(Photo by Randall E. Brown, from the Bob Piland collection)

Answer Man: What year was the first time that the Ozark Empire Fair took place? — Bradley Christian

The year was 1937. The first day was Oct. 10, a Sunday, a fact that was protested by the the local Ministerial Alliance, which didn’t want the fair “commercializing the Sabbath.”

Back then, it was called the Ozark Empire District Free Fair. Yes, it was free.

The name had to be changed in 1940 because admission came at a cost. It was all of 15 cents.

These days, it’s $7 in advance for adults and $10 during the fair.

This year’s carnival-and-more commences at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 28. It runs through Saturday, Aug. 6.

“We’re back to a full carnival,” fair manager Aaron Owen tells me. “Come out and enjoy the largest community event in the Ozarks.”

For more information go to the fair’s Facebook page.

It is the 86th Empire fair at the current location in north Springfield — 3001 N. Grant Ave. The independent fair board leases the land from the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.

The reason the numbers don’t add up when considering the first year is that there was a year in the 1930s when the fair was not held.

“That is my understanding,” Owen said.

(The fair was not shut down the past two years during the pandemic.)

According to the Oct. 11, 1937 edition of the Springfield Leader and Press, this is a sprinkling of what the fair offered that first year:

“A knife throwing act, sensational tumblers of extraordinary merit, comedians, thrill and amuse. The performing baby elephants, who walk forward, backward and turn around on an ‘elephant tight wire’ — a heavy bar about six inches wide — give one of the best trained animal shows of today.”

In addition, the newspaper stated:

“Of course, there is the musical revue featuring thirty or more good-looking girls who sing and dance against a resplendent background in colorful, though a bit scant, raiment.”

The fair was, in fact, a bit racy.

You can see at the bottom of this photo that one of the booths says “nudist” or “nudists.” Years ago, burlesque and other “girlie shows” often had spots on the fair midway. (Photo by Randall E. Brown, from the Bob Piland collection)

Sally Rand, for example, was a featured act at the 1941 Ozark Empire Fair. She was a “fan dancer.”

Rand, a native of Hickory County, either danced nude — or gave the impression she was dancing nude — while strategically placing fans or feathers over the most private parts of her body.

The fair was known for its “girlie shows” on the midway. They were a regular feature until the the end of the 1970s.

If you want a decade-by-decade, just the facts ma’am, history of the fair you can find it on the Ozark Empire Fair website.

If you want to read a whole book on the fair’s history, local writer Cheryl Kepes has you covered with “Memories in the Making: The History of the Ozark Empire Fair.” It was published in 2016. You can buy a copy by calling 417-833-2660. 

In its early years, according to the book, the fair featured not only race cars charging around a half-mile dirt track, but horses, as well. A thoroughbred highlight was a race called the Springfield Derby. The first fair featured Lillie Jenkins, of Oklahoma, the nation’s only female jockey.

That inaugural fair also had 350 head of livestock competing for blue ribbons.

Another option for fair history is local writer Kaitlyn McConnell, who wrote in-depth on the topic in 2016 on her Ozarks Alive blog.

(Photo by Randall E. Brown, from the Bob Piland collection)

How did I not know there was Extreme Freestyle Bullfighting at this year’s fair?

But none of the three discuss Extreme Freestyle Bullfighting. That’s because it was first offered at the fair in 2020.

Apparently, Extreme Freestyle Bullfighting is a sport.

The good news is that the bull does not get killed, unlike in other parts of the world, including Spain, where I’ve witnessed bullfighting.

The bad news is that competitors don’t wear those shimmering outfits worn by matadors.

In Extreme Freestyle Bullfighting, a human goes into a ring for some 40 seconds and dodges, controls and, yes, does back flips over 1,500 pounds of charging menace.

The bullfighters are judged not necessarily on how close they come to being gored and/or killed, as in the bullring in Madrid, but earn points and win cash for controlling the direction of the bull through fakes and for tricks that involve gymnastics — with the bull as apparatus.

Understandably, many of these extreme bullfighters are young people with broken bones.

I did notice in photos and videos that the horns of the bulls in this new sport are considerably blunted.

But when you really think about it, a bull doesn’t need its horns to stomp your skull to mush.

The Extreme Freestyle Bullfighting is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5.

My favorite fair event will be at 6:30 p.m. the night before. It’s the Demolition Derby, when the winning vehicle is the only one left that can move.

Child general admission (Ages 6 – 11) is $3 in advance and $5 during the fair.

Super passes are $30 in advance. They are for children over 3-feet-tall, due to height limitations for rides.

Parking, which is not guaranteed, is $5.

This is Answer Man Column No. 17.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin