The Smith family was all astir and excited. The State Fair was coming to Springfield, the Capitol of Illinois, for the second year in a row. And, they were going.
The state legislature in 1853 believed state fairs would fight the ignorance of farmers. Farmers read little and traveled less, making it difficult to induce them to adopt improvements in their farming practices. ¹
The first state fair was held one mile west of the Old Capitol building from October 11th through October 14th. For 25¢, farmers could peruse the mechanical displays of reapers, mowers, farming implements, and corn planters along with fine specimens of horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and other animals. ² State Fairs were family affairs.
On the opening day of the fair, Stephen Douglas, running for a position in the Illinois legislature, gave a three-hour speech that moved inside because of rain. Not to be outdone, Abraham Lincoln gave an opposing three-hour speech. Lincoln had re-entered politics to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act.³ It’s possible the Smiths were in attendance on that fateful day.
In 1854, badges went on sale that would admit a man, woman, and their children under eighteen to the fair.⁴
Sometime before the opening of the fair, Garland Smith purchased a badge for the fair. Being a farmer, he would have been interested in the new farm implements. Perhaps he had a prize animal that he wanted to show. His wife, Harriet, may have had a favorite pie she wanted to make and enter into the pie competition. Their children would have been excited by the hoopla that took place during the event.
On Thursday, October 5th, off to the fair went the family. Hopefully, they enjoyed the day before Garland discovered something that would ruin his day and most likely days to come. For on that day, Garland lost his pocketbook.
At first, he probably became very anxious when he realized his pocketbook was gone. Then panic would have set in as he began to search his person and retrace his steps with the family in tow. And finally, he would experience the sinking feeling of knowing his pocketbook was gone.
A few days later, Garland ran an ad in the Daily Illinois State Journal that read as follows:⁵
“LOST ON the Fair Ground, on Thursday the 5th, a Pocket Book containing forty-three dollars in money—to wit: one ten dollar Kentucky bill, one ten dollar Ohio, and four five dollar bills bills Indiana, and three of Illinois money, with sundry papers. $10 Reward will be given for the Pocket book and money, if left at the Journal Office.”
Hopefully, an honest soul found the money and returned it to Garland, but that is highly unlikely. According to a CPI calculator, $43 in 1854 would be worth $1,346.38 in today’s money.⁶ That was a lot of money and may have been money he received from the sale of his crops for that year. Or, he may have had that much money on him to buy livestock or farm implements.
Garland Smith experienced great loss that year. Hopefully, the loss did not impact the family for years to come.
Garland Smith is my husband’s great-great-grandfather, 1796-1880.
¹The Early Years, www.statefairmuseum.org
³Abraham Lincoln timeline, www.historynet.com
⁴Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL) 2 Oct 1854, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. University of Illinois. https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=SJO18541002&dliv=userclipping&cliparea=1.3%2C220%2C723%2C1113%2C621&factor=4&e=01-10-1854-09-10-1854–en-20–1–img-txIN-Badges——–Sangamon
⁵Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), 09 Oct 1854, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. University of Illinois. https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/?a=d&d=SJO18541009&dliv=userclipping&cliparea=1.2%2C5926%2C5153%2C1131%2C293&factor=2&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN———
Note: In the 1850s, in order to operate, banks had to obtain a state charter. Garland had bills in his possession from the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. See www.minneapolisfed.org.