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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — In the 100-year history of the Colfax Free Fair, there were no fairs in 1942 and 1943, and it was not until 1948 that the Colfax Free Fair returned, complete with fair exhibitors.
The United States entered World War II after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese December 7, 1941, and the following summer, there was no fair in Colfax.
This is by way of saying that it is not unprecedented for the Colfax Free Fair to be canceled this year, except now the cancellation is due to a pandemic involving a novel coronavirus rather than a world war.
The 1941 Colfax Free Fair was a huge success.
According to the August 14, 1941, Colfax Messenger:
10,000 People See Windup of Colfax Free Fair Sat. Nite
Drawing power of the Colfax Free Fair as a popular show feature for thousands of people in northwestern Wisconsin was amply proven by mammoth crowds jamming the grounds on all three nights of the fair last week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Afternoon crowds also were fully as large as in former years.
Total receipts of the Colfax Free Fair are expected to reach the high figure of $3,900 …
Free act performances generally drew praise from the mammoth crowds on all three nights of the fair. Thursday night’s total attendance is estimated at 6,000 people. Friday night’s attendance was slightly larger with about 7,500 on hand on the grounds, and Saturday night’s crowd was a record-breaker, with all midway and free act space literally packed to the rafters.
Saturday night’s crowd was so large that, in addition to packing all of the available free act seating space for 3,500 people, thousands were forced to use standing space all over the large, natural bowl. Thursday and Friday night’s crowds again more than filled all of the available seating space.
Merchants reported registration at all booths in the main pavilion. Registrations reached as high as 4,000 at one of the booths, a record figure for the merchants’ section …
In spite of searching through the 1942 Colfax Messenger, there were no articles about why the fair was canceled or whether anyone had considered trying to have the fair.
The record of the fair picks up again the next year in 1943.
In the June 3, 1943, Colfax Messenger, the following article was published:
No Fair Here?
Though 56 Wisconsin fairs have decided to operate in 1943, the Colfax Free Fair is one of the approximately 20 that perhaps may not show again this summer. Because of the difficulty in securing the right shows the local group will perhaps rest for the duration.This will be the second year that the fair is not planned for Colfax.
In 1944, there was a carnival in Colfax, but there were no exhibits and no “free act” entertainment.
September 7, 1944 — Colfax Messenger
Carnival Now in Colfax For Five Day Run
Carnival spirit is now prevalent in Colfax with the presence of Dobson’s Shows, which opened yesterday for a five day run which will carry them through next Sunday, September 10. Dobson’s Shows are locally sponsored by the Orrin Russell Post of the American Legion…
There are no free attractions or exhibits. The Colfax Free Fair has been closed for the duration, and in its stead the Colfax post of the American Legion is bringing something to Colfax that offers many of the entertainment features of the fair — ample in their entertainment possibilities to attract many from the nearby countryside.
In May of 1945, Germany surrendered, and in July, there was another carnival in Colfax. This time the carnival celebrated the American Legion’s Silver Jubilee.
July 5, 1945 — Colfax Messenger
Carnival Set for Four Days July 18-19-20-21
Four big days, matching in every possible way the entertainment of the former Colfax Free Fairs, will be in store for the public visiting Colfax on the occasion of the American Legion’s Silver Jubilee event on July 18-29-20-21.
Six high class attractions every afternoon and evening will help round out a fine program of entertainment on these days. In all, the free attraction program will last more than one hour at each staging, and the acts will be changed daily in order to give the public new entertainment features in the event they visit the carnival on all four days.
Free attractions will include aerial acts, stunt balancing on one of the best aerial riggings on the road today, juggling of three balls, plates, cups and saucers, in addition to comedy. Another big act is the Victory on Revue Parade, consisting of pretty girls that know how to dance, doing all of the modern and up-to-date steps just like the dances that you would expect to see if you went to the Roxy or Music Hall theatre in New York. Many of these girls do very find special dances, acrobatic, toe-step and boogie-woogie. Their costumes are colorful, dainty and help to round out a very interesting show, with music, rhythm and song.
