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Midway volunteers debated 10 years before closing carnival

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The decision to end the nearly 90-year-old Midway Volunteer Fire Co. Carnival was a wrenching one, said fire company officials, during an interview earlier this week.

“The whole company regrets this action,” said Hugh Hager, Midway’s chief. “We just had to do it.”

After months of discussion, and for a wide variety of reasons, the all-volunteer department voted to bring the much-loved event to a close.

The vote, the chief noted, was not unanimous. In fact, the first vote was so close, company leaders decided to continue discussions and research for a couple more months to see if there was an alternative. A second vote, however, found a larger majority agreed ending the carnival was necessary.

“It was a long time coming,” the chief explained. “You can’t run a family carnival the way it used to be.

It costs too much.” For one thing, the Buckingham carnival would have had to dramatically increase the cost of its games of chance, said Lee Forsyth, the fire company’s president. “Other carnivals charge $2 a shot for games of chance and we didn’t want to charge the community that much.”

But, the men agreed, there’s been cultural change as well that significantly affected the carnival and its sustainability. In the early years of the carnival, which began in 1931, there was a lamp stand, a ham stand, a fruit stand, said Hager, who first helped his firefighter father at the carnival when he was 10 years old. “People were happy then to win a fruit basket.”

And, he noted, people didn’t have air conditioning in their homes, so they were happy to come and be outside in the evening. Families came together … they stayed ‘till 11 or 12 o’clock.” The farmers and shift workers who once made up a large part of the carnival crowd are gone, said the chief.

Over time, Forsyth said, “It just wasn’t a family carnival anymore.”

It took a great many volunteers to run the annual event, which opened each summer along Route 202 during the last two weeks of July. Just as most volunteer fire companies struggle to attract and retain firefighters, so too did Midway work to have enough of its volunteer firefighters and auxiliary members staff the booths, games and assist with rides. “It’s very labor intensive,” added the chief.

A further complication, said Mark Smith, a Midway volunteer who handles the company’s public relations, was when a call came in during the carnival. Firefighters would have to rush to the emergency, and others would have to quickly find someone to take over their booth or close it.

The company considered having a ride-only carnival, leasing its ground to a third-party operator. However, Smith said, “membership didn’t feel it was worth it.” Without the involvement of Midway volunteers, members worried it might not live up to the company’s standards. “It could degrade our name,” added Smith.

The first Midway carnival raised $1,100 and supported the purchase of the fire company’s first new fire truck, which cost $1,500, the chief said.

In 2018, the carnival’s final year, $20,000 was raised. During its heyday – the 1970s and 1980s – it was more common for the fire company to earn $40,000 to $50,000, Hager said. Throughout its history, all carnival proceeds were used to buy and maintain the department’s equipment, officials said.

When Buckingham and Solebury townships enacted a fire tax in the mid-1980s, the chief said, it reduced the financial need for the carnival and allowed the company to eliminate bingo, roast beef dinners and raffles as fundraisers.

Still, said Forsyth, ending the carnival was a “big, tough decision for the company. Many hours of discussion and research went into it. For the last 10 years, we kept trying.”


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