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Lost Attraction:
Peninsula Charity Fair and Automobile Show
By Nancy E. Sheppard

LostAtt imageWorld’s Fairs were all the rage in the first several decades of the twentieth century. They gave industries and governments the ability to showcase the latest and greatest innovations while giving guests the ability to peruse unique shopping, educational, and entertainment opportunities. These fairs were meant to be short-lived, money-making ventures. The only official World’s Fair to take place in the Tidewater was the failed Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907. But towards the end of the Great Depression, officials at Langley Field wanted to capitalize upon the momentum drummed up by fairs of this variety, not to garner funds for themselves, but to raise money for the community in which they served.

The first annual Peninsula Charity Fair and Automobile Show was held December 10-12, 1937 and filled five hangars at the field. Business leaders from all over the Peninsula showed up to showcase their latest products while giving the military a chance to highlight some of the latest innovations in military technology. It was meant to resemble a miniature World’s Fair and drew so many guests that extra public transportation was added to accommodate the number of visitors to the fair.

Everything seemed to be going perfectly until the scheduled airshow on Saturday, December 11th. The aerial displays showed impressive pursuit tactics, formation flying, parachute landings, and demonstrative aerial attack techniques. At 3:10 P.M., a PB-2Y flown by Major Alfred Waller, crashed nose-first into the runway. Sergeant Johnson, a crewman on the plane, was thrown and sustained injuries. However, Major Waller was caught in the blaze and perished.

Aside from the tragedy, the event was a massive success with 40,000 attendees. A good sum of money was turned over to both the Army Relief and various Peninsula-area charities.

The fair in 1938 was slated to be even bigger. There were fashion shows, displays from local historical museums, vaudeville-style presentation, a baby pageant, a flower show, and various other displays and events to engage visitors of all ages and interests. The apex of the event was a military ball held at the Langley Field gymnasium. The 1938 fair saw 50,000 guests through the gates and, again, was able to turn over a good sum of money to the various charities for both the military and the local community.

For whatever the reason, the 1938 was the last of these fairs. With it coming just a few years prior to America’s involvement in World War II, the focus was shifted away from frivolities such as these. In 1941, the Major Alfred E. Waller Air Base was dedicated in Trinidad in honor of the pilot who lost his life during the first Langley Fair. The base’s mission was to seek enemy combatants off the coast of the United States. The base was closed during military downsizing after the war, and the grounds now house the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

For more about the Langley Fair and other "lost” attractions from the Tidewater, look for Nancy E. Sheppard’s new book, Lost Attractions of Hampton Roads

 





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