Another Tidbit from the Collections Corner

Dog Show, Doll Parade, and Balloon Ascension at Westport Fair, 1923

It was furniture-moving time at the Historical Society. We had movers on hand to take display cases downstairs, down to the basement, and even over to the Town Hall. I was emptying a case before it was to be moved to the first floor when I discovered an orange and black sign made of stiff cardboard and suitable for posting on a wall or pole. Large letters across the top announced: Dog Show. Beneath the letters and taking up most of the poster’s area was a round picture of a sturdy dog. Perhaps the face of a St. Bernard, his collar bore the word Spratt’s. Then I noticed a dog biscuit in each corner of the poster, each labeled Spratt’s Oval Dog Biscuits.

Below the dog portrait was the important information: Westport Fair Wednesday, September 26, 1923. What? The Westport Fair had a dog show in1923? So being of an inquisitive nature, or just plain snoopy if you like, and an animal lover, I had to learn more. I was soon thereafter whirling through microfilm at the U Mass. library in search of what the 1923 New Bedford Evening Standard had to say about this.

It had a lot to say. Not only was there a dog show, but also a doll parade featuring thirty tots and their best-dressed dolls, and a balloon ascension (perhaps we have come full circle on that.). Livestock was double the previous year’s number and feathered entries numbered 1100. The Horticultural Hall displayed exhibits from the Westport, Dartmouth and Watuppa Granges with competition for fruit, flowers, vegetables and canned goods.

The newspaper account of the balloon ascension is confusing. Apparently “Gunfire” George Spurr took to the air at 5:11 and two minutes later hurtled through the air landing in a swamp. Further along in the account the paper says, “The parachute drop takes place each afternoon.” Let’s assume that “Gunfire” had a parachute.

Incidentally first prize in the doll parade went, not to a little girl, but to a boy, two year-old Jackie Brabant and his wooden team of rabbits. Returning to the dog show, it was sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, under the leadership of Miss L. G. Hicks, and held in a tent with three judging stands. 175 dogs participated in 50 classes. The reporter described the dog show tent as the center of attention for people not involved in agriculture (a modern event whereas the farmer’s activities were old-fashioned). The nearby riding ring, he claimed, was the spot where farmers and their wives gathered to watch draft horses pull and trot around with creaking wagons. Women and girls made up most of the dog owners and the dogs ranged from silky toys reclining on pink or blue baby blankets to Russian wolfhounds and St. Bernards. Pekingese, beagles, and Boston terriers were the largest classes. Judging extended through the whole afternoon and into the evening. Dogs belonging to Harry O. Potter and Chester C. Gifford of Westport won prizes, but most of the ribbons went to out-of-towners. Dogs came from as far away as Boston and Providence. None of the judges were from Westport. The rules forbade any ribbon for Best in Show.

These are but a few of the events in the 1923 fair, more than a few of which we could add to our current fairs.

The Spratt’s Oval Dog Biscuits pictured on our poster sent snoopy me researching Spratt- who turned out to be James Spratt, an Ohio electrician, who had gone to England to sell lightening rods in 1860. He saw British dogs being fed old ship biscuits, probably wormy, and thought he could make a better biscuit. His formulation, based on guesswork, not science, succeeded and he soon had a thriving business among English gentlemen who owned sporting dogs. In 1890 the company went public and came to the US. Thus, an American lightning rod salesman started the entire pet food business. Barbara E. Moss