Heritage & History Center; Erie County Fair, Hamburg, New York

2016

A Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Approach to Museum Design

August 2016
April 2016

Located inside the Fair’s 1885 Octagon Building, the Heritage & History Center opened during the 177th Fair to chronicle over 195 years of agriculture, food, competition and excitement that have come to symbolize the Erie County Fair to generations of Western New Yorkers. Exhibits were curated to showcase the inspiring traditions that have laid the foundation for the present-day Fair as well as reflect the progression of change in our society.

Featured exhibit devoted to the 90 year relationship between the James E. Strates Shows and the Erie County Fair
2019 Heritage and History Center
In 2017, the Heritage & History Center featured an exhibit honoring Walter “Jay” Milligan. Milligan, who passed away in January of 2018, was the Fair'r provider of the demo derby and other motor events. The sprint car, restored by Milligan, once belonged to pioneer race car driver Joe Russo.
Model of the 1962 James E. Strates Shows train built by circus modeller Dick Heim.
2016 - A display dedicated to Ramblin' Lou Schriver included his "Nudie Suit." The stage outfit was made by Nuta Kotlyarenko, known professionally as Nudie Cohn
2016 -Nuta Kotlyarenko, known professionally as Nudie Cohn, was a Ukrainian-born American tailor who designed decorative rhinestone-covered suits, known popularly as "Nudie Suits." During the 50s-70s, Nudie outfitted almost every big entertainer including Roy Rogers, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Elvis and Gram Parsons. Originally broadcasting from radio stations in Niagara Falls, Ramblin’ Lou’s suit features cataract imagery and the famous Niagara rainbow. Ramblin' Lou had this stage suit custom made in 1964.
Label inside Ramblin Lou's famous Nudie Suit made by Nudie Cohn
Label inside Ramblin Lou's famous Nudie Suit. During the 50s-70s, Nudie outfitted almost every big entertainer including Roy Rogers, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Elvis and Gram Parsons. made by Nudie Cohn
Marty Biniasz, Erie County Fair, Buffalo Hamburg New York
Grand Opening of the Erie County Fair's Heritage & History Center on Wednesday, August 10th
Concept, Design & Layout
Marty Biniasz

Graphic Design
Michele Meissner, Authentic Buffalo

Panel/Frame System & Signs
VSP Graphic Marketing Group
 
Custom Display Cabinetry
ECAS staff

Audio/Visual
Southtowns AV 

Archive Support
Jimmy Barrett

Original Fair Bear costume on display.
Wire used during Nik Wallenda's 2014 Erie County Fair Skywalk on display in 201
Wire used during Nik Wallenda's 2014 Erie County Fair Skywalk on display in 2019
In 2018, Gary Girouard donated one of his legendary "Gary the Silent Clown" costumes to the Erie County Fair's collection
In 2018, Gary Girouard donated one of his legendary "Gary the Silent Clown" costumes to the Erie County Fair's collection.
Marty Biniasz takes a ride on the Sky Wheel with E. James Strates of the famous Strates Shows
Marty Biniasz takes a ride on the Sky Wheel with E. James Strates of the famous Strates Shows
2019 - Special exhibit dedicated to Armor Fire. For 75 years, Armor has provided fire protection services at the Erie County Fair.
Ramblin' Lou Schriver's Nudie Suit featuring Niagara Falls and rainbow
Ramblin' Lou Schriver's Nudie Suit featuring Niagara Falls and rainbow.
Fire retardant racing jumpsuit once owned by Jay Milligan.
In 1953, Ramblin Lou Schriver ordered this custom Gibson JS-200 guitar with his name inlayed in the fretboard. This model was originally introduced by Gibson in 1937. Schriver used this as his stage guitar until his final performance in 2015.
WGRF/97 Rock's Carl Russo

Core Exhibits

Primary themes of the Fair were communicated through the use of a frame and panel system designed by VSP Marketing of West Seneca. Graphics for these 4 by 8 panels were completed by Michele Meissner. Meissner is the former Director of the Toy Town Museum in East Aurora, New York. Research, layout and narrative was provided by Marty Biniasz.


Pioneer Fairs – Founded in 1819, First Fair in 1820; Re-establishment of the Agricultural Society in 1841. Display was designed to reconnect the Fair to the City of Buffalo.


The Traveling Fair & Finding A Permanent Home – Highlighted locations of the Erie County Fair prior to 1868 and how the Fair ended up in in Hamburg.


Fairgrounds – Using a 1955 map, visitors learned about the Fair’s historic structures, both past and present, and now the grounds have evolved over the past 149 years.   


Feeding the Fair – The legend of the birth of the hamburger was explained; from pizza to fried gummies, how Fair food has influenced Western New York.


Agriculture & Competition Heritage – Bigger, Better & the Best! It’s the primary mission of the Agricultural Society. Images and panels were also dedicated to 4-H, FFA and Women’s Department (Creative Arts) activities.


Midway & Strates History – The most exciting place at the Fair. Panels celebrated the 92+ year history with James E. Strates Shows.


