THH: Episode 6: Scenes from the Indiana State Fair

Transcript of Scenes from the Indiana State Fair

Jump to the Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from original research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

[Circus music]

Lindsey Beckley: The history of the Indiana State Fair is made of millions of scenes. Fascinating, incredible, and shocking scenes… witnessed in exhibit halls, from the stands of the colosseum, and in the cloth tents of the sideshows.  Scenes of friends and families enjoying a day of leisure, of farmers learning about the most recent innovations, of couples winning giant stuffed animals, and of kids trying cotton candy for the very first time.  So, in this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we bring you just a few of those scenes that, when put together, will give a glimpse into the rich and vibrant history of the Indiana State Fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start, Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your guide through the fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Scene one: The First Fair

In 1850, nearly 60 percent of all men in Indiana were farmers. Twelve million, seven hundred ninety-three thousand, four hundred and twenty two acres of fertile farmland stretched across the Hoosier state. It’s no surprise, then, that Indiana Governor Joseph Wright was concerned with the advancement of agriculture in his state. In order to encourage steady progress, Governor Wright urged the Indiana General Assembly to pass an act establishing the State Board of Agriculture, whose mission was to move Indiana to the forefront of farm production. One way in which the board fostered development was by establishing a place for farmers to share new ideas and theories as well as exhibit the products of their hard work. To facilitate such a gathering, the first Indiana State Fair was held in 1852 in what is today Military Park in Indianapolis. From October 20st to October 22nd, over 1000 farmers gathered to display over thirteen hundred exhibit entries. Cash premiums were awarded in such categories as “best 3 year old bull,” “best stallion for heavy draft,” “best manure fork,” and “best lot of butter made from 5 cows in 30 consecutive days.” Unfortunately, no award was given that year for “best pair men’s cowhide shoes.”

The fair was a rousing success. Attendance was estimated at 30,000, an impressive number considering that this was well before automobiles and paved roads made travel fast and convenient. One Monroe County farmer wrote about the fair

Voice actor reading fron newspaper:…It reflects honor upon all, and must make every ‘Indianan’ more proud of his state, for its inventive genius and skill’ its preserving industry and energy…No one doubts that important results will flow from this exhibition.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Scene two: “Curiosities, Rarities, Oddities…”

In 1870, all non-educational attractions were banned from the Indiana State Fair. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. Throughout the early years of the fair, board members struggled to strike a balance between educational exhibits that would advance the state’s agricultural progress and attractions that would draw in enough people to offset the fair costs… whether the board liked it or not, sideshows were among the most popular attractions for the average Hoosier. At the first fair, there were reports of grizzly bears, a learned pig, and trained seals on display. But it wasn’t always just strange or exotic animals that were showcased in these traveling sideshows. Sometimes, the recipients of the pointing fingers and the wide eyes were entirely human.

[Somber music]

Beckley: This era of show biz history is sometimes called the “freak show era,” after the so called freaks who were often billed as their main attraction. In reality, those called “freaks” were just regular people with visible differences from the average person. Some were discriminated against because of the way they were born. They were called “born different” people. Some were gawked at due to some strange skill or physical feat they could perform. Show runners said those people were “made freaks.” Some were simply very tall, very short, obese, or from a different land. Promoters labeled them as “curiosities, rarities, oddities, wonder, mistakes, prodigies, special people, and sometimes even monsters.” Sometimes, these people had chosen to join the show but more often, they were driven to do so out of desperation after being turned away from society or even sold into the shows as children.

Knowing this, it’s not too surprising that sideshows were such a controversial topic. What may be surprising, though, is why they were controversial. Victorian morality is often cited as the root of the contention, but not in the way that I assumed when doing my research; oftentimes, it was the people thronging in to see the sideshows that moral authorities were concerned with, rather than the performers themselves. For example, in his argument for the 1870 ban on sideshows, fair board superintendent John Sullivan did not express concern about the human beings in the shows being treated as no more than objects of curiosity, rather, he was concerned that the shows would detract from the educational aspects of the fair, asking

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: Does the young lad remember more of Fine Art Hall than of the snake show? Are the impressions formed in the first as lasting as in the second?

Beckley: He also expressed disgust towards the type of people that would attend such a show, saying:

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: They bring in their trail the worst classes of thieves and scoundrels of low and high degree.

Beckley: Similarly, in 1901, the State Board of Agriculture endeavored to

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: make this fair of such a character as would appeal to the best element of society- a fair where the most refined and Christian lady could take her children and enjoy a day in viewing the wonderful progress displayed

Beckley: and so the fairgrounds and the surrounding area were cleared of “anything that would offend refined tastes,” and that included the sideshows.

