Sad Spectacle in Jefferson, WI (and How to Do Much Better)

For four years, either Edgerton or Jefferson, Wisconsin has hosted a costume festival (originally a Harry Potter Festival, this year a Warriors and Wizards festival). Despite three years of disappointment, Jefferson held the festival again this year (after having – astonishingly – signed a five-year deal).

I’ve followed the event over the years, and it shocks even me how willing local officials and the local press are to deceive. Today is no exception: see Warriors, wizards blow through Jefferson and Festival attendance likely to affect donations to nonprofits (repeating again the unverified claim that last year the festival donated $50,000 to area nonprofit organizations).

Tens of thousands in public money went into the event, along with additional private contributions from residents sucked into the publicity whirlpool. Visitors to Jefferson were asked to spend money for wristbands and parking (with no refunds, thank you very much.)

What a sad spectacle awaited me as I visited on Saturday: few people in attendance, on mostly empty streets, the small number of vendors and exhibitors looking variously bored, puzzled, or embarrassed, shuttle buses with no one to transport, carnival food that only a risk-taker would eat, cheap signs and promotional material awkwardly affixed to construction equipment, and a ‘festival village’ that was nothing more than a tiny mini-mall (about which one of the full-time merchants in town had only a vague awareness, kindly trying to recall the possible location).

Saddest of all: while eating at a brick and mortar cafe in town, I overheard a family, disenchanted with the flimsy festival, discussing with resignation the two-hour drive back to home.

Now I would not be troubled by the price of a wristband here or there, but one knows and can feel that the cost does matter to other people. The scheming men of Jefferson thought nothing taking more than they should and giving less than visiting families deserved.

Worth considering: (1) how officials calculated last year’s attendance at a ludicrously high 50,000, (2) how an academic at UW-Whitewater possibly calculated last year’s festival value at $33 million (dollars), and (3) why last year and this year publisher Brian Knox, editor Chris Spangler, and reporter Ryan Whisner have continued to boost this event.

(Commenters on the Daily Union Facebook page can see that photos of the Friday evening parade have been framed or cropped in a way that conceals evidence of low attendance. That’s a brazen dishonesty: not merely lying, but lying about events that residents in the area themselves know to be false. )

How to make this much better: Don’t over-publicize, make it a community event rather than an out-of-town attraction, don’t charge for attendance, use little or no public money, let it grow slowly from the ground-up, and sever all ties to the arrant buffoons who’ve been running this.

Previously: Attack of the Dirty Dogs, Jefferson’s Dirty Dogs Turn Mangy, Thanks, City of Jefferson!Who Will Jefferson’s Residents Believe: Officials or Their Own Eyes?Why Dirty Dogs Roam With Impunity, and Found Footage: Daily Union Arrives on Subscriber’s Doorstep.

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