HAMBURG — The Erie County Fair celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. As a birthday present to the fair and what he calls “an additional resource for the 175th fair,” Erie County Agriculture Society’s Martin Biniasz has written a history of the Erie County Fair, “Images of America: The Erie County Fair,” which hit shelves from Arcadia Publishing on July 28.
“Our No. 1 goal is to celebrate the heritage of the fair,” he said, of the 175th anniversary and the book, as well. “No. 2 is to tell the tory of the fair.”
Approximately 95 percent of the material in the book came from the agriculture society’s archives, which is made up of some 30,000 photographs. Others came from Hamburg’s town historian, and still more from local historians and fair memorabilia collectors who have kept the fair’s history alive, through the ages.
“Most of the work has been in figuring out what we have,” Biniasz said, noting that the society’s extensive archives were housed in three or four different locations. “Then we had to get it into good, workable order and check our facts, make sure we’re telling it right.” That process, which may take a day to write a single photo caption, included research online, speaking with experts, examining the society’s own library and sometimes, “good, old-fashioned going to the library and looking through microfilm,” the writer explained. The book, which is made up of mostly photographs with captions, may look quick and easy, and Biniasz said he thought so too, before he began the project.
“When you look at a book like this, you think, ‘It’s just photos and captions, how hard is this?’ but sometimes one caption can take an entire day. You get into a project like this and you think it’s easy, but we had to think about things like, how many cow pictures do we use, versus how many pig pictures, what breed is in a particular picture. I relied heavily on our agricultural department to make sure those facts are right, because it seems like a small detail, but those things are important.”
That deliberation comes from two motivations: attention to the accuracy of the facts and a dedication to telling the entire story of a fair that Biniasz said can mean so many different things to as many different people.
“Some people come for the agriculture, to see the shows and check out the animals. That’s their fair. Others come for the food. That’s their fair. And then there are those who come for the midway. The fair means so many things to so many people. It was my task to create a book that told everybody’s fair story.”
As chair of special events for the fair, Biniasz gives speeches on the Erie County Fair around the area, and said that writing the book has, by default, led to him amassing a significant amount of information about the fair.
“Fairs are interesting things,” he explained. “On one hand, we’re always looking forward. What’s the next big attraction, what’s the newest event, but on the other hand, we’ve got parts that have been around for the past 50, 75,100, 150 years that are still the same as all the fairs that came before, and that’s what people come for. So we’ve always got one step in the past.”
The Erie County Fair is one of longstanding tradition, Biniasz noted. Strates Carnival Company has operated the midway for 90 years, and Rambling Lou has been with the fair for 50. The fair has also recognized veterans and firefighters with special events and tributes for “over a century,” Biniasz said. “The fair is embedded in Western New York. We were here before before the city of Buffalo, before Erie County was even a county. And that’s all because of the people, the community that has supported us, year after year. That’s what’s really special.”
A lifetime fair-goer, Biniasz said his favorite photograph in the book is of a family tailgating in the parking lot, on Page 102, because it brings back memories of his own fair experience, as a child.
“When we were kids, my family couldn’t afford to eat concessions from the midway all day. So we’d pack a picnic and partway through the day, we’d stop and picnic in the park. I hated it!” Biniasz said, with a laugh.
“I just wanted to be out enjoying the fair. But now, looking back on it, those are some of my greatest childhood memories.”
In writing the book, Biniasz said he hoped to showcase the fair, but he also wanted to thank the Erie County Agriculture Society for its help, not only in the creation of the book, but in the fair itself.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to tell the story,” he said. “And yes, we’re celebrating our 175th today, but we’re really setting our eyes on our bicentennial.”
The Erie County Fair book, “Images of America: The Erie County Fair” is sold at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com
and will be available at local bookstores soon, as well as at the Erie County Fair Historical Society booth and the log cabin gift shop, once the fair kicks off. For more information about the fair, visit www.ecfair.org.