:07 pm
  15. Aimee

    Great story and photos! Thanks for sharing with those of us who could not be there.

    August 2, 2008 at 10:36 pm
  16. Kaye Rowell

    Great job writing about “Our Fair”. To describe it is so hard BUT you hit it right on.

    August 4, 2008 at 10:56 am
  17. Gina

    Great article…still recovering!

    August 4, 2008 at 4:11 pm
  18. Kiley

    Hey Jennifer nice one. That blueberry slushi sure was nice Friday Night!

    August 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm
  19. Jackie

    Jennifer, great comments on the ” Gaint House Party”.

    August 5, 2008 at 2:48 pm
  20. Beth

    What a delightful story!!! And amazingly accurate……. The only thing better is being there………..keep up the good work!!!!

    August 5, 2008 at 4:05 pm
  21. willy

    Wow, thank goodness i got to miss the redneck mudfest this year.

    August 6, 2008 at 8:27 am
  22. Gail

    Looks like y’all had a good time this year! Fun story.

    August 6, 2008 at 9:13 am
  23. pandreson

    The Neshoba County Fair is great for watching politicians interact with people, said Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus. A lot of what goes on there is like performance art, with crowds of campaign supporters cheering, booing and waving signs.
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