By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
The distinct aromas of funnel cakes, turkey legs and popcorn waft into your nostrils. You hear the bleating of sheep, laughter of children and the ringing of cheerful calliope music. A barrage of the exclamation “Step right up!” greets you at every turn.
You are at the state fair in 1849…or 2003.
The truth is, fairs in America have undergone little transformation since the first in Michigan in 1849. Ferris wheels and mini-roller coasters have changed with the times, but the overall theme of agriculture, animals and fun has remained to this day.
All 50 states have at least one state fair, and countless county and town fairs exist from Maine to Washington. Texas has several large regional fairs because of its size, including the West Texas Fair and Rodeo, which will be open through Sept. 13.
But modern fairs have a long, but poorly documented history. As far back as Old Testament times scribes made mention to fair-like activities, describing commerce, trade, the marketplace, festivals, religious feasts and holy days. Ezekiel mentions what seems to be an early fair: “Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the kinds of riches with silver, iron, tin and lead, they traded in thy fairs.” From this verse, it is clear that fairs were commercial in nature from the beginning, as they often are today.
The early church was probably even funded in part by fairs on feast days, and this trend of blending religion and commerce continued into western Europe in the 1700s. The first American fair occurred in 1765 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and it still operates today. A fair began less than 30 years later in 1792 in Ontario and was sponsored by the Niagara Agricultural Society and is most likely the first agriculturally centered fair.
Since then, every state has an established state fair of some kind, boasting that region’s “cash crop” or animals of choice. Some of the most famous in the United States include, of course, Dallas’ The Big Tex, The Big New England Fair (The Big E) and The Michigan State Fair, the country’s oldest.
So go to the West Texas Fair and Rodeo and enjoy an ear of corn, enter the pie contest or view the vast array of livestock on display. Sit and watch a rodeo event, throw the beanbag at the milk bottles or guess your weight. But remember that someone your age probably participated in virtually the same activities somewhere in America 150 years ago.
That’s something you can’t say every day.