Summer’s Last Hurrah, the Fair

By Judy Berman

The death of summer … and the dismal prospect of a long, hard winter … were overshadowed by what happened in between when I lived in Syracuse, N.Y.

Twelve glorious days to roam the New York State Fairgrounds. Its last day falls on Labor Day. This venue is just a stone’s throw from where we lived. Every year, I lobbied to work it when I was a reporter for WHEN-AM radio. It was never boring. The people-watching and time to chat with them were always great fun.

There was free entertainment provided by top celebrities just inside the main gate. Hoof on down to see the farm animals and their offspring, gape at death-defying aerial acts, and wander thru building-upon-building of exhibits – something I never appreciated when I was growing up. My goal then was to get to the rides and the food.

Oh, yeah, it was the highlight of my day … but, sometimes, for all the wrong reasons.

So much food. So little time.

Pizze fritte – a 2-foot-long twist of fried dough and sugary goodness. Peppers and onions smothering a Carmen Basilio’s sausage sandwich … or a Gianelli sausage sandwich. I could never make up my mind. For dessert, sweet-potato pie.

It’s a wonder I didn’t go into a sugar-and-fat-induced coma.

This time of year, when it’s Fair time, I wish I could be there. I’d love to traipse around, mingle with the crowds as they line up for a baked potato (at one time, it was free) or a cup of chocolate milk.

But talk of all this food is making me a little queasy. I’d better head to the first-aid station for some Alka-Seltzer and a good lie-down.


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* Music Video – Eat It, Weird Al Yankovic 

* Main photo – Butter sculpture at the N.Y. State Fair, taken by our friend, Rick Moriarty, in 2008.

Photo – Pizze fritte, taken by Rick Moriarty in 2008

* Photo – New York State Fair – “Pirates of the Sky” aerialists act, performing on the Wheel of Death at the New York State Fair, taken by Dave Pape on 9-1-08

  1. I used to love fairs and carnivals. Then as I got older, I noticed that there isn’t any place for the people working the food stands to wash their hands and other sanitary things. Ruined it all for me. I hated growing up!

    1. That’s awful, Kate. But I’m pretty sure the New York State Fair has strict hygiene laws that it follows. Some 20 years ago, there was a 2-year bout of Hepatitus B in Onondaga County where the state fair is held. But – as I recall – that did not stem from the State Fair. Unfortunately, it came from a lack of hygiene at some local restaurants which the state and county Health Departments cracked down on.

  2. I missed the California State Fair this year, since I moved down to So Cal. The State Fair is in Sacramento. I loved seeing the art, photography, and woodworking displays from all over the state. That was my favorite part. My wife loves the horse shoes. So we always did both.

    1. One of my favorite attractions at the State Fair was the art and photography exhibits. Michael, we share you and your wife’s love of horse shows. Always a good time. The New York State Fair is huge. In 2011, it attracted nearly 1 million-people in its 12-day run.
      We are no longer able to attend the State Fair because I’m working – our schools start at the beginning of August. Someday … I’d love to return.

  3. I think the next family vacation should be we all go back to NY and attend the fair and just indulge in all the yumminess and other things you do at a fair. Great story Mom, and great memories. Jennie, Kris and I used to go to the fair and get the Lost Kid Tags and make up really funny names and contact information…so much fun.

    1. Ah, now I hear the stories of your mischief – Lost Kid Tag story – indeed!
      Sad to say, our school year begins weeks before the NY State Fair. So a trip down memory lane while chowing down on a speedie (How could I ever forget those wonderful sandwiches?) is out of the question.

      Glad you enjoyed the story, Jenn.

  4. Syracuse is on my daughter’s list of colleges and your description of the weather makes me want to cross it off her list! But she loved the school when she visited . . . in the spring, of course. The fair sounds glorious. Maybe that will serve as a perk that helps make up for the long winters for my daughter if she applies and gets accepted. 🙂

    1. Lisa, for seven years I commuted 110 miles a day – round trip from Syracuse to Utica. I love SOME snow – just not months and months of it. If she skis and loves winter sports, no problem.
      If she learns to layer her clothing, she will be fine. My personal belief is that no one appreciates spring like a Central New Yorker. At 50 degrees, after a long winter, they frequently do run around in shorts.What I miss most about Syracuse – besides my friends – are the change of seasons. Just wonderful.
      If she’s going to Syracuse University, that’s where I graduated. My husband, too. Great school. Best of luck to your daughter. Let me know when she’s accepted.

  5. I love fairs. I come from a place where we used to visit tribal fairs a lot as my place is surrounded with villages where tribal people lives. The main attraction of those fairs were the glimpse of their art forms and cultures. Those were some wonderful memories of my childhood; but in this hectic phase of life I do not get a chance to visit those fairs again as now I live in a city and hardly get any time to visit my hometown. Great post Judy!

  6. I loved the photo and art exhibits at the state fair, Arindam. Do you have any photos of the tribal fairs? (That might be a terrific entry for the photo challenges.)
    At our state fair, it seemed that around every corner, or every block, there was something new and wonderful to see and indulge in. I wish there was a similar fair in Florida, but August might not be a great month for such an attraction. Too hot and hurricane season really kicks in about this time.

    1. No, I do not have. As since last few years, I am living in a city, which is far away from my hometown. But for sure, I will try to capture them as soon as possible.

  7. I love your buttery cow. We go to the Oregon state Fair every year. And sadly it seems to have less entertainment and fewer vendors each year. Perhaps a sign of the times? But one thing never changes…it’s the last hurrah of the summer. I’m always sad with the fair ends. That means we’re getting serious about fall.

    1. The fair’s end is also a sad one for me, Barb. Like you, I know fall’s next … and not too far away … winter. I’ll wager there’s one thing that will never change at the Fair and that’s the “ice cream of the future” – those dipping dots ice cream. It’s been billed that way for about half a century. 🙂

  8. What a wonderful transition that must have been. I could do with a state fair to get me from the end of Summer to Winter. It’s such a glum time.

    1. It was a lot of fun, Kate. Something I eagerly anticipated – even more than my birthday – each year. Today one of my students mentioned sweet potato pie and I had a flashback to the State Fair. Good times.

  9. At least in the northeast, state fairs give people a chance to be together before the long hibernation to follow. This post describes them perfectly, Judy. And I love that butter sculpture!

    1. The last hurrah before a long hibernation to follow … You’ve got that right, Charles. I wish I could take credit for that butter sculpture photo. Our friend took it, knowing how much I loved that exhibit in the NY State Fair’s Dairy Building. Thanks for writing.

  10. Sounds like a lot of fun. My only thought reading this post was about how a butter sculpture would fare, even in our ‘winter’ months 😀 Have never seen one actually!

    1. Refrigeration helps the “cool” butter sculptures maintain their artists’ visions.The N.Y. State Fair also has excellent sand sculptures. The latter might hold up better in your climate. 🙂

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