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Events Tue Apr 29 2014
This coming Saturday the Biggest Liar Contest will grace Chicago with its presence once again. Held at 7pm in Ravenswood United Church of Christ (2050 W. Pensacola Ave.), Chicago's only tall tale contest promises "ridiculous surprises, top secret special guests, and lies of all sizes throughout the evening."
I spoke with Scott Whitehair, the event's creator, and he described the night as a theme park of lies. "Eleven of the city's most skilled storytellers will unleash their tallest tales and biggest whoppers in a Battle Royale of Bullshit for the legendary Hogwashe Cup," says the press release. WBEZ's own Don Hall is returning to claim the title once again, defending himself against such bald-faced liars as recent Moth StorySlam winner Archy Jamjun; social worker and stand-up comic Marta Lee; best-selling poet and radio host GPA; Yale Drama grad and Chicago actorJason Lindner; Miami's self-proclaimed worst dancer Craig Fitzgerald; yoga enthusiast Adam Ziemkiewicz; Emmy-award winning writer and Second City instructor Joe Janes; stand-up comedian and host of Seven Deadly Sins Angela Vela; 30-year professional storyteller Oba King; and Karen Genelly, retired CPS teacher and world traveler.
With a history dating over 100 years, this is not your typical Saturday night.
The story dates back to 1903.
"Wouldn't it be nice to have a ham hock at the dinner table," exclaimed Peter "Peachy" Whitehair, Scott Whitehair's great-great-uncle."It would be nice, since I'm dying of progeria."
This wasn't true and his brothers, Campo and Charles, could smell the lie across the family bowl of cheese curds. However, a ham hock was produced and Peachy ate happily and hungrily.
This episode began a contest that has lasted a decade.
"Where it began is clear, sure; where it ends is...unclear," said Whitehair over donuts. "But the contest's first winner was only decided in 1934, over 30 years after 'the ham-hock incident'."
Over the course of those three decades, Peachy, Campo and Charles would hear from each other only through postcards, telegraphs and the occasional visit, separated as they were by their unique and grand ambitions.
Peachy resided in Pwlldu (southern Wales) ghost-writing what would become Pwlldu Remembered: The Story of Gower's Smallest Village. Campo hopped a train to California and was employed as a barback and ombudsperson for the region known only as the "Far East Western Coastal Plains." Charles, unbeknownst to most historians (and, until recently, the Whitehair family) had broken bread with an itinerant peripatetic Abdal, of Turkey, and was so charmed by the family's lifestyle that he had indentured himself to them as a mechanic and magician (Charles' ability to work a room and an intake manifold was vaguely alluded to in Peachy's tome on Pwlldu: "The hill was, like that brother one has whose hands are wet with both champagne and engine grease, complicated").
The brothers were scheduled to meet again on Christmas Day, 1934. However, Peachy was not to be found. The brothers and their respective families had gathered at the house in Wagner's Grove, Illinois to pay tribute to their dying mother and enjoy a feast of family and gifts that might recall the sunniest sub-chapters of Dickens.
Their mother looked sicker than ever.
They waited for two days while Peachy sent telegraph after telegraph documenting his journey. Then one day, the telegraphs stopped. They waited in silence while reruns of The Shadow crackled on the radio. At last, trying desperately to keep their spirits lively, they began to open gifts. But to their great surprise, all the gifts had been replaced by copies of Pwlldu Remembered. Toy trains, gold watches -- all replaced by the ghostwritten Pwlldu Remembered (available on Amazon).
Something was amiss.
"Something is amiss," cried Charles, and he recalled the Liar's Contest.
Campo looked mournfully about the room.
"I'm not worried," he attempted, but that lie was too little. Peachy's own massive, tidy lie began to sink into the carpet. It wrapped around the great living room with the ambiguous hulk of an octopus. They turned to their mother who only smiled.
"I am Peachy," she said, plainly. "And I have never been to Southern Wales." She tore off her wig to reveal none other than Peter "Peachy" Whitehair. The two brothers gasped.
"How did you write such an engrossing tome on Pwlldu?" cried Charles. He had read it several times, thinking with fond envy of his brother's adventures.
"From this rocking chair!" Peachy cried with a cackle characteristic of their mother. He detailed his entire ruse: he had never left the house, instead borrowing his mother' clothes and identity after she had unexpectedly passed away a decade prior. He lived as her, occasionally working on his fictional memoir of the made-up village of Pwlldu ("in the tradition of Italo Calvino," he explained).
"But I visited you!" cried Charles.
"That must have been Pontypool," Peachy shrugged. He then confessed that he was dying, of Creutzfeldt-Jakob's Disease, and before anyone could wonder whether this was a lie, he passed away. His nieces and nephews, whom he'd tucked in at night and cooked for, as an old woman, for nearly 10 years, covered his body with an American flag.
Thus was crowned the first winner of the Liar's Contest -- but not because of the elaborate entrance of his confession (for that reveal, in many ways, negated the lie itself), but because Pwlldu is actually a small village in Southern Wales, and Charles had visited him there. He'd never been to Pontypool.
Tickets to the Liar's Contest are $19.43, in honor of the first year the contest took place. Aldermen, state representatives, and mayors receive free admission with proof of employment. According to the press release, "everyone in attendance will receive a free scoop of rainbow sherbert or a ride on a fire truck."
According to the website, "Everyone gets a free lemon meringue pie and a donkey ride around the venue."
We shall see which promises are kept and which were simply lies.
The 25th Annual Chicago's Biggest Liar Contest is produced by the people behind This Much Is True and Story Lab Chicago, two of Chicago's longest running monthly storytelling series. For tickets and information, visit chicagoliars.com