Thank you to everyone who visited our booth at the Wisconsin Valley Fair this year. We brought more displays than usual for this year’s celebration of 150 years of the fair in Marathon County, including those showing the photography of James Colby, a quilt and traveling trunk, the traveling display for our Rural Electrification exhibit, a video kiosk with a slideshow of fair images, and (new for this year) an experiment in historical judging.
^Special thanks to MCHS staff Anna Chilsen-Straub and Mike Bresnahan (and to volunteers Joe Straub and Elizabeth Lutz) for their time and hard work in setting up the our booths this year.
This year, visitors to our booth in the Exhibition Building had the chance to help choose the winning animals in a historic judging event. We hung fourteen historic pictures, grouped into three categories: best bull, best team of working horses, and best dog.
Visitors were asked to place a ticket in the bucket or basket in front of their favorite picture of a bull, team of horses, and dog (one vote per category). While there was understably some confusion, most visitors seemed to pick up what to do, with some guidance from our volunteers at the booth if needed.
By our count 1,133 people participated in the voting over the course of the six days of the fair, casting a total of 3,399 votes across the 14 options.
^ The Best Bull went to the bull we have taken to calling "Ferdinand," who received 415 of the 1,022 total votes in the category (40%)
^ The Best Team of Working Horses was awarded to the team of horses skidding logs, which received 474 of the 1,037 total votes in the category (45%)
^The Boston Terrier won Best Dog, with 632 of the 1,342 total votes in the category (47%)
About the Photographs
Each of the animals in the winning pictures were found in our photo negative collection from the famed local photographer James Colby, probably taken in the 1900s or early 1910s. Unfortunately the records do not give much guidance about who are pictured in many of these images, and the winners in the judging are no exception. James Colby was best known for his postcards (he was dubbed the “Postcard King”), but his collection’s negatives show a wide range of subjects that include some of the most iconic pictures of the era to the more mundane aspects of life at the time.
And for the purposes of judging the pictures, not knowing where the horses were employed in lumbering or who owned which bull is ok, as it lets us use our imaginations to come up with our own reasons for why we like what we do.
When setting up the judging, I left the criteria for voting intentionally vague as possible (just "Best Dog"), and this ended up leading to some insteresting and unexpected reasons for voting by our visitors. For example at least one group of voters were overheard debating which of the men showing the bulls was the cutest, while others peeked into each bucket before voting for the horses or dogs with the least votes. In general the animals that were pictured looking at the camera seemed to do better, while the photographs that were blurry or out of focus did not do as well.
Overall it was a fun experiment, and we hope you will join us in voting if we do it again in the future.