When I was a teenager there was a show out called Gilmore Girls. My mother and I had a running joke that while we certainly did not live in New England, our town was Stars Hollow. Whenever a new festival would pop up, she would inevitably say, “Welcome to Stars Hollow.” It was nice/amusing to see a place (even a fictional one) as into festivals as the place I grew up. And there were plenty of festivals to choose from. There’s one almost every season of the year: harvest festivals, winter festivals, festivals based around various fruits and vegetables, countless founders festivals. It’s truly an impressive array.
The even more exciting thing about the place? It’s always been that way! Small town Ohioans have always loved an excuse to party. While doing research in old local papers, which is one of my many nerdy hobbies, I came across issues of a The New Philadelphia Democrat which was the local paper in the mid 1800s. Without even delving too deep, it listed the following festivals: The Democratic festival (12/22/1865), Albany School Festival (1/12/1866), Presbyterian Festival (4/13/1866), Wool Grower’s Festival (5/25/1866), Baptist festival (8/10/1866), not 1, not 2, but 3 ice cream festivals in 1866 alone, and this doesn’t include neighboring town, Dover’s Ice cream and Oyster festival listed on 10/11/1867, and countless fairs and festivals held by various fraternal organizations.
I grew up loving and adoring these festivals as well as marking my summers by them. Summer cannot begin until Canal Days descends upon downtown. It cannot end until the close of the Swiss Festival. I suppose no one should be surprised that when prompted to write about a summer romance, I would set it amid one of these festivals. (Not to mention that I have at least 4 festival date/romance stories of my own, though none are quite like Ruth’s.)
“The Fire-Eater’s Daughter” was specifically inspired by (and loosely based on) one specific festival that is very near and dear to my heart: The First Town Days Festival held annually over the first week of July at Tuscora Park. [The park itself, built in 1907 in the hopes of creating a local Coney Island, is a special place full of it’s own fascinating lore, and I may post more extensively about it in the future.] First Town Days was meant to be a fundraising endeavor for the park, in particularly to fund the restoration of the gorgeous Hershel-Spillman carousel on the grounds. Over the years, there have been a wide variety of contests, parades, pageants, shows, and interesting vendors, some local others involved in the traveling carnival scene, that have passed through The First Town Days Festival and left their mark on the local consciousness. In mine, this festival is one of the first I remember going to. I don’t remember much about those early days, of course (except being awed by the “princesses” aka the high school girls participating in the local festival queen pageant, finding fireworks way too loud, and the french fries made of pure heaven), but it’s something I always come back to. In my mind, if not physically.
It makes sense then that Ruth, too, would walk the same midway, even if it would have looked very different to her than it has to me.