For years I’ve wanted to visit the South Carolina State Fair. I’ve passed by the empty fair grounds so many times on my way to meetings at SCETV. Once I even attended a meeting while the fair was in session, but didn’t have time to stop. This year, now that I don’t have obligations during the week, I was determined to make it happen. I called Dwight, since he lives in Columbia, to see if he wanted to come along.
We had planned to do this on Thursday, but I had looked at my calendar wrong, and discovered a conflict. Yes, retired people do have scheduling conflicts. Fortunately, Dwight was able to shift his schedule, and we were able to head down on Thursday.
October 9 was opening day. Gates opened at noon, so we headed on over and got into a VERY long line.
However, the line split into several openings, so when the time came, it moved more efficiently that we thought it would. At noon a recording of the Star Spangled Banner played over the loudspeakers, and we were off.
Our first stop was not the ticket booth, but a security check-point. There was a magnetometer and the works. I was loaded down with camera equipment, but the thing that held me up was my little Barlow knife. They wouldn’t let it through. I could either surrender it, or walk it back to the car. Knowing that the line was moving fairly quickly, I chose the latter rather than lose a knife. Fortunately, the security lady let Dwight hold my place in line so I was able to skip ahead.
Even though the gates were open at noon, only the exhibits opened at that time. The midway wouldn’t open until 3:00. That was OK, though. I had been lamenting the demise of all of the agricultural exhibits at the local county fairs, so that’s where we would have started anyway.
First, though, we wanted to find lunch. We talked about finding some disgusting deep-fried something on a stick, or perhaps a burger on a doughnut, but eventually opted for sausages – brats with sauerkraut for me, and Italian sausage with peppers and onions for Dwight. Both were accompanied by home made potato chips. Yeah, those were deep-fried.
The food vendors seemed to be centralized between and around the exhibit halls. This area also held the rides for smaller kids – a cute dragon roller coaster, bumble bee rides, etc. There was also a nice large tent with picnic tables where we ate our lunch.
Before we entered the exhibits Dwight warned me. “There are more categories of things that can be judged than you can possibly imagine.” Our first stop was the botanical displays. Sure enough, there were plants of just about any variety, many with various ribbons and awards. Most of these were ornamental plants.
From there we headed over to the farm animals, stopping first at the poultry and bird displays. Any variety of farm bird you wanted was on display, including some exotics such as Guinea fowl, peacocks, etc. Of course, there was one large rooster perched on a goal post with Gamecock emblems all around him.
Dwight said that this exhibit smelled MUCH better on opening day than it does as the fair progresses. Apparently it gets quite rank in here. As he wandered through the cages, he would occasionally reach in to snag a feather that had fallen close enough to reach. As an avid fisherman he is always looking for raw material with which to tie his flies.
From the fowl house we headed across to the farm animals. There was a petting zoo under a yellow tent that cast a strange glow over everything. This petting zoo housed more exotic animals.
Behind the petting zoo was a swine exhibit that was not yet operating. Dwight decided to stand in. I cast no pearls before him.
The horse pavilion was also not yet in operation, but in between was a frontier farm display. Well, sort of frontier. There were lots of horse powered implements, but it looked like these came from all over the US and from a variety of time periods. It was a mish-mash of old farm stuff. Still interesting, though.
We popped in and saw cows…
…then entered the crafts exhibit. Here Dwight’s prediction about the number of categories where came to fruition. There were quilts, miniatures, backed goods, canned goods, and just about anything else that could be created.
I won’t even attempt to photograph or describe everything, but there were several categories that left me puzzled, such as these Lego creations that somehow won a prize. I think they were in the Youth category.
I bought a couple of fresh-baked cookies, then went in search of more exhibits. The next two halls were not prize displays, but were booths set up by vendors and other community groups. It struck me as a mashup of flea market and street fair. Everyone from Democrats to Tea Party had representation.
One vendor was set up with bulk candy in large boxes. You could fill up a basket for $3.99 a pound. The sneaky thing was that the baskets he was handing out could easily hold four or five pounds of candy. I could see some kid wanting to fill the thing up, and the parent being stuck with a $20 bill for candy.
Finally we found the art and agriculture display. There was an amateur photography display with some nice works, and lots of amateur artwork. To be honest, I was reaching saturation point by this time, and didn’t look at the artwork too closely.
I did look at the prize vegetables, though. It amazes me how these things are judged. What makes one tomato so much better than another one? Again, there were categories for everything, including cotton, potatoes, and just about anything else.
What does one get for having the best tomato at the State Fair? Just a blue ribbon? Bragging rights? Celebrity endorsements?
By this time the Midway was getting started, so we decided to move on. My feet were already tired from several hours of wandering, so we found something to drink and sat for a bit before moving on.
The midway is much like any other fair I’ve attended, except more so. There were more games, more rides, and just more of everything. I counted at least three Ferris wheels. Of course, there is the riot of color and action that makes a fair midway a photographer’s dream.
There were some other classic rides, such as the Zipper and Tilt-a-Whirl, but there were some other terrifying rides that I’d never get on.
It was interesting to see all the rides framed by the looming Williams Brice Stadium in the background.
One thing I noticed was that this fair has a clean feel to it. It’s not full of the stereotypical “carnies.” The folks operating the fair were clean and professional. Some of the game operators looked like cute coeds from USC. It did have a wholesome feel.
That is, except for one staple – the fun houses. The various fun houses lined the perimeter of the midway. The artwork is always garish and somewhat risque.
Dwight and I decided we needed to try at least one ride, so we selected the largest Ferris wheel. It was four tickets, or $5. The ride did provide leisurely views of the entire fair and the Columbia skyline. Needless to say, we both took lots of photos.
Visiting the fair was a blast, and I enjoyed it, but I was worn out. I wish I’d had the time and energy to stay after dark and get photos of the bright lights. That will have to wait until another time. Until then, though, here is the slideshow of all the shots from the day.