In addition to free acts that compare with the attractions of former Colfax fairs, everything on the midway will also add up well to give plenty of entertainment during the day and night for young and old. There will be rides more plentiful than the number present at the show here last summer, more tent shows, and numerous concessions from various places to provide a midway that will be probably fully as large as in the old Free Fair days.
Plans are being made to have band music during the carnival days, and other special entertainment features are being sought, but cannot yet be definitely announced.
The midway and shows will be about on a par with the Colfax Free Fair, so make your plans now to have four big days in Colfax.
July 12, 1945 — Colfax Messenger
Carnival Ready for 4 Big Days Here Next Week
Six free attractions, booked under the same agency that supplied the high class attractions for former Colfax Free Fairs, six popular rides, including Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and other devices and numerous tent shows and concessions will go to provide ample entertainment for the public visiting the Orrin Russell Post’s big silver jubilee carnival here on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week, July 18-19-20-21.
Legionnaires have numerous committees cooperating to make the Silver Jubilee Carnival an event that will match as closely as possible the fine entertainment offered at former Colfax Free Fairs. Young and old will find plenty of entertaining features at the carnival this year, a coming event that will be many times larger than the popular little carnival staged here last summer.
Free attractions have been booked at an expense of many hundreds of dollars to give the public a free entertainment grandstand show that will compare very favorably with Colfax Free Fair acts …
There is every indication that the midway will be as large as that of former Colfax Free Fairs. Six big rides and numerous shows of the popular Dobson United Shows will make the midway a place of sparkling entertainment. Those desiring the amber beverage will find beer at the two stands, soft drinks will be sold at other places, and a number of eating places and other concessions will line both sides of the midway.
July 19, 1945
Carnival Open for 4 Big Days Here This Week
Sparkling with rides, shows and concessions, the American Legion’s big four day Silver Jubilee is now under a full head of steam in Colfax for four days of entertainment which will close on Saturday night.
At this writing it is too early to tell of free act entertainment, but there is no doubt the six act grandstand show will please the thousands of people expected in Colfax. The Free Act show is being brought to Colfax under the bookings of Williams and Lee, the same well known group that brought clever entertainment to Colfax Free Fairs for many years…
Merchants’ exhibits and educational exhibits will take up part of the space in the main pavilion on the carnival grounds. Two of the education exhibits will be from the Dunn County Soil Conservation office and the Colfax Public Schools Agricultural Department. Both exhibits are of educational value to rural people. The Dunn County Soil Conservation department’s exhibit deals with control of soil erosion, and free movies will be shown regularly in their booth in the pavilion.
Other planned features include aeroplane rides, and special entertainment on the midway. Aeroplanes are expected to be brought here through arrangement with Merrill Miller, former Colfax man. Miller plans to give passenger rides and put on stunt flying exhibitions during the four days of the Legion’s Silver Jubilee Carnival.
W.O. Weeks, commander of the Orrin Russell Post No. 131 and the entire Colfax Legion membership of 100, joins to extend invitation to the public to come and enjoy the big four day show.
July 26, 1945
Carnival is Grand Success in 4-Day Run
Carnival spirit prevailed in Colfax in a grand way during the American Legion’s Silver Jubilee Carnival which drew thousands of visitors here during its four day run July 18-19-20-21.
Saturday night wound up the carnival with an estimated crowd of 8,000 people. Free act performances every afternoon and evening were up to their set standards, and thousands of people were well pleased with the fine show the Legion staged on both the platform and the midway. Except for the lack of exhibits, the show compared favorably with the old Colfax Free Fair, and thousands expressed satisfaction with the clean and fine attractions brought by the Legion post.
Crowds were not up to par with the old fair throngs up to Saturday night, but the final night put the show over with grand finish for the Legion, which expects to net about $3,500 or more toward its building fund.
