This one goes out to the 614, yo.
Via Romenesko, news that what I’d previously believed was one of the more elaborate and amusing circulation-boosting gimmicks in newspaper history, the Columbus Citizen-Journal’s “Miss Citizen Fair,” was nothing but a retread. It’s identical in nearly every detail to the Minneapolis Tribune’s mysterious Mr. Sly, which dates to 1906.
The game: The mysterious Mr. Sly walks the streets of Minneapolis, with a cash reward on his head. Clues to his identity and whereabouts are published in every edition. Every day, the reward gets bigger and the clues better. There’s a strict procedure to claim your prize: You must be carrying a copy of that day’s paper (in Mr. Sly’s day, you had to have the right edition). You must lay your hand on him. And you must say, “You are The Tribune’s Mysterious Mr. Sly. Do you deny it?” If he didn’t, he took you to the newspaper office and paid out your reward.
Miss Citizen Fair didn’t require a touch, but you did have to carry a paper and say , “You are Miss Citizen Fair.” She usually got through a week to 10 days of the two-week Ohio State Fair before she was identified. The clues started with a vague, whole-body silhouette and concluded with close-up photos of her shoes, earrings or ponytail.
I don’t need to tell you that as a child, I was enthralled by the hunt for Miss Citizen Fair, who usually turned out to be some circulation district manager’s college-age daughter. She was photographed with the lucky winner on the last day, passing a check for a couple hundred bucks. If I were writing one of those “you know you’re from Columbus” lists, I’d include Flippo the Clown, Dick Clifton’s Ramblerland, and Miss Citizen Fair.
You’d think I would have figured this scheme wasn’t original by now, but what can I say? My History of Journalism class didn’t cover it.