Little Egypt, asection of southern Illinois, is about to offer nine days of vigorouscompetition and varied entertainment. There will be Grand Circuit harnessracing, championship automobile and motorcycle racing, livestock andagricultural contests, the society horse show, the midway and the gala nightshows. All the elements that make a fair are there, plus some special touchesthat make the Du Quoin State Fair distinctive, for this fair is the mania ofone family, the Hayeses, held on their own private grounds. (It will gain evenmore distinction in the near future, for it has just been decided to transferthe Hambletonian, America's premier trotting classic, to Du Quoin from itstraditional home at Goshen, N.Y.) It is called "state fair" for want ofanother name, although the real state fair is given at the capital,Springfield, and the legitimate county fair is presented at Perry County'sseat, Pinckneyville. The Du Quoin event exists because the late W. R. Hayesdecided he wanted it.
Du Quoin beganalmost 35 years ago on a sun-baked square of 30 acres along the highway outsidethe town. There was a half-mile track, three horse barns, a small grandstandand a sizable cloud of yellow dust that hung over the grounds during the races.There are also those who claim there was less water available than on theMojave Desert, because one of Mr. Hayes's business interests was soft drinks,and he demonstrated no reluctance about selling them to thirsty fair-goers.Harness horses and theaters were other concerns,so with the fairSportsman-Businessman-Showman Hayes was in his element. Once the event waslaunched it became, in the tradition of the carnival, bigger and better eachyear. Even through the Depression years Hayes managed to keep on acquiringsmall bits of land to add to the original square, and in 1939 purchased 800acres of the stripped-out Black Gold Mine. This dreary wasteland was contoured,threaded with roads and planted in bluegrass, an outdoor face-lifting of heroicproportions. The results today are nearly 1,500 acres of park and fairgroundswith the third fastest mile track in the U.S. for harness horses, amillion-dollar grandstand, 15 barns which can stable over 400 horses (thelargest handles 117 head), monumental arches marking the entrances to themidway, a brick hog pavilion and, on the edge of the property, the soft-drinkbottling plant.
During the 356days of the year when there is no fair in progress, the place is open to thepublic as a park. The 19 artificial lakes are stocked with fish, and all anyoneneeds is an Illinois fishing license, a pole and a little luck. Thirty-sevenmiles of private roads wind through the hills and pasture land, with picnicbenches and barbecue pits sprinkled in the groves of trees. Over 3,000 of theseshade trees were transplanted, as well as some 2,500 shrubs, further toembellish the grounds.
Sons Gene and DonHayes live on the fairgrounds in adjoining homes built where the three originalbarns once stood. The fact that the midway is almost in their backyard bothersthem not at all, for Don calmly explains, "Everybody's got to go to sleepeventually." Within walking distance of the houses are the palatial HayesFair Acres Stables, with some 55 head of horses, brood mares and colts,including Lusty Song (Hambletonian winner), Dudley Hanover (Little Brown Jugwinner) and the famous Pronto Don. Both brothers have driven in races at fairsof all sizes and on tracks of all descriptions, and Don, before becoming moreinterested in harness horses, made the show circuit for many years with histhree-and five-gaited Saddle Horses. The results of his experience are found inthe well-designed show ring and smoothly managed horse show. Running for fivenights and offering a variety of stakes, it usually attracts a range of ridersfrom top professionals like Art Simmons to top young amateurs like Ruth andDoris Gissy (see cover). The sisters have amassed some of their 150 trophiesand 400-odd ribbons at Du Quoin in previous years and aim at enlarging thecollection still further this week. Seventeen-year-old Ruth and her chestnutmare, Secret Love, are making what is almost a farewell tour, since after thisautumn Ruth will be too old to ride in most horsemanship and juvenile events.This fact will undoubtedly draw some sighs of relief from the ranks of teen-ageriders, as Ruth was defeated only once in 1955 after a vigorous season ofcampaigning. Daughter of St. Louis Eye Specialist Dr. Carl J. Gissy, Ruth firstlearned to ride at school. One spring a horse show brought a fifth award in aBeginner's Singles Class, and Ruth was bitten by the bug that is nourished ontanbark and championships. Sister Doris soon caught the same fever. Asuccession of better horses and bigger shows was inevitable, resulting in sucha collection of silver that when the girls reach marriageable age it will be agenuine feat to find a wedding present.
August 26, 1956
Although thehorse show is important to horse people at Du Quoin, it is largely ignored bythe night fair-going crowds. The big attraction is the stage show, presented onthe huge 118-by-65-foot stage in front of the grandstand. The Hayeses are asproud of their show as they are of their horses, as it is no package revue butcarefully selected throughout the year. They will not sign anyone they have notseen perform, and thus often book acts several years in advance. The Labor Dayshow, the fair's last, is completely different from that given on other days.The quest for all this talent takes the brothers on hasty trips all over thecountry, and they also follow their harness horses on the Grand Circuit fromJune until mid-November. In addition, Gene is a director of the U.S. TrottingAssociation, so it all makes for a busy life, and the Hayeses seem to love it."When the fair is over on Monday," says Gene with a grin, "we starton Tuesday getting ready for next year's."
Twilight on themidway finds leisurely crowd sampling attractions before night's big stage showat grandstand
Pacers turn infront of the steward's tent after scoring. Grand Circuit racing is held forfive days on the mile track, which is considered one of the country's fastest.Rich purses draw many top horses. Fairgrounds is also the home of Pronto Don,now retired, the top money-winning harness horse of all time
After the horses,championship big-car sprints (above) and 100-mile auto race are held. Du Quoinboasts one of 14 major auto racing tracks in U.S. Between events, water skiexhibitions (below) are given on oval lagoon in the track's center field.Drivers often dive into the water at end of hot, dusty race
Enchantment forchildren is easily found at the fair. Ponies, safely attached to turnstile,become living carrousel on midway (above), while farm exhibits surroundingcarnival offer free and intriguing play for small fry. Many families enjoypicnic lunches along the borders of the ground's numerous artificial lakes