Glossary and Notes
- The story of State Fair is based on the 1932 best-selling novel by
Philip Duffield (“Phil”) Stong.
- The Iowa State Fair is held
each year for 11 days in August, in Des Moines, customarily ending two weeks
before Labor Day. The fair has been held since 1854, originally at
Fairfield, and at the Des Moines site since 1886. (For a list of other
state fairs in other states, see this
ActI, Scene 1: The Frake Farm--a Tuesday afternoon in late August, 1946
- J. Edgar Hoover
was director of the FBI from 1924 to his
death in 1972, serving under eight Presidents.
- Iowa State College (known by this name 1896-1959; now Iowa State University) is located at Ames,
about 35 miles north of Des Moines.
- Mincemeat is (1) a mixture, as of finely chopped apples, raisins, spices, meat, and sometimes rum or brandy, used especially as a pie
filling; or (2) Finely chopped meat. (from dictionary.com).
Here is a mincemeat
recipe that won a prize at the Iowa State Fair.
- Traipse means to walk or tramp about or gad.
means to be gloomy or dejected, or to brood or sulk.
- Linoleum is a type of
flooring made from linseed oil, from the Latin linum (flax) and oleum
Act I, Scene 2: On the road to Des Moines--Wednesday morning before dawn
- The Iowa towns of Brunswick (home of the Frakes) and Pottsville
(home of Mrs Metcalfe) appear to be fictional places. (However, there
is a Postville, which straddles Allamakee and Clayton counties, in
the northwest part of the state.) But Arcadia city and township
are located in Carroll county, in the center western part of Iowa, two
counties east of the Missouri River, which is the boundary with Nebraska,
and about halfway between the Minnesota and Missouri state lines.
According to the novel State Fair by Phil Stong,
Brunswick is a small town and Pottsville is the county seat. The seat of the adjacent county is
Farmville, which is larger than Pottsville. Phil Stong grew up
near the village of Pittsburg, located on the east bank of the Des Moines
River in Van Buren County, a village that no longer exists. He went to
school in Keosauqua, the county seat. On their night drive
to the fair, the Frakes pass through Douds, Selma, Ottumwa, Eddyville,
Oscaloosa, Pella, and Prairie City on their way to the fair grounds at Des
Moines, a distance of 125 miles. On their
way home they also pass through Eldon, between Selma and Douds. Margy tells
Pat, “Pittsville’s thirty-five miles from Ottumwa and fifty miles from
Keokuk, almost on a line.” Thus it
would appear that Brunswick is Pittsburg, Pottsville is Keosauqua, and
Farmville is either Mt Pleasant (the county seat of Henry County) or
Fairfield (the county seat of Jefferson County). (Fairfield was the
first home of the Iowa State Fair, and is now the location of Maharishi
University.) All these places are in southeastern Iowa. Other
towns mentioned in the 1996 stage version are Davenport (located on
the Mississippi River, and one of the Quad Cities, the others being
Bettendorf, with Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois [Bettendorf was originally a small suburb of Davenport, but in 1948, it began to grow to reach equal status with the others, so that it was proposed to rename the area the Quint Cities, but that name never caught on.]), Osceola (the
county seat of Clarke County, in SC Iowa), and Cedar Bluff (which is
probably fictional, but would be located on a bluff above a major river).
Act I, Scene 3: The Midway at the Hoop-La Booth--later that morning
- During World War II many items were rationed, most beginning in 1942, and
ended on August 15, 1945 (original V-J Day). Some people no doubt had
leftover gas ration cards in the summer of 1946.
- Grampa Moses no doubt makes reference to Anna Mary Robertson Moses
(1860-1961), better known as Grandma Moses. She began a painting
career at age 78.
- Greenbacks, a slang term for American paper money; the term was
first used during the Civil War.
- Libel refers to a false statement made about another that unjustly
harms the injured party’s reputation. Usually libel refers to written
communication and slander to oral communication.
- A wolf whistle is a two-note loud whistle usually to show interest
in something, mostly an attractive woman. Today it may be considered a form
of sexual harassment.
- Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) was an American lawyer who became known
as a champion of the underdog. He was a leading member of the American Civil
Liberties Union, and he defended John Scopes (1925) for teaching the
Darwinian theory of evolution in Tennessee.
- James Buchanan “Diamond
Jim” Brady (1856-1917) rose from humble beginnings to become a
successful financier in New York. His collection of diamonds and other jewels gave him his nickname.
Act I, Scene 4: The Midway at the Temple of Wonder--immediately following
- Marrakech, or Marrakesh, was founded by the
Almoravids in 1062, as their capital in Africa. A variant of the name is Morocco, from which that country took its name since then. In 1086 the Almoravids conquered much of Spain as well. When the
Almohads succeeded them (1147), it became their capital. Marrakesh was one of the great medieval cities of Islam.
