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1895: A Fair to Remember
By Tom Peeler |

FOR A FEW WEEKS IN 1895, Dallas captured more national newspaper space than it had eked out in its first 50 years. Fair officials persuaded two of the country’s most illustrious figures-John Philip Sousa, the march king, and William Jennings Bryan, the young silver-tongued orator, to come to the Texas fair.

Sousa, who had left the United States Marine Band three years earlier and was concluding a successful engagement at the St. Louis Exposition, agreed to present two full concerts every day for two weeks. Bryan, intent on building a political base in the South and West, was eager to appear on Free Silver Day, the cause that had thrust him into the national limelight.

Local music critics, perhaps more accustomed to hearing the washboard and fiddle, were awestruck by Sousa’s performance. In trying to explain why words failed in his efforts to review the event, a writer for The Dallas Morning News asked rhetorically, “Who can chain the melody of the mcadowlark as it soars into the blue ether of early dawn, and who can translate the ecstasy of the nightingale, trilling its heart throbs to its mate in the hush of the night?”

The general public was politely appreciative, but applause was dampened because, instead of playing peppy marches such as “Liberty Bell” and “Washington Post,” Sousa was force-feeding them Mendelssohn, Wagner, and Bach. Detecting unrest, the fair promoters announced that on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 1,Sousa would devote an entire program to his Famous compositions.

Bryan and the Free Silverites were to appear at the Music Hall at 10:30 a.m., to be followed by Sousa at 12:30 p.m., with no time for intermission. Gov. Charles Culberson was on hand for Bryan’s appearance, as were most of the state’s other top politicos, including the rotund ex-governor Jim Hogg, still a powerful force in the Democratic Party. By the time the politicians were finished glad-handling and backslapping, the program was 45 minutes late.

The audience was largely made up of mothers with children in tow. Since women were not allowed to vote, most had little interest in Bryan’s oration, but wanted their offspring to hear the renowned band leader. The kids just wanted to get the ordeal over with so they could go see Minnie the Wild Girl and Laloo the Double-bodied Hindu.

By 12:30 p.m., when it was time for Sousa to appear, Bryan was just getting warmed up. “They say I am disturbing the harmony of the party,” Bryan proclaimed. “When Johnny’s mother told him to stop pulling the cat’s tail, Johnny said, ’I’m not pulling; I’m just holding on-the cat’s doing the pulling.’” Bryan went on to explain at great length that he was merely holding ontoaprinciple;the “Gold Bugs” were causing the disharmony.

By this time the children had started stomping their collective feet, and the din grew soloud that the program had to be halted. When told that the Sousa performance would be delayed indefinitely, half the audience stormed off in a huff.

Bryan and Sousa bore no permanent scars from the embarrassing incident in Dallas. Within a few months, the “boy orator” would be named Democratic candidate for president and the march king would compose a catchy ditty called “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Step Right Up!

Test Your Knowledge of the State Fair of Texas!

1. True or False. Before his fair debut in 1952, Big Tex was a giant Santa Claus in Kerens, TX.

2. Which odd couple headlined the 1946 fair?

a. Spike Jones & Lily Pons

b. Joe Dimaggio & Shirley Temple

c. Tommy Dorsey & Gypsy Rose Lee

d. Joe Louis & Ethel Barrymore

3. Who among the following has not appeared at the State Fair of Texas?

a. Buffalo Bill

b. Louisa May Alcott

c. Elsie the Cow

d. Harry Houdini

4. True or False. Corny dog impresario Neil Fletcher played a bank teller in the movie Bonnie and Clyde.

5. What was the Texas refresher introduced by Sammy Bert at the 1927 fair?

6. Who was Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s special guest at the 1961 fair?

a. UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarshjold

b. British PM Harold Macmillan

c. King Olaf of Norway

d. Bashir Ahmed, a camel driver from Karachi, Pakistan

7. Who won top prize for a Santa Gertrudis bull in 1973?

a. Ann Richards

b. Walt Garrison

c. John Connally

d. Tex Schramm

8. Who was the first U.S. president to appear at the October event?

9. What Cotton Bowl debacle in 1947 resulted in a permanent ban on the sale of soft drinks in bottles?

10. True or False. State Fair President R.L. Thornton offered a prize of $50,000 to anyone who could capture a flying saucer in time for display at the 1950 fair.

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