Legionnaires greatly appreciate the way the public supported its effort to raise money toward building a hall and home for the returning service men. All were well repaid in an entertainment program which was much larger than most folks had anticipated …
A victory on parade review and a number of other acts by the young talent was well received, and their acts reflected a well trained group, guided under the able hand of Bill Williams, who acted as master of ceremonies at the microphone during the four days. Harlan Stone [Colfax High School ag teacher] supervised the public schools amplifying system, and there was not a hitch in its performance during the four days of the carnival.
By 1946, the American Legion Orrin Russell Post No. 131 was ready to have a Victory Jubilee after the end of World War II. There were still no exhibitors at the fair — no animals, crops, garden produce or sewn items.
At that time, the Colfax Commercial Club, which still exists today, although only as a “mere shadow of its formal self,” was in charge of sponsoring the fair but decided to turn it over to the American Legion.
March 14, 1946 — Colfax Messenger
Legion Votes to Stage 1946 Colfax Free Fair
Legion members of Orrin Russell Post No. 131 voted at their regular meeting to aid, if necessary and desirable, in the staging of the 1946 Colfax Free Fair, or to stage entertainment of a similar nature in the event that the Colfax Commercial Club should ask for same.
The Colfax Commercial Club will be meeting tonight (Thursday) in the municipal basement, and at that time, a cooperative Legion committee composed of Kenneth Iverson and Dr. G.T. Krause will confer with Commercial Club members on the advisability of possible Legion cooperation in staging the 1946 Colfax Free Fair.
Commander Walter Weeks and A.C. Rude will also sit in, giving cooperation with the Commercial Club in the event that the two organizations may get together in the joint staging of the Colfax Free Fair this year.
The general theme of the Legion sentiment toward the 1946 Colfax Free Fair was that the organization had no desire to force their way into the staging of the annual event, but they would gladly cooperate if the Commercial Club would like assistance, which is the case that has already been hinted at in past Commercial Club gatherings.
March 21, 1945
CCC Turns ‘46 Free Fair Over to Am. Legion
By a vote of 23 to 12, the Colfax Commercial Club at its regular meeting Thursday night cast their decision in favor of turning the 1946 Colfax Free Fair over to the guidance of the Orrin Russell Post of the American Legion.
Legionnaires made it clear to the Colfax Commercial Club that the organization may not return the 1946 entertainment to a full fair status but they would do everything possible to have an entertainment of comparative value, and the event would be on a full free fair basis if conditions permitted.
Dr. G.I. Gregory spoke mainly in favor of continued Commercial Club sponsorship of the 1946 Colfax Free Fair, but could not rally enough support by vote because of the fact that many members felt doubtful if conditions this year would warrant the staging of a successful free fair. The Commercial Club vote was for dropping the fair for only one year and it is probable that the matter may be taken up for vote again before the 1947 event rolls around.
A Legion committee of Kenneth Iverson and Dr. G.T. Krause informed the Commercial Club that Legionnaires would take over the 1946 Colfax Free Fair or a similar entertainment if the Commercial Club decided to drop it for one year, which turned out to be the case.
Legion members have a number of apparently difficult problems to iron out before it can be determined definitely how far they can go in staging the 1946 Colfax Free Fair or an entertainment of similar value.
July 4, 1946
Jubilee Plans Forming for July 24-25-26-27
A bigger entertainment show is in the making for the AmericanLegions’ four day Victory Jubilee to be staged here in less than three weeks on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 24-25-26-27.
Dobson Shows will again be on the midway, bigger than last year with two additional rides, according to a contract made with Legion officials. The balance of the midway will be filled with shows and concessions of all kinds. Those who may care to partake of the amber beverage can be assured that there will be a good supply of beer. The Legion will receive 70 percent of the amount of beer consumed last year …
All profits from the carnival will be used for a worthy cause — the Legion building fund to provide a new centrally located meeting and recreation place for the veterans of past wars.
