The best day of the school year – far and away – was May Fete. On or about the second Friday in May, Wyoming Middle School (in Wyoming, OH) would transform into a massive carnival teeming with rides, food, and game booths. May Fete started at noon and went late, late into the night. And it was incredibly exciting.
To a seven-year-old in 1971, it was as if a high-end amusement park had sprung up out of nowhere. You couldn’t go to an odd corner of the school grounds without running into a cake walk or a fish bowl toss or a dunk booth or something. Simply trying to explore every nook and cranny of the event took a very full day.
They had all the major rides: the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Scrambler, the Round-Up, an actual Ferris Wheel, as well as the Rock-o-Plane and the Roll-o-Plane. The Roll-o-Plane was shaped like a giant, two-sided blue bullet. It swiveled every which way back and forth and looked highly dangerous. With the Rock-o-Plane, you were trapped inside metal cages that could flip completely upside down. I wanted to ride both desperately, but just looking at them made me nauseas.
My favorite was the Round Up where you and 40 other kids stood side by side in a giant centrifuge that spun maniacally, and then the floor dropped out. At seven, I could ride it all day. (Postscript: I rode on one after I turned 40 and they almost had to call an ambulance.)
Carnies ran the rides, while Wyoming Moms ran the food and game booths. Cotton candy, burgers, LaRosa’s pizza, and soda flowed freely. My neighbor, Mrs. Bedenkop, ran the dart booth and used to let me take free turns. And I discovered I had a tremendous, innate talent for busting balloons with darts.
How excessive was May Fete? At the Cake Walk – it took zero effort to win an entire cake. But then, of course, you were stuck with an entire cake. Could someone hold my entire chocolate cake while I ride the Round Up? Thank you!
And May Fete was an incredible communal event. Everyone’s mom and dad and extended family came. The neighboring kids from St. James and their families came – and all the parents sat at row after row of checkerboard tables devouring burgers and dogs and grilled chicken and drinking beer. To make room for all these tables, they had to take down the tether ball poles. And a brass band played while they ate – which was festive and noisy, because there was also music (and announcements) perpetually pumping from the loudspeakers.
But the best part of May Fete – for me – was the Comic Book booth. At seven, I’d never seen a place with so many comics – and at five for a quarter, they were cheap and abundant. Sure, they were in awful, awful shape. Most had rips or were missing covers. Some were bundled and rolled up in tubes, held by a rubber band. But I was too young to realize the destructive effect this was having on the poor little things. All I knew was that I was in nirvana.
I’d fill up half a grocery bag and bring it to my mom at the picnic tables (who was still holding my Cake Walk cake). Look what you got! Wow. I’d head to the Ferris Wheel, and wouldn’t get five feet before my newfound Comics Jones kicked in. Hey, a lot of other kids were picking through that booth! What if I missed something? They probably picked it clean by now!! I’d run back, but of course there were still plenty left – except now it was all horror and war and Archies. Well, hell. Comics were comics! I’d adapt.
The days were hot and endless. And at night, the rides and festival lit up, gloriously. Even after we left, May Fete and its joyous crowd went long, long into the night.
- The burgers tasted better just because it was May Fete.
- The Flea Market they ran out of the Pike School gym next door was also cool. They had tables and tables of used toys, games, clothes – and best of all rusty tools and car parts.
- The tickets themselves – both the ride tickets and the prize tickets – were pretty cool, too. The prize tickets were the size of playing cards – but were different colors depending on their denomination. Five point Orange prize tickets were the best. And at the end of the day, kids would scour the grounds to see if anyone had dropped any Orange tickets. (Or tickets of any kind, really.)
- If it rained, the entire grounds became a deep mud-field. Workers and parents threw straw everywhere. But it didn’t make a difference, and hundreds of kids would just stomp through the straw-laden swamp.
- Years later, when I attended middle school, I discovered it was impossible to get work done the day before May Fete, because we’d spend all day staring out the window watching the carnies build rides. Friday was even worse, because May Fete didn’t start till noon and time slowed to molasses. Is it noon, yet? It’s 10:30? We’ll never make it!
- Don’t remember any of the Coronation stuff.
- Don’t remember whether or not they had fireworks, but I bet they did.
And in Wyoming, Ohio, today is May Fete for the 93rd time. So, if you’re in Cincinnati, why not drive over and try to win a cake? It’s pretty easy.
For information and a history of May Fete, check out – https://wyomingpsa.wordpress.com/may-fete-2015/