Exhibit offers peek into fair's history

A new Sonoma-Marin Fair exhibit will take visitor's deep into the annual event's colorful and often quirky past, showcasing items like a painting crafted by the world's first human cannonball, and antique trophies topped with dogs, cows, horses and even a car or two, from the days of the Demolition Derby.

On the museum's far wall, vintage fair food photos show the Pon family selling their famous "Egg Roll on a Stick," while the adjacent wall boasts an incredibly ornate "no parking" sign, on which a smiling painted calf warns visitors that stealing former fair manager Beverly Wilson's parking spot may be "hazardous to your health!"

Look behind you, and you'll spot the original Petaluma Pete chicken mascot, not to be confused with the popular modern day performer, dressed to the nines and still kickin' 35 years later.

As the Sonoma-Marin Fair turns 75 this year, visitors at next week's festivities can celebrate the milestone by viewing an eclectic mix of such fair memorabilia.

Hundreds of mementos spanning seven-and-a-half decades will be on display at the Beverly C. Wilson Hall from Wednesday, June 18 to June 22, thanks to the efforts of curators Katherine Rinehart, Annee Booker Knight and a massive team of volunteers and contributors.

But historic milk bottles, fair posters and a seemingly endless collection of photographs didn't simply hand themselves over to Rinehart and Knight. The duo has been rounding up relics since February, reaching out to past donors, sponsors, former fair staff members and organizations such as the Petaluma Riding and Driving Club, Petaluma Garden Club, Redwood Empire Sheepdog Association and The Sonoma-Marin Cattlewomen.

Thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers from the 50th anniversary exhibit, Rinehart said many items were ready to be donated by Petalumans eager to once again share their piece of history.

For Rinehart, one of the most intriguing items is a somewhat mysterious abstract painting of the Sonoma-Marin carnival. A card stapled to the back corner reads: Dr. Hugo Zacchini, Graduate, Rome Art Academy.

Zacchini, it turns out, was not just a painter; he was one of the world's first human cannonballs along with his brother Edmondo. Rinehart said the painting was a gift to Beverly Wilson, the fair's first female manager, who's honored this year with her own collection of photos.

Visitors will see a Clover Stornetta display surrounded by fair posters when they first walk in, and from there they can choose to amble around whatever piques their interest, whether it's a gallery of photos taken by M.B. Boissevain, a talented photographer and Marin County's first farm advisor; or a large antique wagon from the Petaluma Cooperative Creamery.

The assortment of souvenirs includes trophies and saddles from rodeos and horse shows that disappeared in the early 1980s, as well as artifacts from the Destruction Derby, 4-H and Future Farmers of America competitions and The World's Ugliest Dog Contest, scattered among photos of pet parades and Farmer's Day events.

Sarah Cummings, the fair's current CEO following Pat Conklin, said she's looking forward to seeing the smiling faces of patrons young and old as they stroll down memory lane. Even Sonoma-Marin Fair aficionados, she said, are sure to learn a thing or two.

"Hometown fairs are where memories are made year after year, and it is so cool to be part of the creation of those life-lasting memories," Cummings said.

For more information on contributing to this year's fair, contact Rinehart at kjrinehart@comcast.net or Knight at 338-7051.

For information on the fair, visit sonoma-marin fair.org.

(Contact Allison Jarrell at allison.jarrell@arguscourier.com)