July 11, 1946
Plans Shape up for Jubilee July 24-25-26-27
The Victory Jubilee will have another interesting feature this year in the merchants’ booths, which will be well filled with displays of new merchandise such as washing machines, electrical appliances, implements and many other items, the likes of which you have seen but little of since the days before the war. Home planners will find much of interest offered for display in post-war household items in the merchants’ pavilion Be sure to plan to spend some time visiting these interesting displays.
July 18, 1946
Stage Set For Victory Jubilee July 24-25-26-27
A large four page bill was put in the mail on Monday of this week, bearing the advertising of the Victory Jubilee and Colfax merchants who have responded in backing up the four day celebration. People visiting Colfax during the four day event are asked to bear in mind the fact that merchants are giving full support to the Legion in their Victory Jubilee and those whose advertisements appear on the bill should merit your patronage any time you are in town.
July 25, 1946
Jubilee Now In Swing For Four Day Run
Highways now all lead toward Colfax where hundreds of people are already finding entertainment and thrills at the American Legion’s Victory Jubilee, which will continue through Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. The Victory Jubilee opened yesterday, Wednesday, but the Messenger went to press too early to give an account of the first day’s happening …
Buildings on the grounds have been treated to a coat of white paint by the American Legion, the Village of Colfax, and the Colfax Co-operative Creamery Co. during the past week, and everything is clean and inviting for the public which will seek four days of fun in Colfax …
August 1, 1946
4 Day Victory Jubilee Ends Successful Run
Thousands of visitors from all parts of this section of Wisconsin enjoyed four days of fun, thrills, educational features at the Orrin Russell Post’s American Legion Victory Jubilee, which closed Saturday night with a mass of humanity literally jamming all corners of the old fairgrounds on the east end of the village …
Wednesday night’s crowd was the smallest during the four days, but was no doubt up to par with last year’s event. Crowds on Thursday and Friday nights nearly filled the seats in front of the free act platform. Saturday night found a mammoth crowd on both the midway and in front of the free act platform, the combined attendance for this evening being estimated at about 8,000 people.
Legionnaires received a 15 percent share of the income from rides and shows, and the Legion “take” from this source amounted to $455.34. An additional $250 was received from the Dobson concessions and from other concessions the incomes was $197. Advertising brought in the sun of $585, and the net income from beer sales has not yet been figured down to fine points, but it is estimated that this source will easily exceed the $600 mark.
Following the successful Silver Jubilee in 1945 and the Victory Jubilee in 1946, both sponsored by the American Legion, in 1947, there was only a carnival at the fairgrounds, although the carnival also was sponsored by the American Legion.
July 10, 1947
Three Day Carnival in Colfax, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, July 11-12-13
Entertainment in rides and concessions will be available to the public at the Colfax Fairgrounds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 11-12-13.
The Tip Top Shows of Waupaca will be there for a three day stand at the fairgrounds starting tomorrow (Friday) …
There will be no free acts or other fair features, but the rides and concessions will be an inducement to the public to get out for a little well deserved entertainment and fun during the three days.
Sponsoring the three day entertainment program is the Orrin Russell Post No. 131 of the American Legion. Committees of the Legion are working to make the midway as attractive as possible. A percentage of the rides and concessions will be turned over to the local post of the American Legion to be used in its building improvement fund.
By 1948, after not having a “complete” Colfax Free Fair since 1941, the fair was back in all its glory with fair exhibits, free acts, a carnival, commercial exhibits and concessions.
March 18, 1948 — Colfax Messenger
Legion Votes to Stage 1948 Colfax Fair
Legionnaires at their last regular meeting voted unanimously in favor of staging the 1948 Colfax Free Fair if free acts, carnival rides and shows can be secured for the midway.
During the past years, the Legion had to settle for shows of lesser caliber in order to keep Colfax on the map in the entertainment field, but since the war’s end and a more normal condition now exists in the entertainment world, it is planned to stage the fair on as elaborate basis as the good old ways — way back when.
