Just a 20-foot python at the fair, no big deal

Just a 20-foot python at the fair, no big deal

DANVILLE — Everyone expects to see animals at the fair, like pigs and goats.

But a python?

That's not what Lance Wichtowski of Westville expected to see Tuesday night at the Vermilion County Fair when he followed his son up on stage as a volunteer during the Wild World of Animals show.

Afterall, Wichtowski is not a fan of the slithery reptiles.

"I just don't like snakes" he said.

So when the show hosts pulled a more than 20-foot-long reticulated python out of a nesting area for the audience volunteers to hold, Wichtowski practically ran off the stage.

"When I saw that snake, I couldn't find the gate fast enough," Wichtowski said after the half-hour show, and after some good-natured ribbing from friends and family. "If I had known it was a snake, I might not have even stayed for the show."

The Wild World of Animals was one of several events going on opening night of the Vermilion County Fair, which continues through Saturday with the nightly wild animal shows, amusement rides, food, grandstand events, horse arena entertainment and more, including the queen pageant, which crowned Amie Harvey of Danville as the 2014 Vermilion County Fair queen. She is the daughter of Matt and Tisha Harvey and and Laura and Darrel Nichols.

The Wild World of Animals show, which features a leopard, monkeys, tortoise, wart hog and more, has made television appearances, including the Late Show with David Letterman, and drew a big crowd during its two performances Tuesday evening.

Fair Board President Rick White said they brought the show back this year, because fair-goers were asking for it last year.

Ten-year-old Naomi Dolan of Catlin, a big animal lover, was another who volunteered to go on stage with Wichtowski and others.

Dolan said she thought she would get to hold a bird, but then the python came out.

"Oh my gosh, I'm supposed to hold that?" Dolan said was her first thought.

Naomi said her second thought was, "please don't make me hold his head."

"That's what mom's thought was, too," said Sallie Dolan, Naomi's mother, who was watching from the stands.

But that task went to one of the adult volunteers, James Zindars of Rankin, who hung in there, even when the snake's head got a little too close for comfort, curling back toward him and hissing. Zindars said he was a little nervous.

Dalton Hagley, 11, of Bismarck, who volunteered to go on stage knowing it was a big snake said he wasn't scared.

"It was heavy," said Hagley, who had never held a snake.

Naomi said she had touched a snake before and seen large snakes, like pythons, at the zoo but had never held one.

"I was excited. I really love animals. I love any kind of animal," Naomi said. "It felt scale-y, of course, but the bottom was more smooth. It kept moving. It was really creepy."