The Annie Gathering

Greenville signsThere are big doings in Greenville, Ohio, this weekend. Some are associated with the Annie Oakley Festival and some are associated with the Gathering at Garst. The Festival includes a parade through downtown but essentially takes place at the Darke County Fairgrounds on the south side of town. The Gathering takes place on the grounds of the Garst Museum towards the north side of town. Since the museum houses something called the National Annie Oakley Center, you might think the Festival and the Gathering are just two aspects of a single event but that’s hardly the case.

Annie Oakley Days ParadeAnnie Oakley Days ParadeThe parade is completely the responsibility of the Annie Oakley Festival as is a shooting competition, using air rifles, whose winner earns the title Miss Annie Oakley. In the lingering drizzle, I failed to get a picture of this year’s winner, Courtney Osborne, but I did get a picture of the 1970 winner, Patty Nisonger Padula, who was this year’s Grand Marshall. I was watching the parade with my uncle in front of his store and he told me that Patty had been an employee when she won in 1970. He had been her driver in the parade in another black convertible, his 1962 Corvette. The parade included a couple of high school bands, several classic cars, many Shriner units, and much more. A most appropriate entry was the group of female horseback riders most of whom were riding on side saddles.

Gathering at GarstGathering at GarstThe rain had moved on and the sun was shining by the time I made it to the Gathering at Garst. The museum was surrounded by tents selling various craft items and small antiques and there were a number of food tents as well. A field across the street was filled with “living history”. It included some additional vendors and some big guns which were fired once in a while.

Annie Oakley FestivalAnnie Oakley FestivalI also stopped by the fairgrounds to check out the Annie Oakley Festival. There were vendors selling food and other items including some crafts. There was a small car show and bus tours, included in festival admission, depart from the fairgrounds to visit related sites such as Annie’s grave.

In the beginning (1963), the home of Annie Oakley Days, as the festival is commonly called, was the museum and its grounds. That lasted for thirty-some years until the festival moved to the fairgrounds for a number of reasons including more space and access to electricity. It had the last weekend in July all to itself until the first Gathering was held in 2011. A Bob Robinson article, written shortly after that inaugural Gathering, indicates that, while both were calling themselves successful, neither was completely comfortable with the other.

The Gathering is free but parking is $4. There is a fair amount of parking available on nearby streets so some (like me) avoid the charge by walking a bit. Parking is free at the Festival but admission is $3. Advance $2 passes were available from some area merchants. Both events offer various forms of entertainment including concerts.

I’m guessing that both can call themselves successful again this year. However, as someone who attended the first Gathering and several Festivals, I have little doubt that the Gathering is getting bigger and better attended while the Festival is shrinking along with its crowd. Only time will tell whether both can survive. I hope so. I like that living history stuff but I like even more the parade and the Miss Annie Oakley contest. Is “The Annie Oakley Gathering at the Garst and Darke County Fairgrounds” too long to fit on a tee-shirt?

Annie Oakley's BootsAnnie Oakley's BootsEven with its $8 admission fee, the museum gets a lot of traffic during the Gathering and Festival. I’m a member but had not been inside for awhile. In fact, it seems that I’d not been in the museum proper since sometime prior to attending an Annie Leibovitz exhibit in October. That exhibit included a photograph Annie L had taken of a pair of boots at the Garst Museum. I resolved to look at the boots, made for Annie O around 1915, a little closer on my next visit. I expected it to be sooner than this but doing it in the midst of the Gathering/Festival is more than alright. Taking a photo of Annie L’s photo was not permitted but I will admit it’s a wee bit better than mine. Hers was helped by getting the boots out from behind the glass but I think there might be a little more to it than that.

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