Tentative plans have been set to expend up to $1,500 for free act entertainment and bring a good set of rides and shows to the midway that will again put the Colfax Free Fair back in its former place as one of the best entertainment shows in the Northwest …
April 1, 1948
Free Fair to Run Four Days July 14-17
Four big entertainment days, July 14-17, will bring out the biggest Colfax Free Fair in many years, it has been learned from plans rapidly taking shape for the Legion sponsored 1948 Colfax Free Fair.
Dobson rides and shows have been booked for the midway. This is the same high class company that has provided midway entertainment in Colfax for many years. The only difference is that the Dobson shows have expanded considerably and will bring a bigger show to Colfax than ever before …
April 8, 1948
$1,000 Acts for 2 Nights of Free at Fairgrounds
Five top-notch free acts, costing $1,000, will be on the stage during the last two days of the 1948 Colfax Free Fair.
Opening night, July 14, will be amateur night, featuring the best obtainable amateur talent in this section of the state, and $100 will be given to amateur prize winners. Thursday will be Centennial Day, featuring a special Wisconsin Centennial program under the direction of the Colfax Commercial Club …
The five grandstand acts include roller skating, balancing and dog act, wire act, clown and high wire act. The clown will also act as master of ceremonies during the free act program.
Merchants desiring booths in the main pavilion are asked to contact Leon Dunbar. Booths will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, the early birds getting the more desirable spots. An advertising paper or booklet will be distributed later and those taking a $25 advertisement will be entitled to a booth.
June 24, 1948
Free Fair to Bring Variety of Entertainment
Four big days of varied entertainment is in store for the public on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 14-15-16-17 when the first old-time Colfax Free Fair in many years will be staged here under the helm of the American Legion, sponsoring organization …
Premiums totaling $600 will be awarded to 4-H Club and FHA members displaying everything from produce to cattle and calves.
A new concrete platform is now being built to replace the old free act platform. Legionnaires are standing the expense of the new platform in order that the free acts and other features can be seen in the best possible manner by the public during the four days and nights in Colfax …
The 1948 Colfax Free Fair is the first full scale Colfax Free Fair since 1941, and it bids strongly to be a very high class entertainment program.
July 15, 1948
Gov. Rennebohm to Speak Tonight at Colfax Fair
Wisconsin’s honorable Governor Oscar A. Rennebohm has notified the Colfax Commercial Club that he will appear at the Colfax Free Fair tonight (Thursday) at 8:00 o’clock and give the Centennial address on the main platform.
July 22, 1948
Free Fair is Acclaimed One of Best Ever
The 1948 Colfax Free Fair is now history, and with its passing comes numerous compliments to the sponsoring Colfax Legion post for staging one of the biggest and most successful Colfax Free Fairs in the history of this big event.
Crowds were the largest in all the many years of the history of the annual event. Dobson’s United Shows reported that their rides and shows paid off the biggest percentage ever received in Colfax and opening day’s receipts were the largest ever in Colfax, Dobson’s also adds.
On the opening evening a very large crowd witnessed the amateur performance which was generally acclaimed a pleasing event. The first prize of $50 was awarded to little David Melgaard. Second prize of $25 went to Steven Nelson. Third prize of $10 went to the Future Farmers Quartette, composed of Wesley and Louis Lausted, Keith Tryggestad and Wayne Bartilson. Fourth prize went to the Harmonizers Quartette of Menomonie. Fifth prize was awarded to Mrs. Reuben Melgaard and sixth prize went to Betty and Wanda Loomis …
Saturday night’s crowd was acclaimed by many as probably the biggest any Colfax Free Fair ever staged. The crowd was variously estimated at from 7,000 to 12,000 people, and it is probably reasonably safe to say that a compromise between the two figures would be about correct.
Exhibits at the Junior fair department were very good. Eighty-two individuals exhibited young stock, sheep, hogs and various articles in the girls division. County Agent Archie Johnson and assistant County Agent Howard Kuhn kindly devoted several days to the fair in Colfax and both men gave very valuable assistance. Dick Brackett handled the livestock judging, and Mrs. James Quilling judged the exhibits in the girls’ department.