A Lighter Look at History
The significance of agriculture in the West Virginia culture is woven into the state flag adopted by the W.Va. Legislature in 1929. The center design, derived from the Great Seal of West Virginia, incorporates a farmer beside a plow and cornstalks.
Though Wheeling’s reputation as a manufacturing center developed in the 1800s, its agricultural roots, mirroring the rest of the state, run even deeper. Pun intended. Colonel Earl Oglebay, in establishing Waddington Farm as an experimental farm retreat in the early 1900s, demonstrated his understanding of how agriculture was the foundation of a thriving economy. So it is not a coincidence that the original W.Va. State Fair occurred locally on the southern tip of Wheeling Island beginning in 1881. And this locale is the backdrop of my tale.
For a historic review of Earl Oglebay’s farm, enjoy this article from the Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pa., Saturday, July 18, 1981:
One county farm was the Lewis homestead, where the lovely Taylor Lewis resided with her family. Taylor was as bright as she was beautiful. Her long-range goal was to attend college. Living in a rural setting provided little opportunity for a job, so to finance her endeavor, Taylor would enter beauty contests where the prize was usually college scholarship money. Each year she built her bank savings toward fulfilling her dream by winning contests.
One evening, Taylor was perusing a Harpers Weekly article titled ‘Beauty Secrets of Phyllis Diller.’ Inspired, Taylor dialed up the sponsor, The Monongalia and Monongahela Magic Make-up and Spackling Compound Company. Perhaps you’ve heard their slogan: Crack a smile or a wall; we’ll smooth it out. She ordered the 12-week home beauty course. She knew it was the perfect edge to help her win the beauty contest at the state fair.
When the UPS truck arrived carrying cases of makeup, she stored her secret weapon in the paint shed. Taylor realized she had a problem. She had no sisters on which to practice. Then she had a brainstorm.
After receiving Momma’s permission to experiment, Taylor spent each afternoon loading up the wheelbarrow with cases of cosmetics and paint supplies. She carefully balanced the load and headed out to the cow pasture. The docile bovine stood passively while Taylor plucked their eyebrows and curled eyelashes. She dipped a four-inch trim brush into a gallon can of blue eye shadow and brushed it across their eyelids. She dragged a paint roller through a pan of blush and rolled it upon their jowls. Next, Taylor popped a lipstick tube into the caulking gun, ratcheted up the trigger, and smeared shades of alluring crimson lipstick onto their giant cow lips.
The initial results looked as if Pablo Picasso had painted the cows. However, once Taylor realized that some cows had autumn color complexions while others were late spring, she compensated with a peach blush foundation. From their long lush lashes to their soft pouty lips, the cows soon became the essence of buffed bovine beauty. By the end of summer, they looked like Hollywood film stars.
Taylor’s dad never questioned the change in his herd’s appearance. In fact, he thought he caused it. While Taylor was reading up on beauty secrets, Dad noted an article in the newspaper about how contestants applied small dabs of Preparation H on facial wrinkles to tighten up the skin to achieve a smooth complexion. Dad figured that if he were to mix the ointment with the cows’ bag balm his herd would have the finest looking udders in the state. Out of a mail order catalog he sent for the ointment from a no-questions-asked pharmacy and spent the summer applying his blend of bag balm and Preparation H. He saw the cows transform into ‘moovie’ star beauties.
Soon it was time for state fair competitions. Dad left early in the morning to enter his favorite cow, ‘Mooralyn Monroe.’ The beauty contest was scheduled for later that same day, so Taylor spent her time getting ready, applying all the makeup tricks she had learned from practicing on the cows.
Taylor’s Mom was also busy preparing for a competition. Each year she baked a cream pie to enter in the pie contest. She decorated the pie’s meringue topping with a cow sprouting angel wings with a hovering halo because her pies tasted so heavenly. For color she added giant ruby red lips to the image. Mom was running late and asked Taylor to take the decorated pie to the state fair. Taylor picked up the wicker basket from the kitchen table and headed for Wheeling Island. Arriving early she cut through the livestock building to witness the results of the dairy judging. Finding Mooralyn, she set down the wicker basket and started petting the sweet critter.
The judge was a respected elder in the community named Granny Gertrude. When Granny Gertrude got to Mooralyn, she stopped in her tracks and stared, first at the made up cow then at Taylor, then back at the cow. Beauty and the bovine were wearing identical makeup. Granny Gertrude broke into a mischievous grin, picked up a red ribbon, and clipped it to Taylor’s dress. Granny Gertrude then walked away cackling.
Taylor Lewis looked at the dangling red ribbon and started to get angry. She wasn’t mad about the ribbon being clipped to her dress. What riled her was that she’d only received a red ribbon instead of Best in Show. She reached into the wicker basket and pulled out the decorated cream pie. “Hey, Granny!” she hollered, “You forgot something!” Granny Gertrude, upon hearing her name, turned around and Taylor pitched that pie like Nolan Ryan working on a no hitter. Agile Granny Gertrude saw the pie coming and ducked.
Sadly, this is where I came into the picture. Hearing raucous bellowing behind me, I turned around just as Granny Gertrude ducked. All I remember seeing was an angel, big as a cow, flying at me at 100 miles an hour, with puckered up ruby red lips ready to deliver a slobbery kiss of death. I screamed, “Holy cow!” just as the cream pie hit me with such a force that I was knocked over backwards.
A photographer from the local newspaper dashed over to snap a photo of my face covered in the gooey mess. The next day the photo ran on the front page above the fold. I thought I was safe from ridicule since you couldn’t identify me with the cream filling dripping off of my countenance. However, the caption read, “Alleged storyteller and known BS’er, Rich Knoblich, gets creamed in the kisser, when hit bulls-eye with a cow pie flung by a cutie pie.”
I took some real teasing from my friends over that episode. But, I figure I got off easier than Taylor’s dad. When the bills arrived for the cosmetics and the ointment, you might say he was left holding the bag.
Historical Note: After a series of devastating floods in the 1930s destroyed the roller coaster and other structures the Wheeling Island site was abandoned as fair grounds. In 1941 the W.V. Legislature declared Fairlea near Lewisburg, W.Va., as the official state fair site. The delightful Ohio County Fair is held at Site 1 in Oglebay Resort during the yearly Oglebayfest celebration. Earl Oglebay would approve.