- At the beginning of World War II, Gen. MacArthur evacuated Manila on
December 27, 1941. Most of the army was evacuated to Bataan,
and MacArthur set up his headquarters on the island of
Corregidor. After fierce fighting the army of 12,500 Americans and
50,000 Filipinos, known as the “Battling
Bastards of Bataan”, battered and starving, surrendered unconditionally
on April 9, 1942. A few thousands escaped to Corregidor. The
rest were marched on the infamous “Bataan Death March” to Japanese POW
camps. Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942. Gen. MacArthur had been
evacuated to Australia, with the promise, “I shall return.” Although
the Japanese were able to conquer the Philippines, the men who fought and
died at Bataan and Corregidor probably prevented the Japanese from taking
- The Battle of Midway took place June 4-7, 1942. Admiral
Yamamoto desired to expand his perimeter, but more importantly, to draw the
US Pacific fleet into a battle and destroy it. In the
Battle of Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942), the Japanese had damaged the
carrier USS Yorktown, but it was repaired in time for Midway.
On the morning of June 7, the Japanese fleet, with four carriers and their
support ships, attacked the atoll of Midway. The American fleet was
able to join the battle early because American intelligence was able to read
the Japanese code. At the end, the all four Japanese carriers were
knocked out. TheYorktown was damaged, and, while under
tow, was sunk by a lucky Japanese sub. Midway is considered the
turning point of the war in the Pacific. Of course The Midway
is also the part of the fairgrounds where sideshows and similar amusements are located.
- V-J Day = “Victory over Japan Day”, the day Japan surrendered at
the end of World War II. There were actually two V-J days: Japan
announced its surrender on August 15, 1945 (known as “Original V-J Day”).
Representatives of the Japanese military signed the instrument of surrender
on September 2, 1945, (known as “Official V-J Day”) aboard the
Missouri (BB-63) at anchor in Tokyo Bay.
Act I, Scene 5: The Beer Tent--that afternoon
- A Virginia ham is country
ham produced in Virginia. A country ham is uncooked, but instead dry
cured with salt (and may also be nitrate- or nitrite-cured as well), and may or may
not be smoked. (City hams are wet cured, by injecting brine into the meat.) The term
“country ham” is associated with uncooked hams from the Southern
United States. A Smithfield ham is more precisely defined, and must be
produced in or in the vicinity of, Smithfield, Virginia. A Virginia-style
ham is a ham produced elsewhere in the style used in Virginia, usually a flat lean hickory smoked ham with dark red meat
from a peanut-fed razorback hog.
Act I, Scene 6: Outside the Dairy Pavilion--later that afternoon
- The roller coaster that Pat mentions by the beach in L. A. is
probably the Hi-Boy roller coaster on the Ocean Park pier. Located at
the boundary of Venice and Santa Monica, the pier was a kind of West Coast
Coney Island. In 1956 some developers bought the pier and developed it as an
amusement park to compete with Disneyland, opening in 1958 as Pacific
Ocean Park, or sometimes “P. O. P.” (P. O. P. was also
used to stand for “Pay One Price”, as the park only charged
admission; all the rides were included, unlike Disneyland, which at the time
required a coupon [A, B, C, D, or E] for each ride.) The Hi-Boy roller
coaster became the Sea Serpent. In 1965, the city of Santa Monica began its
Ocean Park renewal project, and closed most of the streets leading to P. O.
P. It became difficult to get to the park, so because of financial difficulties, the park
closed in 1967. The roller coaster moved to Phoenix at Legend City, where it
became the Sidewinder. It ceased operations in 1983.
means the lining of the stomach of a ruminant used as food; and, informally, nonsensical talk or writing.
Act I, Scene 7: The Starlight Dance Meadow--that night
Act I, Scene 8: Camper's Hill--Thursday morning
- Technically, streamlined means “designed to offer minimal
resistance to fluid flow”. In the 1930s the railroads began
offering passenger service in streamlined cars, and “streamlined”
became a feature of the style known as Art
Deco. Notable streamliners
included the Zephyr (CB&Q, Chicago-Denver), the Super Chief and
El Capitan (AT&SF, Chicago-Los Angeles), the Twentieth Century Limited
(NYC, New York-Chicago), the Broadway Limited (PRR, New
York-Chicago), North Coast Limited (NP), Empire Builder (GN), and the
City of Los Angeles (UP-C&NW,
Chicago-Los Angeles). The term then came to mean “reduced
to essentials; built for maximum efficiency” or “ultra-modern”.
- Virginia creeper
is a vine native to North America with compound leaves and bluish-black
berries (Family Vitaceae, Botanical name Parthenocissus quinquefolia
L.; also known as woodbine and American ivy)
- England-born actor Ronald Colman
was one of Hollywood’s leading men in the 1920s and 1930s. Although he
was hugely popular in silent films, his extraordinarily beautiful voice made
him even more popular in “sound” films.
