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Greene: Looking for 'Miss Citizen Fair'

  • Story Highlights
  • Bob Greene's new memoir is entitled "Late Edition: A Love Story"
  • The book chronicles his tenure at an Ohio newspaper in the 1960s
  • Author recalls the era when local newspapers were an integral part of daily life
By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: This is an excerpt from CNN Contributor Bob Greene's new book, "Late Edition: A Love Story," a memoir of his time working at an Ohio newspaper in the 1960s.

Bob Greene recalls a 1964 Ohio fair where a young lady dubbed 'Miss Citizen Fair' carried the day's newspaper.

Bob Greene recalls a 1964 Ohio fair where a young lady dubbed 'Miss Citizen Fair' carried the day's newspaper.

"You are Miss Citizen Fair."

This is how, during the summer of 1964, a fairgoer was required to say it, in order to become the winner. If a person on the midway were to say, "Are you Miss Citizen Fair?" That would not count. If the person were to say, "Are you the girl?" That would not count. It had to be those exact words: "You are Miss Citizen Fair." If the person had approached the right young lady, that person won the money.

It was a promotion started at the old Columbus, Ohio, Citizen newspaper and evidently the wording was not changed when the Citizen became the Citizen-Journal. The way it worked was this:

A young woman in her late teens, maybe her very early 20s, was hired to walk the Ohio Fairgrounds every day during the two weeks of the Ohio State Fair, carrying a copy of that day's Citizen-Journal. On the first day of the fair, the vaguest of photographic clues -- perhaps a picture of one of her hands -- would appear in the Citizen-Journal.

If someone spotted the young woman carrying the paper, perhaps recognizing her hand from the newspaper that morning, and said to her, "You are Miss Citizen Fair," he would win the cash prize. If he said the words any differently, she would ignore him and walk on.

As each day passed without Miss Citizen Fair being identified, the clues in the paper would become more obvious: a photo of her shoes one day, her skirt the next day, the back of her hair the day after. She could be anywhere -- by the dairy barn, in the bleachers at the prize hog competition, standing in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl, looking at the butter cow. Miss Citizen Fair could be any young woman on the fairgrounds.

On one of my days off from my copyboy job at the paper that summer of 1964, my friends and I went to the fair. They asked me if I knew who Miss Citizen Fair was -- they wanted to claim the prize. I told them the truth: No, I didn't know. It was closely held information, possessed only by a few executives at the newspaper.

"You are Miss Citizen Fair," one of my friends said to a woman who was walking past us.

But she wasn't. "You're the third person who's asked me that today," she said.

One person we did see from the Citizen-Journal was Al Getchell, under an umbrella.

The paper's editorial cartoonist -- perpetually morose, he may have been the only editorial cartoonist in the country who was missing part of a finger -- had been sent to the fairgrounds, as he was every summer, to sit at his drawing board beneath a big parasol that protected him from the sun, and draw free caricatures of fairgoers. The idea was to generate good will for the paper.

"Hey, Al!" I called to him. He looked toward my voice, not showing much interest -- a lot of people were yelling "Hey, Al!" at him, the sign next to his table and umbrella announced to all in the vicinity that he was Al Getchell of the C-J -- but when he saw that it was me he grinned and waved me over, which made me feel good; it proved to my friends that the people at the newspaper really did know me.

"What are you doing here?" he said to me, as if my natural habitat, like his, had now become not the outside world, but the city room. He looked happier than I'd ever seen him at the paper -- there, under the fluorescent lights, the managing editor, Jack Keller, was always throwing photos at him to retouch; there he always seemed to be contemplating the fact that his professional life had come to this: not to making art, not to expressing visual editorial-page ideas about stories in the news, but to whiting out unwanted areas of pictures before they appeared in the paper, touching up the wrinkles on a newsmaker's photographic likeness. At work, there seemed always to be a sombrous cloud hovering over Al's head, even as he hovered over his drawing board.

At the fair the sun was high in the sky, and dozens of people crowded around him, hoping he would select one of them as the subject of his sketch. "Mr. Getchell! Mr. Getchell!" they called out, and he beamed in their direction. I looked at him there, I saw his hand with the missing finger, I saw the people whom he'd already chosen, walking away with their prized, signed Al Getchell sketches. "Mr. Getchell!" they called, and he smiled toward me and shrugged, as if to indicate: "What can I do? I'm in demand." He looked as if he never wanted to leave the fair.

"Let's see if we can find Miss Citizen Fair and win the money," one of my friends said, but we didn't try very hard. It was hopeless: How, out of all the young women at the fair, were we going to find the right one?

And of course, the bittersweet part, looking back on it from the perspective of today's world, is this:

It was a time when newspapers were still such a fundamental part of everyday American life that there really were too many young women on the fairgrounds who fit the Miss Citizen Fair profile, too many young women for us to narrow down the field.

Too many young women walking around the Ohio State Fair carrying copies of that morning's local newspaper. It was utterly common: a person at the fair, young or old, carrying the latest edition. It's what people did: Purchase a paper every day, and carry it around with them.

Even at the fair.

Excerpted by permission from "Late Edition: A Love Story," to be published this week by St. Martin's Press.

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