Just about everyone working in a booth or barn at the Crawford County Fair knows Art Getchell. Those who’ve been working the fair for any number of years — and many of the fair’s visitors — know him as the “Mayor of the Midway.”
Getchell’s moniker originated from an overnight election held by “old-time carnies” as he called them, at which he was the “only one there at the time” to vote for “mayor.” The title stuck, now standing as a testament to his unyielding dedication to the fair, its vendors and all of its participants.
As of this year, after decades of food service to the fair, Getchell retains his title of “mayor” — but he’s closed his Art’s Place midway restaurant.
“I’ve known Art ever since I’ve been here in 1958,” said Ken Freeborn, owner of Nick’s Italian Sausage, the Dime Pitch and other game booths. “He’s been the ‘Mayor’ for a long time.”
Art recalled working at the fairgrounds in the early 1950s when the main midway was dirt and the only water available ran across the roads through plastic pipes and ended up in buried 50-gallon drums for sewage.
“Sewer lines, water lines and upgrades in electricity were the three major improvements throughout the years,” said Getchell.
Aside from a full resume, most notably president of Crawford County Firefighters Search and Recovery Scuba Team and 46 years work at Meadville Telephone, now Windstream, Art is most known at the fair for his many years running Art’s Place, where he recalled some of his best sellers: homemade pies, ox roast and hot beef sandwiches.
“He used to have full meals at a good price,” said Crawford County resident Marsha Brown. “They were delicious. He’s definitely missed.”
Art sold his business about three months ago and it has since been replaced by Hetrick’s Catering.
“I’m lost since I sold the business,” Getchell laughed. “It used to be if you didn’t find me at work, you found me at the fair.”
Nowadays, Getchell said he helps out at the Meadville Sertoma Club restaurant with President Jack Thompson.
“Jack and I are like the last of the Mohicans,” said Getchell, attesting to their many years at the fair.
It wasn’t just the food business that brought “the mayor” back to his midway then to now.
“It’s the friendships,” he said. “I still meet a lot of nice people every year. It gets in your blood.”
The 2012 Fair Premium Book was dedicated to Getchell, featuring a photo of him in front of his place, under a sign displaying his title.
“I knew him since we opened the Dairy Committee Kitchen,” said Doneva Hyde, former Crawford County Fair Board member and wife of current board member Kenneth Hyde. “In a pinch, you ran over to Art’s, you borrowed anything you wanted, and you just paid him back.”
Getchell used to travel with a carnival in his younger days, around his junior and senior years of high school.
“I kind of got the itch,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good times at the fair.”
Freeborn described one of his many experiences with Getchell working in the food industry when Freeborn broke an onion cutter during preparation for Nick’s Italian Sausage.
“(Getchell) went and found one he had lying around and gave it to us,” said Freeborn. “We’ve been using it ever since. He’s helped a lot of people; especially the food people.”
The fairgrounds maintenance crews also speak highly of Getchell and his years of service, and of his always going far beyond the line of duty.
“Maintenance does a fantastic job of keeping things running,” said Getchell. “There are other people that deserve the dedication (such as the one featured in the Premiere Book). Other people work hard to make this place go.”
As for him, his efforts in the fair have always been what he calls a family affair, referring to the annual aid he received from food service to decorating. “We’ve been putting up flags and pennants all over the fairgrounds since the 50th anniversary,” said Getchell. The fair is in its 67th season this year.
No matter what walk of life or job in the fair, everyone who knew Getchell seemed to say the same thing.
“Art is an all-around good person,” said Freeborn. “If anyone had a problem, he’d find a way to fix it.”
This will be the first year Art will see the fair outside a business perspective.
“Before, it was always work,” he said. “This year we’re going to see what we haven’t seen for the last 50 years or so.”
Getchell planned to start with seeing the draft horses, although he has no favorite part of the fair.
“I like it all,” he said. “It’s one big farm; best place in the country.”
As evening approached, when asked how he was enjoying the fair, Getchell simply gave a thumbs up and bid fair-goers a good-day before riding cart 40 off into the sunset toward his midway.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.