This is is the big weekend for the Maryland State Fair at...

Salmagundi

September 02, 1994

This is is the big weekend for the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. The best events and the best horse races are crammed into the Labor Day weekend that begins tomorrow and ends Monday night -- as does the fair itself.

It is a lovely little fair with a wealth of history stretching back 113 years. It indeed connects rural Maryland with urban (and suburban) Maryland. But it is small potatoes compared with fairs elsewhere in this country and in Canada.

The largest one of all, the State Fair of Texas, doesn't run for a puny 10 days as happens at Timonium. No, they think BIG in the Lone Star state. Their fair starts Sept. 30 and ends 24 days later. Last year, the fair drew 3.15 million people and pumped $160 million into the Dallas-Fort Worth economy.

All told, there are more than 3,000 fairs of various sorts and sizes in North America each year, and they seem to be thriving. One estimate puts attendance at North American fairs at 158 million, with $300 million spent each year at the gates, $300 million on carnival rides and much, much more on food, drinks and games.

Which are the most popular?

Here are the top 10: State Fair of Texas (Dallas); State Fair of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City); Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto); New Mexico State Fair (Albuquerque); Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul); Houston Livestock Show; Western Washington Fair (Puyallup); Los Angeles County Fair (Pomona); Calgary Stampede (Alberta, Canada) and the Del Mar (Calif.) Fair.

All of them still have the Ferris wheels and the tractor pulls and the pig races. But fairs also have added modern appeals: major country-and-western entertainers; bungee jumps; even stock car races.

Yet despite the changes, the lure of these fairs remains strong. The rural roots of America are tied up in these state fairs. And Americans have a grand hankering to return to those roots.

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