Time and again, the prohibition of sideshows at the fair came with admonishments about the moral influence of the people in the shows, instead of moral outrage at the treatment of those people. It would be decades before the sideshows closed for good. Some sources link the rising consciousness of equality for people with disabilities and the establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act with the close of this dark chapter of the Indiana State Fair.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: Scene three: “Hush! Those Beatles are in Indiana”

If you run a search of digitized Indiana Newspapers from 1960 to 1963 for the term “The Beatles” you get a little over 50 results. Running that same search for 1964 brings up over forty-five hundred results. It’s safe to say that Indiana, along with the rest of America, caught Beatle-mania in 1964 when the pop group launched their first American tour. The mania reached a crescendo in Indiana when, on September 3, the Fab Four came to the Indiana State Fair.

The news was announced on April 8 and was accompanied by headlines like:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Singing Beatles will appear at Indiana State Fair

Beckley: and

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Hoosiers and the Beatles

Beckley: and lots of “Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.” Tickets to the two shows, one in the Indiana State Fair coliseum, and one in front of the grandstand, were sold out even before they were printed, leading one teen to write to an Indiana Congressman pleading for help in obtaining a ticket. “If I cannot see the Beatles,” she wrote, “I’ll surely wither away.”

The preparations for the band were extensive. After seeing the group mobbed by crazed fans in other cities, security was made a top priority; a security force of over 150 police officers and State Troopers were assigned to guard the Beatles and the stage. After hearing of young girls fainting and collapsing during other concerts, plans for the medical care of fans were formed, including strategically placed stretchers and ambulances as well as the presence of medical personnel.

Finally, all that was left to do was welcome the “mop-heads” and the madness that seemed to accompany them wherever they went.


Arriving early on September 3, the group was whisked away to the Speedway Motel in Indianapolis by their security escort. A small group of fans had gathered at the hotel but they were mostly well behaved except for one young man who, impersonating a hotel waiter, snuck into what he thought was the Beatles room only to find it empty.

Fans began arriving early for the coliseum show and the crowd surged with excitement each time someone thought they had glimpsed one of the band members. After tolerating several opening acts, it was the moment all those star struck teenagers had been waiting for.

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: The Band took the stage and opened with “Twist and Shout.”

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: The screaming was so loud that it all but drowned out the music. As girls were overcome by their excitement and fainted, Red Cross workers wound their way through the crowd to administer treatment. All told, 35 fans were treated at the Fairgrounds Red Cross hospital that day, all with Beatle related ailments.

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: After the 5 o’clock show, the English rockers were taken to the fair’s communications center for one of their famously droll press interviews which featured some real zingers, such as when, in response to the question “How do you stand on the [Vietnam] Draft?” John Lennon said, “About five foot, eleven inches.”

Once the interview was complete, they had the pleasure of meeting the Indiana State Fair Queen, Cheryl Lee Garrett, who later said that while she had enjoyed meeting the Beatles, she had been more impressed with country music singer Tennessee Ernie Ford.

[Transition music]

Beckley: The second show went smoothly and it was late when the quartet made it back to the Speedway Motel with their police escort. In the wee hours of the morning, some of the state troopers found Ringo Starr sitting poolside. The troopers asked if Starr would like to go for a ride, and Starr accompanied them on a tour of the city. With dawn fast approaching, the group decided to stop at one of the troopers’ homes for breakfast but found that there was no food to be had. Instead, they had coffee while the trooper’s children snuck furtive peeks at the English rocker. The cup Starr drank from that morning sat in the family home for years to come, one of many keepsakes fans across the state treasured to remind them of the only time the Beatles ever made it to the Hoosier state.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Scene 4: Caroline Jessop: The Lady Confectioner

Caroline Jessop started her business by hauling candy making-equipment from county fair to county fair in a trunk on a horse drawn carriage. It being a simple enterprise, not necessarily legally recorded, it’s not surprising that pinning down an exact start date for The Lady Confectioner’s stand is a difficult task. Reports of the date of its creation vary wildly; from as early as 1850 to as late as the 1870s. Considering Caroline Jessop was all of 11 years old in 1850, I think we can guess that she started a bit later. What is certain, is that by the early 20th century, Caroline Jessop had made a name for herself as one of the best candy makers in the Midwest and Jessop’s Candy became a staple of the Indiana State Fair.


[Transition music]

A magazine published by the Indiana State Fair Board called Hub of the Universe wrote that Jessop’s candy was “always known for its purity, her tent for its cleanliness.” Jessop’s most famous creation, butterscotch popcorn, was made from a recipe so secret, so safe, that it was eventually lost to time, although the sweet treat is still made using a recipe as close to the original as possible. Caroline Jessop and her family branched out from the confectioners business to other fair related industries. In her will, Caroline Jessop left her “fair ground outfit and confectionary outfit…to her three sons, Edward, Charles, and Joseph Jessop”  and her “share of my Farris Wheel to her son Edward Jessop to be used or disposed of as he wishes.”