- French-born actor Charles Boyer
also began his Hollywood career in silent movies. In the days of sound
he became famous for his whispered declarations of love. In 1934 he married
Pat Paterson, his first and only wife, and committed suicide two days after
her death in 1978.
- Interestingly, both Ronald Colman and Charles Boyer appeared in the 1956
feature film Around the World
in Eighty Days, which had a large number of cameos.
- Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, Bing
Crosby began a career as a singer in Los Angeles in 1925. He
was soon singing in New York and on the radio. His film career began
in 1932. His recording of “White Christmas” was the
largest-selling single until 1997.
Act II, Scene 2: Outside the Dairy Pavilion--early that night
Act II, Scene 3: The Starlight Dance Meadow--immediately following
- The Shubert
brothers, Lee, Sam, and Jacob, from Syracuse, NY, were Broadway
theatrical producers and theater owners. They had headquarters in the
Shubert Theatre (named for Sam). They currently own or operate 16
Act II, Seene 4: The Hillside--later that night
- Herald Square (spelled Harold Square in the script) is located between 34th and 35th
Streets, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The surrounding area is a center for shopping.
The Empire State Building is located one block east. This is a bit south for
the theater district. (But an Iowa farm boy might not know that.
He may have been thinking of George M. Cohan’s song: “Give my regards
to Broadway, remember me to Herald Square. . . .”) The square was named
for the New York
Herald, which was located at 151 West 34th Street, on the square; the
location is now Macy’s department
store. (The Herald was published between 1835 and 1924. It
sponsored Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition to Africa to find Dr Livingstone.
In 1922 it merged with its rival, the Tribune. The Herald-Tribune ceased
publication in 1966, but its Paris edition, the International Herald-Tribune
continues. The Tribune was published by Horace Greeley until he died
- Times Square is located between 42nd and 47th Streets, between Broadway and
Seventh Avenue. The area is at the south end of the theater district.
(An aspiring actress would know that!) The Square is named for the
York Times, located at 229 West 43rd Street, in New York, about half a
From the 1946 film (not from the show)
- Before the days of radio, song pluggers were essential for the
publication of a new song. So Tin Pan Alley songwriters and publishers
would hire pluggers to try to get famous singers (like Emily) to sing their
songs to make them popular. But with radio, gradually demo records and
tapes began to replace pluggers. Songs now became popular by having
air time on a radio program. This became so lucrative in the 1950s
that the temptation to slip payola to DJs became, in many cases,
irresistible. The song promotion business has so changed that,
formerly, a song would be rated in popularity by sheet music sales; now it
is by recording sales. And formerly, when people bought a recording of
a song they wanted it to sound like the live performance they had
heard. Now, when people go to hear a popular singer, they want a live
performance to sound like what they heard on a recording!
- Your Hit Parade was a show that ran on radio from 1935 to 1950, and
then moved to TV from 1950 to 1960. They presented the top ten songs
of each week, through a national survey of record and sheet music sales,
although they never revealed their methodology.
- Born Frances Rose Shore, Dinah Shore
grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Vanderbilt University. While in college, she became a radio singer. She took the name
“Dinah” from her radio show theme song. She had many
recording successes in the 1940s, and sang for the troops in Normandy and
elsewhere in Europe. In the 1950s she became hugely popular on her TV
- Born Francis Albert Sinatra in Hoboken, NJ, Frank Sinatra
began as a saloon singer. In 1942 he became a solo singer, and soon
was known as king of the bobby soxers from his legions of fans of young
women and girls. A vocal chord injury almost ended his career.
But he was able to begin a film career in 1953 in From Here to Eternity.
In the 1960s he made a series of films with his “Rat Pack” buddies, Dean
Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Mairzy Doats
is a novelty song from 1943 by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston.
- The word
meaning “meager or petty in giving or spending” is not much used
today (as it sounds like another unrelated but offensive word).
breed of swine probably originated in Hampshire, England. They
are characterized by a black coat with white belt, and large size.
- In Britain, ducky is informal for “sweetheart”, so the
adjective ducky came to mean “excellent, fine, highly
- A fin is
New York slang for a five dollar bill, probably from Yiddish finf,
meaning five (related to German fünf).
- To eat crow means to be forced to accept humiliating defeat. (From
- A cakewalk
was originally a strutting dance based on a march, popular among black
Americans in the 19th century. Dancers would compete, and the prize was an
enormous cake. It made its way into minstrel shows, and
now means “something easily accomplished”. (According to some
sources, the cakewalk originated on Southern plantations by the slaves
imitating the white people at a dance. Later, after the Civil War,
minstrel shows incorporated cakewalks, the black-faced white performers
making fun of black people. What the minstrels may not have realized was
that they were making fun of black people making fun of white people!)
means (somewhat informally) “to kiss, caress, or cuddle”.
- Last updated: August 20, 2005 and then May 16, 2020
- For corrections, additions, suggestions, or comments, please email