Bluegrass Fair shuts down Casey Anthony dunking booth

bfortune@herald-leader.com, kward1@herald-leader.comJuly 20, 2011 

Officials of the Lexington Lions Club Bluegrass Fair decided Tuesday to shut down a Casey Anthony dunking booth.

"We knew there would probably be some controversy," said Ron Mossotti, chairman of the fair. "The Lions Club thinks that this has probably gone a bit too far."

Mossotti said the Lions "certainly want to apologize if this particular attraction offended anyone."

In a news release issued Tuesday night, fair officials said the booth was taken down because "there was a public outcry of negative opinions and a misconception that the Lexington Lions Club conceived and orchestrated the idea."

"The Lexington Lions Club, who sponsors the Bluegrass Fair, wanted to be respectful of the growing public sentiment that the booth created by crossing the line and by distracting many people from the real purpose of the fair," the release said.

A Lions Club volunteer who paused to share her opinion of the booth with its operators was whisked away on a golf cart by the fair's public relations manager when a reporter tried to ask her opinion.

"I'm not allowed to speak with you," she said later.

Several people tried their hand at dunking an Anthony impersonator before the booth was shut down shortly after the fair opened for the day on Tuesday.

"I think it's pretty clever, kinda funny," said Michael Polston of Nicholasville, who successfully hit the target with a ball to drop the impersonator into a tank of water.

Earlier in the day, Mossotti acknowledged that the booth was "tacky and tasteless," but added that fairs are tacky and tasteless. "We're not running a high-end social event," he said.

The "State vs. Anthony" dunking booth gave fairgoers a chance to vent their frustration over the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. The booth had two targets: one marked "guilty," the other "innocent."

After the Lions Club asked that the references to Casey Anthony be removed, the impersonator climbed out of the booth.

"Alright guys, I've gotta go sign some book deals," she said.

On Tuesday afternoon, before the decision was made to remove the Anthony impersonator, Mossotti said, "The whole idea of having the booth was to get more people to the fair, boost attendance. If we can get more people to the fair, that would make me a happy person."

The fair promoted the dunking booth on Facebook and Twitter and posted video of it.

Fair Office Inc., a fair management company that brings in rides, entertainment and concessions, offered the booth to the Lions Club fair board. "We thought it was a pretty good idea," Mossotti said.

Michael Kaplan, who handles public relations for Fair Office, said this was the only fair where the company had tried a Casey Anthony dunking booth.

"It stirred up a lot of opinions, good and bad," he said.

Mossotti said he monitored comments after the booth opened Monday night. "Most people laughed," he said. "They thought it was more satire than offensive."

Mossotti heard one woman call the booth tacky; another said it was tasteless. "P.T. Barnum, a genius for his day, did things much worse than this," he said.

Mossotti said his main concern was the fair receiving negative publicity, because proceeds from the annual summer event have funded $1 million in improvements to Masterson Station Park during the past 10 years, and the fair generates about $200,000 a year for charities.

As a former police officer, Mossotti said he was not making light of Caylee Anthony's death. "I know children die at the hands of parents every day," he said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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