Firefighters & Veterans Days – As a community we gather at the Erie County Fair annually to honor those served this country, who died for our freedom and for those who time and time again put their lives in danger to keep us safe.


Growing the Fair – Modern transportation to the fairgrounds in the 1890s and the use of electronic media after 1950 assisted the transformation of a traditional, agriculturally based fair into the largest independent county fair and exposition in the United States.

Heritage & History Center at the Erie County Fair in 2018.
Heritage & History Center at the Erie County Fair in 2018.
2017 - At approximately 12:30pm on Thursday, July 20th, a rare EF-2 tornado touched down in Hamburg, New York with a path that crossed the Erie County Fairgrounds and continued to Orchard Park. This was one of four confirmed tornadoes that occurred that afternoon. Estimated maximum wind speeds reached 115 mph with a path width of 700 yards. The storm moved onshore from Lake Erie with damage beginning in Hamburg. On the Fairgrounds, tornadic debris was widespread. Hundreds of car windows were blown out, bleachers & portable gates destroyed, trees were downed and several buildings including the Grandstands and the historic McKinley Gate sustained damage. The clean-up process began immediately after the grounds were declared safe. There were no fatalities or direct injuries associated with the storm. Later that evening, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo made an appearance at the Fairgrounds as part of a press briefing. The estimated cost associated with tornado damage to the Fairgrounds was $2.5 to $3 million dollars and was covered by insurance claims and money from the Agricultural Society’s general fund. Over 150 people, comprised of the Fairground’s staff, private contractors & volunteers, worked non-stop during a 20-day period to prepare for opening day on August 9th.
2017 Display - This vehicle was restored by W. Jay Milligan in 1997. It is powered by a Flathead Ford V8, rebuilt by GOR-DEN Racing Engines. This Antique Automobile Club of America registered midget was campaigned throughout the northeast and central United States. The car was driven by Hamburg native Alphonse Joe Russo. Joe started his racing career when he was 16 years old and won the Illinois State Championship in 1935. He was New York State Champion in 1948. Surviving many bad spills, Joe became known as “Rubber Man” Russo. Russo set the all-time 3 and 6 lap records for the Erie County Fair track in 1949.
E. James Strates, Jim Strates, visits the Erie County Fair's Museum
2018 E. James Strates, Jim Strates, visits the Erie County Fair's Museum
2018 E. James Strates talks about the famous Strates Show Train
2018 E. James Strates talks about the famous Strates Show Train
2019 Exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of Armor Fire
2019 Exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of Armor Fire
2019 "Last of the Hell Drivers," the Legendary Tonny Petersen, talked about his 65 year career as a performing stuntman and the history of "hell drivers" at the Erie County Fair.
Tonny Petersen at the Erie County Fair's Heritage and History Center in 2019
Tonny Petersen at the Erie County Fair's Heritage and History Center in 2019
A one day exhibit on Hell Drivers at the Erie County Fair
A one day exhibit on Hell Drivers at the Erie County Fair
2019 Exhibit on the Sky Wheel
2016 - Jay Milligan visits the Heritage History Center; The Erie County Agricultural Society honors the legacy and life of Walter “Jay” Milligan Sr. who passed away on March 20, 2017. Milligan was our very own “King of Crash.” His JM Productions was the driving force behind the Erie County Fair’s “World’s Largest Demolition Derby” and “Ultimate Night of Destruction.” In 1963 he produced the first demolition derby for the Erie County Fair. Milligan, then a manager of Lancaster Speedway, was asked by the Fair to put on a demolition derby when one of the stunt shows cancelled their appearance. The inaugural event featured only 17 cars and was won by Ed Henning of Lancaster. The show was such an overwhelming success that it not only spawned a new Fair tradition but launched the Milligan family into the business of producing similar events across the Northeast. Currently, JM Productions brings demolition derbies to 60 state and county fairs throughout the Northeast. In 1974, Jay Milligan Sr. created the All American Thrill Show sponsored by the American Motors Corporation. The fender banging, car mangling, brake screeching show climaxed with a mid-air, 360 degree barrel roll called the Astro-Spiral. The stunt, designed with help from local Calspan engineers, used an AMC Hornet Hatchback. This was the same maneuver executed by Milligan’s team as Roger Moore’s stunt coordinator in the James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Milligan was inducted into the Erie County Fair Hall of Fame in 1994.
George Sipprell Jr gets behind the wheel of  King Midget Car once used by his father in the 1960s
George Sipprell Jr gets behind the wheel of King Midget Car once used by his father in the 1960s. King Midget was a micro car produced between 1946 and 1970 by the Midget Motors Corporation of Athens, Ohio. It was billed as both "World's Number One Fun Car" and "World's Most Exciting Small Car". Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt started out by offering a kit to build the car and soon added completely assembled automobiles. Midget Motors’ primary methods of advertising their cars were through small advertisements in popular magazines that appealed to home mechanics. The ads were tiny but effective; they showed a midget car and some earlier ads contained the phrase “500 lb. car for $500.00″ The ads brought in a steady stream of interested customers. This method of direct selling continued for most of the life of the company. This Model 3 King Midget was produced between 1957 and 1967. It was a gift from Jim Strates of the James E. Strates Show to Erie County Agricultural Society’s George Sipprell to use as the “Treasurer’s Car.” It features uni-body construction, 76.5 in (1,940 mm) wheelbase, four wheel hydraulic brakes and 9.2 horsepower engine. In 1958, the cost of a King Midget was $900. In comparison, the full-sized Rambler American started at $1775.
