Merced County Times Newspaper
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1922 Greater Merced Exposition was prototype for our current fairs


Special to the Times


The Merced County Spring Fair is just around the corner, May 1 to May 5, in Los Banos.

Formerly known as Los Banos’ May Day celebration, it was started by German immigrant and cattle king Henry Miller on May 1, 1890. Along with a few other counties, our county has the unique distinction of having two annual county fairs — the Spring Fair in Los Banos and the County Fair in Merced held at the start of June.

This origin may have been due to the geographical division of the east and west sides of Merced County.

Historically, attempts to unify our two county fairs have been made, including the “Greater Merced Exposition” of 1922. This event is considered a forerunner of the modern Merced County Fair. Not only did it showcase the products of merchants, farmers, and ranchers, but it also included displays from the “Greater West Side.” The exposition ran from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 and featured a variety of exhibits and programs.

This was by no means the first Merced exposition. In the 1910s, it was known as the “Merchant’s Carnival & Produce Exposition” and was organized by the Merced Merchants’ Association. Crowning the Carnival Queen and her royal court, concerts, and parades were just some of the event’s highlights. World War I probably disrupted the exposition, which did not resume until 1922.

On the opening night of the 1922 Exposition, more than 3,000 visitors took part in the festivities. Mayor Jesse Wood delivered the official opening remarks and welcomed people on behalf of the City of Merced. County Chamber of Commerce representative Andrew Schottky gave a booster talk and predicted that the success of this fair would lead to a bigger one next year. After that, music, dance, and fashion shows took the stage. For example, Hartman’s Department Store’s models showcased the latest fall styles of women’s and men’s clothing.

One of the crowd-drawing events was the most popular flapper contest, which created great interest not just for the participants but also for the public. Of course, the prize, a diamond ring, played a big part in this, but more interestingly, the attention has been fixated on the definition of the word flapper. Each demographic gave it a “fitting” meaning, such as highflier to an old maid, prettiest girl to a married man, silly brainless girl to a married woman, modern young woman to a young lady, and sassy cute woman to an old gentleman. Inez Landram was the winner of this contest sponsored by Merced Lions Club.

The cultural revolution was not the only element in this fair. As always, wherever there is a crowd, there will be politicians. Gubernatorial candidate Friend W. Richardson made his rounds at the fair and gave a brief non-political speech. The Merced Post of the American Legion also made its political demonstration at the fair on October 2 during the American Legion night. They urged the people of Merced County to vote for California Proposition 1 to permit WWI veterans to acquire or develop farms or homes with state funds.

The Merced Post had its night of programming, but it was not alone. Others included Native Sons and the local Lions, Elks, and Rotary clubs. Most importantly, the exposition celebrated different regions within the 35th Agricultural District each day except for Sunday: Mariposa County Night on the opening day, Atwater-Fruitland-Winton Day on Monday, Stevenson Day and Livingston Night on Tuesday, West Side Day on Wednesday, Hilmar-Irwin Day on Thursday, Le Grand-Cressey Day on Friday, and Planada-El Nido Day on the closing day.

Dos Palos was responsible for putting up a wonderful display highlighting the prosperity of the “Greater West Side” with various fresh and dried products. Since rice fields encompassing several thousand acres had been developed in the Dos Palos area, rice was one of the main “ingredients” of this display.

The West Side story was inspiring because it spoke of unity. In the past, the absence of a cross-county highway as well as the San Joaquin River had created barriers that divided the county geographically, politically, and economically; thus, it resulted in misunderstanding, suspicion, and disagreement. The residents on the West Side would rather do business with the people in Fresno or Modesto.

The opening of Los Banos Highway (current Highway 152) between Los Banos and Merced on September 30, 1922, was a game changer and marked a new era of cooperation because county residents could drive between Los Banos and Merced in a little over an hour. The timing was perfect and made the celebration of West Side Day at the Greater Merced Exposition more meaningful.

If you travel on Highway 152 to attend the Merced County Spring Fair, please remember the important opening date this highway and the 1922 Exposition share and the role that the 1922 Exposition played as the prototype for our modern fairs.

For more information about the history of Merced County, please visit the Courthouse Museum during our visiting hours Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Currently on display is the “What’s That For? The Stories of Obscure Artifacts” exhibit.

Sarah Lim is the director of the Merced County Courthouse Museum

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