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Wish we were there! The 111th Florida State Fair opened on Thursday with Wade Shows midway featuring 114 rides. Among this year’s spectaculars are the new Delusion, owned by Dreamland Amusements, and Jeremy Floyd’s Space Roller, along with popular classics like the Enterprise and the Zipper. Robin D. Colles video of the 2014 midway at night shows many of the rides that have returned this year. The Tampa fair runs through February 16th.

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October 8, 2010: Traveler: Most Beautiful Video of the State Fair of Texas

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Big Tex

The New “Big Tex” Was Unveiled at the State Fair of Texas on September 26. Photo via State Fair of Texas

The State of Fair of Texas opens on Friday with a new “Big Tex” who looks different from the old Big Tex ready to say “Howdy, folks!” with his new voice. The now 55-foot-tall figure stands in huge size 70 Lucchese boots featuring symbols of Texas such as the state flower and bird and Capitol building, as well as the State and U.S. flags. The welcome home ceremony will be streamed live at 2pm.

Last October, the original 60-year-old Big Tex was destroyed by flames from an electrical fire on the last weekend of the fair. The icon was rebuilt with the help of many donors, from Tall Texans ($1,000) and Big Tex – Reboot ($500) to Tex’s Friends ($25).

The new Big Tex’s big eyes, darker complexion and the configuration of his arms and hands are different than the old cowboy. On the Big Tex Grief Support Group page on Facebook, which was formed after the fire, reactions to the new Big Tex ranged from “Nothing like the old Big Tex!!!!!!” and “He looks great! – Just like a real Texan / Tejano! Love him!” to “He kind of looks like Howdy Doody!” and “Fail!” Here’s a slide show from KERA of North Texas showing how Big Tex has looked through the years.

Real Photo Post Card of The Worlds Largest Santa Clause Kerens, Texas 1949 Taylor Studio . From the Collection of Ed Williams

Real Photo Post Card of The Worlds Largest Santa Claus. Kerens, Texas 1949. Taylor Studio. Ed Williams Collection

Big Tex was originally a roadside “World’s Largest Santa Claus” built by the Chamber of Commerce in Kerens, Texas, according to The Great State Fair of Texas by Nancy Wiley. The 49-foot figure was constructed from iron-pipe drill casing and papier mache. The State Fair’s president bought the Santa in 1951 and hired Dallas artist Jack Bridges to transform him into a giant cowboy.

We’ve been fond of Big Tex since childhood. He was a familiar figure on vintage postcards in Mom’s shoebox of postcards from the road. ATZ met the big guy in 2006, the first time we visited the State Fair of Texas, which is worth a trip from anywhere. In 2012, the Dallas fair was once again no. 1 on Carnival Warehouse’s list of North America’s Top 50 Fairs, with an attendance of 2.56 million. The 2013 State Fair of Texas runs September 27 – October 20.

Big Tex Vintage Postcard

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September 20, 2013: Photo Album: 87th Annual Feast of San Gennaro

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August 9, 2012: Traveler: Skywheel at the Wisconsin State Fair 2012

October 8, 2010: Traveler: Most Beautiful Video of the State Fair of Texas

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Dairy Princesses

Dairy Princesses. Photo courtesy of the New York State Fair

Worth a trip from anywhere, both the New York State Fair and the Minnesota State Fair opened today for their annual 12-day run. ATZ still has a long way to go before reaching our goal of attending a fair in all 50 states, but we have been to both of these great state fairs. The Syracuse fair is accessible by Greyhound or Amtrak from New York City and has a midway by Strates Shows, founded in 1923 and America’s last carnival still traveling by rail. Minnesota is famous for its carefully curated independent midway and an array of unusual new foods. The two fairs run through Labor Day, September 2nd.

New York State Fair

A special exhibit on the history of the New York State Fair, which opened in 1841 and is America’s first State Fair, debuts this year. Visitors enter via a replica of the columned carriage entrance that was used in the 1900s. Among the artifacts on display are costumes from the early 20th century when the fair closed at dusk and a Mardi Gras parade entertained fair-goers at night, clay models of butter sculptures from the last nine years, and a miniature model of the mighty James E. Strates Midway.

Space Roller

Space Roller, James E Strates Midway at New York State Fair

The Fair’s theme is “Sharing the Bounty and Pride of New York.” New York grown and produced food and beverages will be sampled and sold under the “Taste NY” banner throughout the fair this year. Visitors who stop by locations on the “Taste NY Trail” will be eligible to win prizes. Among the vendors are nine breweries, ten wineries, honey producers, dairies, and organic farmers.

This year’s entertainment includes the Nerveless Nocks Thrill Show; Mutts Gone Nuts Comedy Dog Act; Team Sandtastic’s annual sand castle in the Horticulture Building; the Walker Brothers’ Circus; and Extreme Log Makeover featuring a team of female chain saw carvers.

Special Days: Dairy Day, Beef Day, Veteran’s Day, Women’s Day, Gospel Weekend

Grandstand Shows: Toby Keith, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, All Star Monster Truck Show, NYS Championship Demolition Derby & Double Figure 8 Races

Minnesota State Fair

Space Tower

The Space Tower, built in 1965 and now regarded as one of the landmarks of the fair. Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

The first Minnesota State Fair was held in 1859 and moved to its present location between Minneapolis and St Paul in 1889. Among the historic privately owned attractions at the fair are the 1913 Ye Old Mill tunnel of love ride, a Haunted House built by the same designers as Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and the 330-foot Space Tower built in 1965 by the same manufacturer as Coney Island’s Astrotower.

