Reflections – Preserved for All Time

Posted: September 25, 2023

In 1911, nearly a thousand people took the novel opportunity to see a demonstration of machinery and tools that spanned the history of harvesting. An Iowa newspaper said about the event that if someone wanted to “see how progress has traveled on the farm, see a flail and a thrashing machine side by side.”

We often see old photos from the short-lived “Old Time Harvest Fair” in DeKalb County, especially at harvest time. The 1911 and 1913 fairs are most prominently remembered, but 1912’s demonstration, held elsewhere largely featured DeKalb County folks.

Program cover for the 1913 Harvest Fair

The fair was situated on the Henry O. Whittemore (sometimes Whitmore) farm and Thomas L. Oakland farm, across Sycamore Road from each other, between DeKalb and Sycamore. The two had conceived the idea for the fair.

But alongside the viewers, a range of photographers and moviemakers captured the events using the most modern technology for their work.

The day of the fair, “The local and Chicago papers became so enthusiastic that many reporters, photographers, and even moving picture men were on the grounds.”

“The event will be perpetuated by film and photo,” The DeKalb Review reported after the fair. “An army of cameras was on hand to get a picture of each stunt as it was given.” The Service Bureau, International Harvester’s educational department, “was on hand to personally superintend the view-making both with the camera and moving pictures.” The president of the Advance Motion Pictures Company (working for International) brought a camera operator and assistant and “made many picture films of the various phases of grain harvesting.”

Charles W. Marsh and William W. Marsh oversee the demonstration of a Marsh Harvester.

Less than a month after the fair, Advance Motion Pictures showed the film at the Haish Opera House. That evening, “Nearly 2,000 people witnessed the first moving pictures they had ever seen of DeKalb citizens.” The excitement this caused was “in addition to the novelty of the [harvest] scenes.”

The Review suggested that, because of the movie, “the action of several hundred well known DeKalb County people will be preserved for all time.” Due to the huge turnout, Haish Auditorium needed to add a Saturday matinee “for the benefit of older people who could not get out to see the harvest festival pictures last night.” They added an additional evening performance too.

1911 photos were used to illustrate a printed program for the 1913 event. This time, attendance surpassed 1,000 and “three quarters of those” arrived “by automobile and electric car.” Again in 1913, many reporters and photographers representing agricultural publications and the daily papers were there, “some of them from eastern magazines.”

It is unclear if the films made at the harvest fair survive.

Information provided by the DeKalb County History Center. For more information visit