Pam Gray>ISM Interviews A-L>ISM Interviews A-L, Segment 11


duration 07:39
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Pam was born in Streator, IL. She is now 54 years old. She is Director of the IL State Fair Museum. 15 years ago, in response to a small newspaper ad, she volunteered for the State Fair, but was paid instead of volunteering. She was disappointed because she really wanted to be a volunteer rather than get paid for work. After working 3 days as required, Suzanne Moss from the IL Department of Agriculture asked her to run the Fair's volunteer program. She accepted and during the first year there were 45 volunteers. Transition to Museum Director took place after photos were found in the Agriculture Building. Photos were taped on the wall so Fair visitors could view the pictures. One photo was brought to her attention by a man whose son was in a group of 12 young boys around President Nixon. Nixon was on a platform reaching down to shake hands with the boys. The man said that he did not know that the photo existed, and that his son had been killed in the Vietnam War. A copy of the photo was provided to the father. It was at this point that Pam realized that the photos were really about the people. That event took place 14 years ago and every year since that time she has encountered a similar story. The displays became so popular that they were moved from the Artisan's building first to the south end of grandstand and now take up the entire north end of grandstand.
The Illinois State Fair began on October 11, 1853. It was very agriculturally based. At that time farming was very labor intensive so the University of Illinois and other organizations decided to take the lead in putting on a fair to demonstrate the current best processes related to farming. The 1853 Fair was 4 days in length and was held in Springfield. Pam's year round research on the history of the State Fair has revealed that the Fair was actually a traveling fair after the 1854 Fair was held in Springfield. Starting in 1855 and running through 1893, Fairs were held in Chicago, Ottawa, Centralia, Alton, and Quincy in order to get the Fairs to the farmers. By 1894, the need for a permanent place was recognized. A permanent location would save putting up tents and other things in each town. Offers were sought from Chicago, Peoria, Quincy, and Springfield. Springfield won the competition over primary competitor Peoria, due to factors such as land availability, free water, a central location, railroads, and a good transportation system. Immediately, the Exposition building was constructed in 1894. The Fair now encompasses 366 acres.