An annual Christmas tradition is currently on display at the Vandalia Area Fairgrounds.
The Ben Salmon Christmas Nativity is currently set up for viewing from 5-9 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. It will also be open on Christmas day.
Most of the displays are Ben’s original work with some portions having been repaired over the years.
History according to the Vandalia Area Fair’s Facebook page
In 1936, Ben Salmon made his first Christmas display, mostly of wood and cardboard.
It was a Santa Claus house with elves that were placed on his front porch with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer on his rooftop. This was more of a challenge for Ben, so the following year, he set his display to motion. As the years have passed, he has always had a display for all to see. He loved to share his talent. In 1975, his Christmas display stretched four lots long, depicting time from Christ’s birth to his ascension. One year, he depicted Jesus lying in the tomb. Motors were used to make the animals and people move. Ben also liked to make floats. He was not able to remember the exact year of his first float, drawn by a bicycle on which Ben rode, pulling a cart advertising his sign painting business.
For the Vandalia Bicentennial Parade in Vandalia, he made a float of George Washington crossing the Delaware with moveable arms to row the oars. One Christmas, two of Ben’s sons wanted a merry-go-round and a ferris wheel, so Ben fulfilled their wishes, making them exact in miniature size to the real carnival rides with every part working identical to the big models. As time passed and Ben became enthused with the work he had done, he decided to make a complete carnival containing 18 different rides. Carnival music was played, and different colored lights came on and off as the little rides went into motion. Even the sideshows, with miniature people moving about, were put into this masterpiece. All was operated from one motor.
This often took the eyes of the little ones when he displayed it as just another way Ben managed to find time to share his talent.
Benjamin Louis Salmon, “The Sign Man” passed away September 7, 2006 at the age of 92.
One of his final pieces, a Santa Claus mailbox, is also currently being used for Letters to Santa at “The Vandalia Leader” office.
A video of Salmon’s display from when he was alive is currently available for viewing at www.vandalialeader.com.