It is time for my annual review of the Illinois State Fair. But before I give the 2017 report, a word about state fairs in general.
The first state fair in U.S. history was the New York State Fair in 1841. Illinois held its first state fair in 1853. The largest state fair in the country is the Texas State Fair...maybe. For years Texans have been bragging that they have more people attend their fair (3.5 million) than any other state. But then a professor of economics at Baylor University did some math and discovered that the Texas State Fair only has 1.5 million people attend it each year. If math is to be believed, that would make the Minnesota State Fair the largest in the country, at 1.9 million attendance. So...looks like some folks in Texas have been stretching the truth into some some fake news. That's one demerit for one of our "red" states.
Most states have a state fair. But there are a few derelicts. In all of New England, (all "blue" states) only Vermont has a state fair. Shame on Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. You guys are now on my Twitter list. Some morning you will wake up and discover that I've really twittered it to you, like the world has never seen.
Pennsylvania doesn't have a state fair. They have a might fine annual farm show (I went there in 1978.) But it doesn't qualify as a state fair. Idaho doesn't have a normal state fair. Instead, they have three: the North Idaho, East Idaho, and West Idaho state fairs. Michigan tries to get away with the same thing. Sorry Idaho and Michigan: You guys don't get
three state fairs. That's cheating. Alaska is bigger than both of you put together, and they manage to get by with only one.
Washington D.C., which would like to be granted statehood, tried to start a state fair a few years ago. Now remember: a state fair showcases agriculture, industries in the state, and various competitions. State fairs give blue ribbons for the best hog, the best chicken, the best pie, the best pickles, the best rabbit, the fastest swimming ducks, the guy who can eat the most corn dogs, and the wife who can best yell for her husband to come running. The first Washington D.C. (2010) fair only attracted 11 contestants, total. Then in 2011 their state fair got cancelled due to a hurricane. Now when you try to call up their website, you get an advertisement that the domain name is available for whoever wants to buy it. So, I have this message to Washington D.C.: I'll only root for you to have statehood when you learn how to put on a proper state fair.
Technically, Illinois has
two state fairs. (Even though the one in Springfield is the only authentic one.) The other "state fair" is in Du Quoin, in southern Illinois.
There is a reason for this: it's Illinois.
The fair at Du Quoin didn't used to be a state fair. But then some guys got together and made a political deal and we the citizens started giving state money for the fair down there in the 1980s. This had something to do with Governor Jim Thompson. You remember him: he's the one who didn't go to jail. The DuQuoin Fair is nice, but according to me, it doesn't qualify as a "state" fair. And I get to decide since this is my article.
Speaking of the state giving the fair some money, the financial crisis in Illinois has produced visible effects in its state fair. We used to be the 13
th largest state fair in the country (with 700,000) people attending in 2008. But last year only 350,000 showed up. And this was not because some economics professor crunched some numbers. It was because the state of Illinois let the grounds deteriorate and stopped investing in the festivity. This year, the
Coliseum (where the horse shows occur) had to be closed for safety reasons. For lack of investment, we miss out on millions of dollars of income that might help the economy of the state. (State fairs can be good business: showcasing what a state has to offer, giving a sense of pride to its residents.)
As for this year's fair: bad news if you liked the high-divers. The State of Illinois must have been unable to pay the water bill...because that entertainment feature is not there. The lumberjack show is back, however. And there is a dare-devil circus show that is new.
The "Fried-What" booth is back: you can get fried pecan pie, fried brownies, fried candy bars...you name it. The only stuff they sell that is not fried is their bottled water and their ranch dressing.
This year I took a group of 25 Chinese scholars and students to the fair. My only worry was what they would eat. Chinese do not normally eat sugary, fried foods. They'll only buy and eat healthy food. So, while I am pleased to say that there are virtually no starving Chinese in China anymore, I know of 25 of them who left the Illinois State Fair famished.
State fairs are about human endeavor: humans who have been created in the image of God. There is no better place to celebrate human joy and creativity than the state fair. God bless it.
This year's fair is open through next Sunday. If you miss it, maybe you can run up to Minnesota and catch their fair, August 24 through Labor Day. And if you miss that one, see if you can't help Texas out at their fair (September 29-October 22.) And be sure that professor from Baylor knows you're there and gets you counted: Texas needs the extra help.