New foods for the 2013 Minnesota Fair were announced in July in plenty of time to whet people’s appetites. Lobster Macaroni & Cheese, Candied Bacon Cannoli and Fried Pickles ‘n’ Chocolate are some of the unusual combos. We’ll have the Craft Beer Battered Onion Rings and the Comet Corn, icy cold caramel corn made with liquid nitrogen, please! A Food Finder on the fair’s website lists 83 different foods on a stick and their locations. Reporters typically review all of the new foods and locals come back day after day to eat their way through the fair.

Sweet Corn Corndog

Sweet Corn Corndog at Campbell’s Flavored Corndogs. Photo coutesy of Minnesota State Fair

This year’s entertainment includes the Giant Singalong, Equimania, The LEGO Road Trip, Canstruction, Krazy Maze, Military Appreciation Day Flyover & Vietnam Era Veterans Parade and Program, and “Ice” Skating on a sheet of synthetic ice.

Grandstand shows: Sheryl Crow, Depeche Mode, 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival presented by Walker Art Center, MSF Amateur Talent Contest Finals and Tim McGraw

Minnesota State Fair

Agriculture Building and Skyride. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair

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August 9, 2012: Traveler: Skywheel at the Wisconsin State Fair 2012

October 8, 2010: Traveler: Most Beautiful Video of the State Fair of Texas

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Midway at State Fair Meadowlands

Rides and Funhouse Showfront on the Midway at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The midway at New Jersey’s State Fair Meadowlands, which runs through July 7, is alive with eye-popping painted showfronts for funhouses, entrancing sideshow banners, and flashy signage hawking fair food. We’ve been going to the fair in East Rutherford since 1996, when Johnny Meah’s eighteen-foot-high, 104-foot-wide showfront for Hall & Christ’s Weirdest Women in the World first lured us there, on assignment from Raw Vision to write about the art of the sideshow banner. It’s the front of the show that gets the dough, and it’s the front of the show that continues to attract our interest.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This year, the fair has a Girl to Gorilla show, which hasn’t been on the road since 1996, and four other sideshows owned and operated by Lindsey Constantine. She learned the business, including how to talk on the bally stage, from her dad Jack Constantine, who started Four C Productions in 1972 and is now semi-retired.

“Beauty or Beast? SEE the only LIVING woman with this Mysterious and Unknown Ability…Alive…The Ape Girl.” This awesome set of Girl to Gorilla banners was painted by the late Lew Stamm, whose showfronts are highly regarded in the business. He also did projects for amusement parks such as Gold Rush Junction, Silver Dollar City, Dollywood and Dixie Stampede. “They were done for my father in 1991. My dad traded his car for them,” said Lindsey.

Girl to Gorilla Show

Girl to Gorilla Show, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Across the midway is the World’s Smallest Woman, whose delightful advertisement has her sitting in a giant chair dwarfed by a “normal-sized” dog. The showfront trumpets her as being only 29 tiny inches small with hands 2 inches wide. This particular “World’s Smallest Woman” is named Gloria. For nearly 30 years, she has supported her family as one of Four C Production’s five “World’s Smallest Women” who travel the U.S. carnival and fair circuit.

World's Smallest Woman

World’s Smallest Woman, 4 C Productions, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Four C’s World’s Smallest Horse, Snake Illusion and Oddity Museum featuring such attractions as a Giant Nuclear Radiation Beetle and a Fiji Island Mermaid are also on the midway at the New Jersey fair.

World's Smallest Horse

World’s Smallest Horse, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The hot, humid weather is perfect for Drown the Clown, the great Joey Liberti, who has been working the dunk tank since he was a kid. The ballgame/show was a fixture at Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival until last year, when a group of swank boutiques and new residents of Mulberry Street in the neighborhood now called NoLita lobbied the community board to shorten the festival. Although they were unsuccessful, Drown the Clown was one of the casualties of the gentrifiers’ efforts to take the carnival out of the street fair and make it culturally and politically correct by their standards. Ironically, century-old photos of street fairs in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S. show an array of ball games, as well as sideshows and Ferris wheels.

Drown the Clown

Drown the Clown, State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

There used to be a dunk tank in Coney Island –no more! You have to go to Jersey to be properly entertained and insulted by the dunk tank king. As the sign on the stand says, “CLOWN JOKES MAY OFFEND SOME PEOPLE. IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR YOU SHOULD NOT STAY.”

Deep Fried Buckeyes

Deep Fried Buckeyes, State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Deep-fried Buckeyes, in case you’re not familiar with fair food, are an irresistible confection made of peanut butter and chocolate. The masterful showfront for this food concession is ablaze with advertisements for deep-fried treats: Oreos, Snickers, S’Mores, Twinkies. There’s even a Deep-fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich and a Deep-fried Grilled Cheese. The most over-the-top food at the Meadowlands Fair is the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Burger, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner rolled into one, and is on the menu at Little Richard’s Cafe.

Doughnut Burger

Doughnut Burger. State Fair Meadowlands, New Jersey. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Our vote for the most unique showfronts at the Meadowlands Fair goes to the restrooms. When you gotta go, you have a choice of Royal Flush at the Buckingham Loo…

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Or Toon Town’s Tinkle Run. The clean and attractive portable restrooms are staffed by attendants.

State Fair Meadowlands runs from June 21 through July 7 and also features an array of rides and free shows including Circus Maximus, Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs, Fireworks, and the last Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Qualifier before the July 4th contest in Coney Island. We took NJ Transit from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction and then hopped on a free shuttle bus to the fair. Trip time: 25 minutes.

Restroom with Showfront

Restroom with Showfront at State Fair Meadowlands, NJ. June 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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