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Posts Tagged ‘Conklin Shows’

Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson

Canada’s Traditional Favorite Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson. Photo via Treadway Gallery

We’ve come across vintage circus-style posters advertising carnivals but have rarely seen a painted banner except for the sideshow attractions. This one painted for “Canada’s Traditional Favorite Conklin Shows” circa 1950 by master banner painter Fred Johnson will be up for bid at a June 8th auction in Oak Park, Illinois held by Treadway Gallery. Bidding is also available online via live auctioneers.

The show’s founder J.W. “Patty” Conklin was born Joe Renker in Brooklyn and worked as a sideshow talker in Coney Island before arriving in Winnipeg in 1924. In the 1940s and ’50s, the Billboard frequently described him as “a Canadian midway biggie” and one of the keenest, most practical of midway operators.

In the era when the banner was painted, Conklin Shows played fairs and exhibitions in rural Quebec and Ontario before heading to Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition for Labor Day, according to a website on the carnival’s history. The show grew to become the largest touring carnival in North America, with a route that stretched from the South Florida Fair in West Palm all the way to the Calgary Stampede until it was swallowed up by midway consolidation in 2004. In the Northeast, Conklin played the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass., and the now defunct Westchester County Fair and Belmont Fair, where we visited in 2003 to write a story for Education Week about the show’s traveling classroom for carny kids.

Measuring 94 inches high by 117 inches wide, the Conklin banner is signed by Fred Johnson, who painted canvas advertisements for all the big circuses, carnivals, and amusement parks during an illustrious 65-year career. It has a pre-sale estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

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August 10, 2009: Westchester County Fair Mementos

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Parking permits from the last years of the Westchester County Fair. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Parking permits from the last years of the Westchester County Fair. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The ride trailers parked behind Nathan’s in Coney Island came out of storage and still have the 1996-2002 parking permits for the Westchester County Fair. It’s a sad reminder of a fair that was cancelled in 2003 due to the construction of video lottery terminals at the Yonkers Raceway. Today the Raceway’s Empire Casino has 5,300 video slot machines which operate year round. The fading parking permits made me feel nostalgic for the county fair that never came back. I’m not the only one. The fair has a Facebook fan page with 3,712 fans and a recent discussion thread “who wants the fair back?”

Conklin Shows played the Westchester County Fair for as far back as I can remember. It was one of Amusement Business’s top 50 fairs. An AB article about the fair’s cancellation noted Conklin “posted a record $1.5 million gross for the 2002 fair, which came in at No. 38, up four spots, in AB’s 2002 list of top fairs.” Yet I could find only a few ride photos on flickr, here and here. Perhaps because the demise of the fair predates the rise of flickr! Does anyone have any memories or photos of the fair they’d like to share?

The president of Yonkers Raceway, who happens to be the same person who brought in the video gambling, is credited with starting the Westchester County Fair & Exposition in 1981. It was billed as “the first complete county fair in the New York metropolitan area in more than 30 years.”

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

According to the Yonkers Historical Society, an earlier incarnation of the Westchester County Fair existed in 1888 on 50 acres at Tarrytown Road and Hillside Avenue…

“Here was a rack track—one of the best half–mile tracks in the country—bordered by a grandstand holding 3,000. Besides displays of cattle, pigs, needlework, fruits and vegetables, great tents held cowboy shows, bicycle races and baby shops; balloon ascensions were among the special events. The fair was climaxed by the Westchester County Ball, held at the Verein hall at Chicken Island. Six special trains brought the merry–makers to Yonkers.”

No mention of amusement rides, but I recall some wonderful old photos of a Bicycle Merry-Go-Round, sideshows and games in the Library of Congress Photo Archive.

Bicycle merry go round at Westchester County Fair. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Bicycle merry go round at Westchester County Fair. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Westchester County Fair, Wild Rose and Rattlesnake Joe sideshow. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Westchester County Fair, Wild Rose and Rattlesnake Joe sideshow. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

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June 5, 2013: Up for Auction: Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson

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May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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