How Apple ‘n Pork Got Its Start
Updated: Apr 27
Yes, it’s already that time of year again, it’s time for the annual Apple ‘n Pork Festival! While the first Apple ‘n Pork is still well within living memory, the Festival is already in its 54th year. For comparison, the Festival is just 2 ½ years younger than the Super Bowl, and like the Super Bowl, all sorts of ways of celebrating and marking the event have already become traditions. For my part, I am contributing to the venerable tradition of recounting the history of the Festival, long a regular feature in local newspapers the week of the Festival. Lucky for me (and you, dear interested reader!), I have about as long as I want to write these blogs, as opposed to the tight deadlines and column inches of newspapers, so I was able to dig deep into just how Apple ‘n Pork came about. Apple ‘n Pork has its roots in the very earliest days of the DeWitt County Historical Museum, so we’ll start there.
Fred Kent was a collector; mostly of spurs, bits, keys, and other small knick-knacks which he passed on to his son, Emmett. Emmett was also a collector, adding to what his father left behind so that by 1966 the collection included artifacts from WWI guns to a Chinese bow to memorabilia from the early days of the Illinois Central Railroad. Emmett was very proud of what he had, but he had a problem-how could he show off this collection he was so proud of? I don’t mean to belittle Emmett or his eventual donation, but Emmett himself made this clear from the moment he began floating the idea in spring 1966. To quote a newspaper article from the time: “Mr. Kent…feels great disappointment that not many people have seen what he has and would go to a museum but who would not come to his home to see his collection.” Emmett clearly put in the work to get the idea rolling, as by November of that year, a volunteer committee had been assembled and a community meeting to make the case for a museum was slated for December. At the meeting, government data was shown on the financial benefits tourism could bring and the case was made that Clinton’s location along highways would ensure enough people were passing by to be worth trying to attract. The director of a similar museum, the Illinois Pioneer Heritage Center in Monticello, made the case for a museum based on the historic and patriotic value of ensuring the past is preserved for future generation. The arguments evidently were convincing, as two weeks later, the “DeWitt County Museum” opened its first exhibit in the old Costly, Costly and Stone Hardware building on the south side of Clinton’s square. By Christmas, the museum already had over 500 visitors.
Above: Harold Lietz, then secretary of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, in the DeWitt County Museum’s original location on Clinton’s Square in December 1966. While the museum had already opened, it still lacked a proper board of directors and managers, duties which the Chamber of Commerce filled until 1967.
While Emmett would maintain “the museum was entirely [his] idea” years afterward, past that point it was always a community project. The Clinton Chamber of Commerce took the lead in the earliest days as the project got its footing, but as soon as was possible, a 5 person board of managers was selected, followed by the appointment of an over-20-member board of directors, made up of members from across DeWitt county. While that seems somewhat unwieldy, the Museum Association needed all hands on deck to get the project up and running. Non-profit paperwork needed to be filed, exhibits designed, sources of revenue found, and of course, the museum needed a permanent home.
On that last project the Museum Association was already making significant headway: By June 1967 cryptic references were already slipping into local newspapers that “the association hopes to restore an old home in Clinton for a permanent museum location.” Finally on October 1st 1967 it was confirmed the old home once owned by C.H. Moore in Clinton would be the new site of the museum. The library actually has a copy of someone’s notes from the meeting of the Museum Association when this was confirmed, but the notes are undated so it’s unclear how long passed between the Association learning this and the public announcement. Securing the C.H. Moore house brought its own set of challenges though, in particular, restoring the old building and paying for the restoration work. Not to be discouraged, the Museum Association quickly threw together a tour program of the newly-acquired space, billing it as the one chance to see the building in full before restoration work and museum operation cut parts of the building off from public viewing for the foreseeable future. Museum memberships were also sold during this tour, perhaps in the hope that seeing the house’s current condition would encourage further generosity from those touring the building.
Above: Notes presumably from a Museum Association meeting where the C.H. Moore house was confirmed as the new location for the museum site.
