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September 05, 2016

Earl Brooks’ Photography: A Noblesville Street Fair

Earl Brooks’ Photography: A Noblesville Street Fair

 By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Continuing our look at the Earl Brooks photo collection, he had several shots of the a Noblesville street fair which opened Monday, August 11, 1902 and closed probably Saturday, August 16.  According to information from the 1902 Noblesville Ledger, the fair was something of a fiasco and was referred to as a “carnival of vice” by local ministers.  A large part of the problem seems to have been the professional attractions that were brought in for the fair.

Among the attractions was a sideshow which included “Happy Harry”, a seven year old boy with an unnaturally large head – the ministers were particularly outspoken about the people who went to see that.  There was also an “electrical attraction” that showed current events such as the eruption of Mount Pelee, the funeral of President McKinley, and the coronation of King Edward VII.  It’s not clear how this was done.  There were also minstrel shows and some sort of dancing girls.

BrStreet fair 1ooks took at least six photographs at the fair, (there may have been one lost from the collection).  However, instead of getting images of things like the sideshow, Brooks focused on the acrobatic performances.   Two of his photos are of the area called Stage number one, which was on Conner Street in front of the Sheriff’s residence. One photo shows the Sheridan City Band providing music and a group of performers, possibly the Guthrie Family. According to the newspapers, this act consisted of Edward Guthrie, “with his pyramid of chairs and hand balancing, and Ida and little Albert Guthrie, “in their breakaway Japanese ladder performance.”  The other photo shows a wire walker performing – this was possibly Karrtille “The King of Wire”.

Street fair 3Three of the photographs show Stage number two, which was between Conner and Maple Streets on 9th Street.  The photographer was looking north with the Citizens State Bank on the right, and the Old Corner Drug on the left, with a banner saying “Ice cream soda” hanging above the street.  The performers are “Professors Martin and Crouch” (William “Billy” Martin and Charles Crouch) “in their comedy acrobatic turns.”  Check out more photos here and here.

The last photo is of an unidentified brick building with acrobats performing beside it.  This is either Stage number three (site unknown) with the Guthrie Family again, or Stage number four on the northwest corner of the square with the Rouen Brothers “performing all manner of aerial feats.”

Brooks may have avoided the sideshows out of a sense of good taste, but he was probably also interested in the athleticism of the acrobats.  There are some photographs in the collection which show him doing acrobatics with his friends from the high school sports teams.  You can see these photos and others in detail at the Hamilton County History Collection on the IUPUI University Library website.  You can get there by following the link on the HEPL Indiana Room page.   The original photos are at the Hamilton County Historical Society.

So while the city merchants may have considered the street fair to be a financial loss and the churches considered it a den of iniquity, at least one person was interested enough to make a permanent record of what he saw.  We historians appreciate that.