by Simone Elder, OC Alum, Leoti, KS
As summer draws to a close, it’s nice to take a moment to pause and reflect on this season’s memories. While this summer seemed to be a blur of preparing to move and a lack of getaways to relax and enjoy ourselves, things like playing in the backyard, swimming at the neighbors’ pool, and the Wichita County Carnival were highlights. As a “Carney” with the Wichita County Amusement Association, the annual Carnival event is a lot of work and many of us are tired before the fun even begins. However, even the grumpiest Carney can’t help but feel a swell in their chest during the opening ceremonies or at seeing happy reunions of families, classmates, and old friends after tiring weeks already spent preparing the grounds. I could see the boost my fellow Carnies got this year from giving Juliet a test ride on the trucks to help remind them of why we spend more time at the midway than with our families for a few weeks each summer.
In 1982 the traveling carnival canceled on the community here in Leoti, Kansas and a small, but dedicated group of individuals teamed up to raise money to buy and fix up junk carnival rides (and based on the stories I heard this year there were pieces that were rusted out and buried deep and are now beautiful additions.) A community solution that started with a few games and a horse ride, now is home to five food booths, ten games, and twelve rides. Of those original carnies, many still remain dedicated to the organization and event. There’s a magic that floats through the air amid the smell of cotton candy, the squeals of children on rides and the mechanical rumblings of said rides, and the sticky, cool of syrupy snow cones.
There’s joy observed as citizens prepare their homes to welcome back family and friends for a week that is marked each year prior for that big trip home. And even the Carnies, despite always being on call throughout the week, enjoy making the rounds to ride the rides, taste the food (the 11 pm corndog or funnel cake always hits the spot), and watching the crowds and the fruits of our labor. The Carnival always marks the end of summer for most and what better way to wrap up the season of leisure and recreation than with a spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl and a piece of pie.