Resident recalls how the fair has changed over 89 years

Berlin Allen

MOUNT JACKSON — Berlin Allen, 93, first went to the Shenandoah County Fair in 1928, traveling with his family from their farm in the Mount Jackson area.

“We would leave early in the morning with our horse and wagon and get to the fair and leave down there about four and get back home,” Allen said.

Back in those early days, Allen said, the fair was different than it is today. Near the stage, the fair had a trapeze set up, where people would hold trapeze shows.

“They had some horse races,” Allen said. “Had some mule races, too, with regular jockeys on them, just like the old racetrack.”

And then, there was the burlesque show, or the “girly show” as Allen calls it. For years, he said, the fair had a burlesque show that lasted about 15 or 20 minutes.

Allen said he remembers the tickets for that show costing about $1, over six times the cost of the 15-cent admission into the fair.

Even with that cost, Allen said the event “was one big drawing card.”

He enjoyed going to the event, but eventually the show was canceled.

“They said it was too vulgar for the up and coming young children and stuff,” Allen said.

As Allen finished reminiscing about the burlesque show, he noted, “The good old days, they’re getting gone.”

The buildings, too, have changed. The stage is larger than the stage Allen remembers when he was young.

“There’s four places down there that’s all that’s left of the fair: the old cattle barn and the old grand stand and one exhibit building and one little poultry building,” Allen said.

All of the other buildings have been replaced with newer buildings or have simply gone away.

“”Through the years, they had to build new stuff, you know, because it was getting too bad,” he said.

Allen stopped going to the show between 1941 and 1950. In 1941, he deployed to the Pacific to fight in World War II.  He moved back to Mount Jackson in 1950.

During the time Allen was gone, he said the fair had a new exhibit building put in. But as different as the fair is from when Allen was growing up, he said that it remains much the same to him today.

“To me, every year of the fair is the fair,” Allen said. “Now, somebody that has only seen it once or twice coming back, that’s altogether different. But to see it as many times as I have, it’s all the same.”

By the 1980s, Allen had started working for the fair. In 1980, he was with the county Sheriff’s Office.

“Back then, the sheriff’s department took care of security for the fair,” Allen said.

But the Sheriff’s Office stopped working security for the fair somewhere between 1990 and 1995, Allen said.

In 1995, Allen retired from the Sheriff’s Office, but his work at the fair has continued. He is going to work security at the fair again this year, at the age of 93, and he said he is looking forward to it.

“I get to see a lot of old folks and people,” Allen said. “You know how that goes.”

And Allen has no plans to stop going to the fair any time soon.

“I’m going to try to until I can’t do it no more,” Allen said. “But you get 93, you can only do so much.”