Pre-construction mock-up of Heritage & History Center 2016
Spring 2016 prior to August 2016 opening
This spoked wagon wheel represents the early days of the Southern Tier Shows in 1923 and the Strates Shows’ transition to a railroad carnival in 1934. The hard rubber wheels were used with heavy equipment and very reliable for the loading and unloaded of the carnival train. The hard rubber construction eliminated flat tires caused by abuse navigating railyards. These were not intended for road used over long distances, but would be towed through the streets of Hamburg from the Erie Railroad Depot on Union Street to the fairgrounds. Horses, tractors and even the Strates’ herd of performing elephants were used to move the wagons. Wagons that utilized this style of wheel would have a 3-5 ton load capacity. Strates purchased surplus pieces of equipment during the Great Depression as many small carnivals and circus folded due to economic conditions. Additional piece of used equipment were purchase by the Strates Shows in 1945 following a fire that destroyed much of the carnival while stored at winter quarters in Mullins, South Carolina. This wheel was used on the Strates Shows until the mid-to-late 1960s when wheels like this were phased out in favor of pneumatic tires. For many years the Strates Shows featured the image of a wagon wheel as their corporate logo. The wheel graphic featured one broken spoke to represent the passing of show founder James E. Strates in October 1959. The restoration of the wheel was performed in 2016 by Maaco of Orlando, Florida. Strates Shows artist Jack McKissock hand-painted the artwork. Gift of E. James, Phyllis Strates and Family
Sky Wheel Double Ferris Wheel Tub. One of the all-time, most popular amusement rides at the Erie County Fair. The Skywheel was featured on the Strates Midway from 1963-1993 and again from 1996-1998. During its last three years at the fair the ride was setup in Kiddieland. In 1960 the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York purchased the exclusive rights to manufacture the 80-foot-high double Ferris Wheel. Herschell secured the designs invented by John F. Courtney from Curtis & Elmer Velare of Chicago, IL who held the patent on the wheel. Herschell President Lyndon Wilson paid tribute to the Velares’ tenacity and ingenuity. He told Billboard magazine, “it took 20 years of hard work by the Velares to develop the double wheel from wheels which were all steel and had cable drives to wheels with part aluminum, part steel construction and dual friction drives that operate like clockwork.” The ride featured two traditional Ferris wheels attached to opposite ends of a large boom that rotated in the air. While one wheel was being loaded, the second wheel would spin freely treating riders to a panoramic view of the entire fairgrounds and the skyline of downtown Buffalo in the distance. The climax of the Sky Wheel ride occurred when the entire boom would rotate, creating a memorable thill for up to 32 adults or 48 children in one of its 16 seats. At night, the ride was covered in dazzling green and blue neon. This authentic Sky Wheel chair, or “tub” as it is known in carnival lingo, was restored in 2016 by Uni-Glide of Venice, Florida. Historical information about midway and ride provided by Bill Pfeifer.
2016 marked the 60th year for Salvatore’s Pizza at the Erie County Fair. The business was founded in 1955 by Italian immigrants Salvatore and Philomena Butera (Sam and Flo). Originally a pizzeria in Blasdell, New York, they used family recipes that their parents taught them from the old country, and used only the finest and freshest of ingredients in all their food. For their contributions to the pizza industry, the Butera Family was inducted into the National Pizza Hall of Fame in 2016.
Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC # 28) Carousel Horse
Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC # 28) Carousel Horse
TOP - A rare surviving horses from a carousel that once entertained children at Erie County’s Emery Park in South Wales, New York. This piece represents Western New York’s importance as a former center of amusement ride manufacturing for use at parks, fairs, carnivals and amusement parks across the world. BOTTOM - C. W. Parker Carousel Horse
Heritage and History Center (Fair Museum
Marty Biniasz at opening of the Erie County Fair's Heritage and History Center (Fair Museum)
4 by 8 graphic panel were designed by Michele Meissner with framework constructed by VSP Graphics. History and images were coordinated by Marty Biniasz. Below is a sampling of the historical panels. 
E. James Strates, Jim Strates, of the Strates Shows
E. James Strates, Jim Strates, of the Strates Shows
Jim Strates took over the Strates Shows in 1959 following the death of his father.
Jim Strates, E.  James Strates
Jim Strates, E. James Strates, of the Strates Shows look over an exhibit dedicated to his midway inside the Heritage & History Center
Marty Biniasz with Jim Strates of the Strates Shows, 2018
Marty Biniasz with Jim Strates of the Strates Shows, 2018