Today we have a pair of “ruby flash” salt & pepper shakers, now missing their tops, souvenirs of the 1906 Rockville Fair.
Ruby Flash glass (also called Ruby Stain) is named for the red color, which is applied to glass pieces by coating them with a chemical compound, then baking them in a kiln. The technique was used for both fancy dinnerware and inexpensive novelties. Our shakers are pressed glass, 2 3/4 inches tall, in the “Button Arches” pattern made by the US Glass Co. “Button Arches,” and similar patterns with a decorated bottom and plain top, were perfect for creating on-the-spot personalized items. Locations, dates, and names could be easily engraved, cutting through the layer of stain. Souvenirs in the form of mugs, creamers, cordial glasses, toothpick holders, and the like were sold at fairs and festivals from the 1890s through the 1920s.
Who were Fannie and George? I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. This set was donated by our long-time glass and ceramics curator, who most likely spotted them at an antique store. I did find a potential match in the 1910 census, George and Fannie Chase of Wheaton, but there’s no particular reason to assume our George and Fannie were ever married. Unfortunately, there’s no match listed among the “Fair Week Weddings” (Washington Post, August 25, 1906) – unless Weldon Livingston Ferguson, Jr, of Loudon County, who married Frances Garner of Connecticut, went by “George.” (Apparently getting married at the Rockville Fair was kind of a thing; the article begins, “As usual, fair week brought a number of couples to Rockville on matrimonial errands.”) Perhaps, however, the Fair was an inspiration to George and Fannie, as it was to Miss Bessie Scott Montgomery of Washington. A September article in the Post describes Miss Montgomery as a “heroine of romance,” noting that she and George Kelchner of Rockville “had been sweethearts for several years, but some months ago they had a falling out, which to all appearances was of a permanent character. At the late Rockville Fair, however, they met and a reconciliation followed.” A few weeks later, they eloped. Who can deny the power of the fairground setting?
Romantic imaginings aside, we can get an idea of what our unknown couple experienced at the Fair, thanks to extensive coverage in the Washington Post. The Fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. The 1906 Fair lasted four days, from August 21st to the 24th, and drew visitors from local counties, Washington, and Baltimore. Crowds on the first three days were record-breaking, with the Post reporting “probably 7,000 persons on the grounds” on the second day; on the third day there was “an immense throng. . . probably as large a gathering as ever attended a Rockville Fair.” However, the weather was not terribly cooperative; a “terrific storm” on the 24th interrupted the racing, and “the intense heat all four days undoubtedly kept several thousand away.”
All those throngs of people had plenty to see. There were eleven horse races held on the newly improved track. Baseball teams from Rockville and Kensington played on the 21st (Rockville won, 7 to 2). There were displays of horses, cattle, poultry, sheep and hogs, mules, garden and farm products, cakes and candies, honey, preserves and jellies, “fancy articles” and sewing, works of art, photographs, fruits, flowers, and children’s exhibits. The “grand cavalcade,” an exhibition of stock, was held on the morning of the 22nd, headed by young Margaret Jones (daughter of an Agricultural Society official) and Clements Offutt (son of Rockville’s mayor) riding Shetland ponies. Maryland Governor Edwin Warfield was “expected,” though I couldn’t tell from the articles if he ever showed up. The annual “fair ball” was held on the evening of the 24th.
Altogether, George and Fannie probably had a pretty good time – and they brought home a matched set of souvenirs, to commemorate their day.