By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
The California State Fair has a long history, which has created fond memories for many Sacramento residents, others throughout the state and beyond.
And this year’s fair, which opens today and continues through July 29, is loaded with many attractions that will deliver a variety of new memories.
In taking a ride down memory lane, one can observe the fair’s long tradition of fun-filled attractions.
1862 State Fair
One hundred and fifty years ago, the fair was only in its eighth year, and only a year had passed since the state legislature designated Sacramento as the fair’s permanent location.
This was the 1862 fair, which followed the city’s great flood of 1861-62.
Persevering through this tragedy, which caused Venice-like waterway scenes through its streets, Sacramento was able to present a very successful fair.
The Sacramento Union noted in its Oct. 4, 1862 edition that the number of people who arrived at the 1862 fair exceeded expectations.
This article stated: “The ground at the park yesterday was fairly covered with people and carriages. At no time last year were there as many persons present as were there about two o’clock yesterday. The wonder was where the thousands present could have come from. It was a proud day for the State Fair, as well as for Sacramento, as a great many had predicted that the attempt to hold a fair this year would prove a mortifying failure.”
During this Civil War-era fair, which was held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 1862, the public viewed displays showcasing the state’s fine selection of fruits.
This exhibit, which was presented at the Pavilion at 6th and M streets (now Capitol Mall), was even more impressive, when considering the time of year that the fair was being held. Wool and woolen goods were also on display at the Pavilion. And at the park, the public also viewed exhibitions of horses, cattle, sheep and hogs and a machine for grinding sugar cane, and its accompanying evaporator.
The receipts for the 1862 fair, which included a closing evening ball at the Pavilion, totaled more than $11,000.
1887 State Fair
Nearly 125 years have passed since the Sept. 12 opening of the two-week-long 1887 fair. It was in that year that the State Fair suddenly had competition, as the local Mechanics’ Institute opted to hold its annual exhibition from Sept. 1 through Oct. 8.
However, this conflict in scheduling did not impede the 1887 State Fair from achieving success.
In less than one week after the opening of the fair, The Union, in its Sept. 17, 1887 edition, declared the event a “complete success.”
In its Sept. 16, 1887 edition, The Sacramento Bee reported that “strangers continue to pour into Sacramento on every train to attend the State Fair” and “every wagon road is lined with vehicles.”
Among the greatest attractions at the 1887 fair were the horse races, which were reported upon in detail in the local, daily newspapers of the time.
Receiving much attention in the aforementioned edition of the Bee was a horse named Black Diamond.
In one report on Black Diamond’s success, the Bee noted, “Those who had (bet on Black Diamond) from the start, and at big odds, were wild with delight.”
1912 State Fair
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1912 State Fair, which was only the third consecutive time the fair was held at the Stockton Boulevard fairgrounds.
As in previous years, the 1912 fair drew many spectators to its livestock shows. The Sept. 14, 1912 edition of the Bee featured details about the fair’s notable cattle, including Aralia De Ko, the then-world champion for butter fat.
In a single year, this Holstein produced 910 pounds of butter fat, 28,000 pounds of milk and 1,137 pounds of butter.
Held from Sept. 12-21, the 59th annual fair opened with a downtown parade with cowboys and charioteers.
Other attractions included the first California State Fair Round-Up, which became an annual event, fireworks at the grandstand, and Odell, “The Bee Wizard,” who enclosed himself in a cage and allowed bees to swarm all over his body, without suffering a single sting.
1937 State Fair
The popularity of the fair continued to increase throughout the years, leading to the event’s distinction as the largest fair in the United States in 1938, when more than 600,000 people attended the fair.
This high attendance mark was made possible through the assistance of the fairgrounds’ 1937 expansion from 80 acres to 155 acres. The expansion included a new racetrack grandstand and horse show arena.
The 1937 fair opened for the first day of its 10-day run on Friday morning, Sept. 3. The day represents the first time that the California State Fair began on a Friday.
The start of the fair was marked by thousands of school children who walked in a parade from McClatchy Park to the fairgrounds.
Popular attractions at the 1937 fair were horse shows, a $1.5 million display of livestock, Foley & Burke carnival shows with various rides and machines, the Lottie Mayer disappearing water ballet, a pig-feeding contest, free motion pictures showings, concerts, a nightly fireworks show and the introduction of a new lily pond in front of the main fair building.
1987 State Fair
It can be difficult for many people to come to terms with the fact that the 1987 State Fair opened 25 years ago this year.
Held Aug. 21 through Labor Day, Sept. 7, this fair opened with a ceremony in front of the main gate at Cal Expo.
The ceremony included performances by the 561st National Guard band and the California Raisin Advisory Board’s Dancing Raisins, a tree planting by the Sacramento Tree Foundation and an entrance by the Para-Stars, a Sacramento skydiving team.
Other attractions of the 1987 fair were midway rides, harness racing, professional rodeos, pig races, live music, “Monster Truck Madness,” Aztec Indian dancing, agricultural and crafts exhibits, an exotic birds display, fireworks at the grandstand and an evolution of communications display.
Special days of the 1987 fair included Raisin Day, Tomato Day, Cheese Day and Dairy Goat Industry Day.
2012 State Fair
Despite the many fond memories that have been established at previous state fairs, there is one special reason why this year’s fair can be considered the most important. And that reason is an obvious one, as the 2012 fair is the only one that is not a thing of the past.
Guests of this year’s fair, which has the theme, “Fun that Moves You,” will be presented with plenty of reasons to attend.
In addition to typical attractions such as midway rides, livestock shows, agricultural exhibits, live music, corn dogs, turkey legs and unusual food, this year’s fair will host a variety of new attractions.
These attractions include: Guinness World Record attempts such as a Roseville woman’s attempt to ride a Ferris wheel for more than 25 hours; a bull riders-only rodeo; Wizard’s Challenge: A 9,600-square-foot, mostly interactive, Medieval-themed exhibit; and Girl Scouts Zone: An interactive exhibit celebrating 100 years of the Girl Scouts.
Admission to this year’s fair is $12/general, $10/seniors, ages 62 and older, $8/children, ages 5 to 12 and free/children 4 and younger. Parking is $10.
The fairgrounds will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays.
For additional information about this year’s fair, visit www.bigfun.org.