Of course, a single weekend of tours could hardly pay for the entire restoration of the home, no matter how much of the re-painting Emmett volunteered to do himself. The Museum tried several different fundraisers in its first year, such as a Victorian fashion show, a horse show, and selling homemade candies at the museum location on the Clinton square. None of these events were necessarily unsuccessful, but they did set expectations for attendance. So while “an Apple & Pork Festival” led the list of events announced for 1969 in the DeWitt County Observer, the marquee event of the year was still the planned opening of the museum in its new home at the C.H. Moore home. Planners had only expected about 50 attendees for the 1st Apple ‘n Pork, so you can imagine their surprise when about 1000 people showed up on the lawn of the newly-relocated museum Sunday of the festival. Part of the reason for the surprise attendance at the Festival may have been that advertisements for it appeared not just in the local papers but even the Chicago Tribune. Promotion for the event had promised freshly-made ham, apple butter, and soup for attendees, but the Museum only had 3 hams, a kettle of apple butter, and 50 gallons of vegetable soup— not nearly enough food for the actual number of attendees. With grocery stores still traditionally closed on Sundays at that time, the volunteers running the event had to crisscross Clinton looking for the store owners in the hopes they would donate or sell more food to supply to the hungry crowd. They were eventually successful, and once fed, the attendees spread out across the homestead lawn to enjoy the modest festival, which featured 9 “country crafts” on demonstration, and of course, an antique flea market.
Above: One of the earliest posters advertising the DeWitt County Museum, when it still occupied a space on Clinton’s square.
Perhaps because the event was supposed to be just one of many on the calendar, documentation of the event at the time was not especially thorough. A common misconception resulting from this is the belief that the 1st Apple ‘n Pork was a one-day event. This seems to stem from the fact that the most memorable events of the festival—the craft demonstrations, antique sale, and the last minute scramble for food — all happened on Sunday. An article from September 25th, 1969, publicizing the 1st Apple ‘n Pork in the Pantagraph clearly states the festival was to run both Saturday and Sunday, though the only event it mentions being slated to occur Saturday was an “Apple Harvest Bake Sale.” Other details about the 1st Apple ‘n Pork are similarly murky. For example, no one seems to be sure exactly how the name “Apple ‘n Pork” was chosen. The general consensus is that it came about during an informal brainstorming session among some of the Museum board of directors over coffee. While thinking of fundraising events to run for 1969, someone suggested a festival of some kind, then someone suggested it take place in fall, and finally others at the meeting suggested apples and hog farms as things that made people think of fall. Thus, Apple ‘n Pork Festival was settled on as the name. I also suspect the name takes some inspiration from Wapella’s Cornbread & Bean Festival, which had already established itself by 1969 and which the Museum Association also planned to participate in that year. While the details of the 1st Apple ‘n Pork may be murky, what’s clear is that the festival has stayed very close to its roots all these years later, with a flea market, good food, and old-fashioned crafts still central to the event.
Above: Emmett Kent, pictured with a small portion of his collection in 1974.
With the 1st Apple ‘n Pork Festival being such a break-out success, it’s no surprise it was continued after that first year. The 2nd Apple ‘n Pork saw attendance jump up to 5,000, showing the 1st year’s attendance was no fluke and cementing the Festival as a regular event. Apple ‘n Pork continued to grow its attendance year after year, with about 20,000 visiting by its 5th year and crossing 100,000 around the start of the new millennium. Asked in 1975 what explained the run-away success of the Festival, Charlotte O’Dea, one of the planners of the 1st Apple ‘n Pork, responded “I guess [attendees] find something here that the city doesn’t offer,” and “we’ve created a monster and we can’t quit.” Monster or not, even 47 years later Apple ‘n Pork looks nowhere near quitting.
Suggestions for Further Reading
None this time! Go enjoy the festival!
Above: A poster for the 1979 Apple ‘n Pork Festival.
“DeWitt County-Museum Association” folder. “DeWitt County” drawer. Vespasian Warner
Public Library standing files, Clinton, IL.
Fairs and Festivals box. Vespasian Warner Public Library Archives and Special Collections,
Vespasian Warner Public Library, Clinton, IL.
Local History (oversized) box. Vespasian Warner Public Library Archives and Special
Collections, Vespasian Warner Public Library, Clinton, IL.