“The bean-spitting contest begins at 11:00,” says the mom in the 4H building.
“Oh, but I thought the frog jumping contest was today?”
“No, that’s next Saturday and you won’t want to miss the goat milking contest on Thursday!”
The Lake County Fair, the main highlight of the Crown Point social calendar. The cinnamon, sugar smell of fried elephant ears tinges the air, children’s laughter floats up from the fairground rides and the summer humidity leaves the skin warm but damp. The small town of Crown Point, Indiana may not have the biggest social calendar but it does have local history.
Despite the elephant ears being worth a culinary award, Crown Point’s main claim to fame is a prison escape. In 1934, the infamous bank robber and FBI most-wanted, John Dillenger, managed to escape from the town jail with nothing more than a gun he had carved out of soap and painted with shoe polish; an event which earned Crown Point a visit from Johnny Depp and a part in the major motion film, Public Enemies.
“But Mom, I want to see the two headed alligator,” whines a boy carrying a ‘Best in Show’ ribbon, as I stroll towards the bean spitting arena.
If Dillenger were to escape from prison now, he would probably be surprised at how much he recognizes. The large, salmon coloured, Romanesque and Georgian style Lake County Courthouse still provides the focal point for the downtown square. Although, nowadays instead of housing government offices it houses a museum, shops and an ice cream parlor named after Ruldolph Valentino, who married in the Courthouse in 1923. Buildings well known from my childhood also still exist including, the Crown Theatre, also known as ‘the sticky floor’ by anyone who has watched one of the ‘almost on dvd’ films in its one room cinema.
However, some things have changed in Crown Point and both Dillenger and I, an infrequent visitor, would have trouble recognizing them. The town now has its own brewery, bowling alley and the high school of my day has been abandoned for a larger, more advanced version located on the outskirts of town. The library of my childhood where I dreamed of reading all the books it contained (it wasn’t very big but it was still a task I never accomplished) is soon to have its last day as there are plans to build a new one. Whether the library of my time will be haunted like Carnegie Center, the library of my mother’s generation is left to be determined.
As I arrive, just in time to glimpse the first bean-spitter curling his tongue and letting out a puff of air, a cheer goes up from a nearby crowd. I wonder if that was the cheer for the lawn mower races, the truck pull or the demolition derby. In Crown Point, all are possible.