Du Quoin's History of a Favored Event

By C. Mathis, The Southern Illinoisan , August 14, 2002.

a big top tentDu Quoin: The little tykes were lined up for judging. It was time for the annual baby contest, but the winner wasn't the cutest baby.

The winner of the contest was the finest physical specimen, the healthiest baby, said Fred Huff as he recounted tales of baby contests held in the first decade of the historic Du Quoin State Fair. They were judged by a group of Perry County physicians. They even turned over reports to the parents of any weaknesses found in the babies. I found that to be interesting.

He is also fascinated by what he discovered about a push-mobile soap box derby held at the fair in the late 1920s. The winning pusher for the race earned a $9 prize. The winning driver got a 97-pound watermelon.

That was a heck of a watermelon, Huff said. It could have about fed everybody at the fair that day.

I really liked finding out about unpublicized events like that.

Odd baby contests and watermelon prizes are just a few of the fascinating tales Huff has compiled in The History of the Du Quoin State Fair (1923-2002). The spiral-bound volume is being released Friday by Saluki Publications and Public Relations NFP, Inc., Huffs not-for-profit company.

The publication in honor of the 80th Du Quoin State Fair originated in a conversation between Huff and his good friend, Du Quoin Mayor John Rednour. The duo concluded that something should be done to honor of the extravaganza that put Du Quoin on the map.

Rednour appointed Huff as chairman of the 80th Du Quoin State Fair Committee and asked him to gather a group to help. Huffs committee includes Galen Davis, John Alongi, Richard and Mary Haines, Richard Doc Holladay, Jane Hayes Rader, Jerry and Carol Smith and Wilma Walker.

The committee decided that a history book and poster would be the best way to celebrate the birthday.

Huff, who spent 35 years at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as assistant athletic director and later sports information director, retired last year with plans to publish a 100-year history of SIUC athletics. He was eventually persuaded to be the writer of the Du Quoin State Fair history book as well.

Huff says his love for the fair goes way back. He worked for the fair as part-time publicity director from 1960-71 and then as vice-president and general manager for a few years thereafter.

That was really a lot of fun. Talent buying, negotiating with carnivals, handling the horse racing and USAC- it was really an enjoyable job, Huff said. Once you get the fair in your system its pretty tough to get it out.

Huff included in the book not only his own tales and recollections but a brief history of the fair creators, lists of popular entertainers who have performed there through the years along with ticket prices, and a year-by-year fair roundup.

Rader and Carole Hayes Hill chipped in with the Hayes family history. Their grandfather William R. Hayes worked his way up from a poor youngster to become a prominent businessman, horseman and Coca-Cola franchise owner. He also built the Du Quoin State Fair.

picture of a clownHayes and a group of investors purchased 30 acres in 1923 to establish a State Fair, a dream Hayes had since visiting the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair. By 1939 Hayes was the sole owner and his family developed and expanded the fair extensively through the next several decades.

It was sold in 1979 to Saad Jabr and then purchased by the State of Illinois in December 1985.

(The book) is a little hodgepodge of anything and everything, Huff said. Its easy reading.

I think its great. You just can't lay it down after you start reading it, Rednour said. I really liked the anecdotes and stories about the entertainers. Its great reading. Fred has done an outstanding job and Galen Davis has been a big help.

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