As the family tree grew, they took on different fair routes, making the Jessop name nationally known. One 5th generation Jessop claimed that he had handed butterscotch corn to the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman. At some points in the history of the Indiana State Fair, the Jessop’s had as many as 7 stands scattered across the fairgrounds. In recent years, ever more bizarre food can be found at the State Fair. But right there alongside the deep fried Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and deep fried BBQ bacon are the same Jessop classics: Butterscotch corn, saltwater taffy, and candy apples. All treats that the family has been selling to Hoosier fairgoers for generations.

[Advertisement music]

Speaking of Hoosier Women hard at work just like Caroline Jessup in that last scene,  we’re excited to announce a Call for Papers for the third annual Hoosier Women at Work conference.

The symposium will focus on the history of Indiana women in the arts and will be held at the Harrison Center for the Arts in Downtown Indianapolis on April 6, 2018.

We hope you will submit your paper or panel idea by December 1 and help us expand the knowledge of Hoosier women’s work in the arts.

Go to to find out more or call the Indiana Historical Bureau at 317-232-2536.

Now, back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: Scene 5: Hook’s Dependable Drug Store

[Transition music]

Beckley: For over half a century, history loving fairgoers have had the opportunity to walk through the doors of the Hook’s Historic Drug Store Museum and be transported to a 19th century pharmacy and soda fountain. For all the times I’ve visited the building, located just inside gate 1 of the fairgrounds, I’ve never stopped to wonder why it was there until now. As a lover of history and of the Indiana State Fair, it only made sense for me to look into the only official Museum on the Fairgrounds while researching this episode dedicated to the Indiana State Fair.

[Transition music]

Beckley: While some younger listeners may never have heard of Hook’s Dependable Drug Store, Hoosiers of a certain age have memories of visiting their local Hook’s for not only their medicinal needs, but for candy, comics, soda, and more. John Hook opened his first apothecary in 1900 on the southeast side of Indianapolis. Eight years later, he partnered with Edward Roesch to open a second store, also in Indianapolis. The chain expanded to include 53 stores by Hook’s death in 1943. Hook’s returned to the hands of the family when “Bud” Hook took over as president after the death of his father’s business partner in 1956. It was under Bud that the chain expanded into one of the largest regional drugstores in America.

The 1966 State Fair saw the opening of the Hook’s Historical Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum, originally planned as a temporary exhibit contributing to the Fair’s celebration of Indiana’s Sesquicentennial of statehood. Located in what was once the better babies building, the walls of the recreated apothecary were lined with mid nineteenth century pharmacy cabinets and the museum filled with antique drug store artifacts. At the time of its opening, newspapers reported that it was “the nation’s most complete and elaborate restoration” of a late 19th century drugstore. Highlights of the original store and museum included a collection of early patent medicines, advertising signs, and surgical and dental instruments.

With visitation estimated at 130,000 visitors, the exhibit, which also functioned as a small drugstore, was wildly popular during the 1966 state fair. So popular that Bud Hook, along with the State Fair Board, decided to make it permanent. In the intervening years, upwards of three million people have visited the attraction and the museum claims it’s the most visited pharmacy museum in America.

[Transition music]

While you can’t see the Beatles at this year’s Indiana State Fair, you can see the latest agricultural innovations, taste Jessop’s original butterscotch corn, and take a walk through Hooks Drug Store Museum!

I hope you enjoyed our tour through the 165 year history of the Indiana State Fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. As always, a big thanks goes to sound engineer Jill Weiss and Justin Clark, the voice of newspapers here on the podcast. Find us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist, that’s H I S T. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Scenes from the Indiana State Fair


                Avery, Julie. Agricultural Fairs in America

                Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Pg 748-750

Cross, Gary. Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. New York City: Charles Scribners & Sons, 2004.

Miner, Paul. Indiana’s Best: An Illustrated Celebration of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Academic Journals

Barker-Devine, Jenny. “Agricultural Fairs During the Nineteenth Century,” Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies. Accessed 6/5/2017.

Devlin, Philip.A Rich History: American Agricultural Fairs,” Durham Patch. Accessed 6/5/2017.

Harris, Betty, “The Beatles at the Indiana State Fair,” Traces Magazine of History, 14, No. 4 (2002): 24-35.

Kniffen, Fred. “The American Agricultural Fair: The Pattern,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 39, no. 4 (1949) : 264-282

Stringer, Katie. “The Legacy of Dime Museums and the Freakshow: How the Past Impacts the Present,” American Association for State and Local History 68, No. 4 (2013) : 13-18.


                Annual report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture Catalog Record. Accessed Hathi Trust.

                Will of Caroline Jessop, deceased. Fayette, Wills, Vol G, 1915-1923. Page 90-91. Accessed 7/24/2017

Special Thanks

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing. Without Jill, Lindsey would just be sitting in an empty room talking to herself about history.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes