Sing hi, ho, come to the '54 fair

Remember When

August 18, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The annual Maryland State Fair at Timonium always signals three things: the end of summer, the impending resumption of school and some of the most memorable traffic jams ever seen on York Road.

The fair has always celebrated the state's agricultural heritage, and the 1954 edition -- the 73rd annual -- was no exception. In other ways, too, the fair has remained pretty much unchanged.

For many years, those attending the fair arrived by special trains that chugged out of Baltimore over the Northern Central Railroad to Timonium, then a whistle-stop, though it had been made famous during the 1930s as the place where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor detrained to avoid the crowds of downtown's Pennsylvania Station.

Slowly up York Road

By the 1950s, automobiles had replaced the trains as carloads of children and their parents crawled up a two-laned York Road toward the fairgrounds.

Today, many fairgoers arrive by the MTA's Light Rail, but those legendary traffic tie-ups persist.

On opening day in 1954, as a band played "Hi, Ho, Come to the Fair," 20,769 fairgoers went through the turnstiles after Phyllis Leftwich, Miss Maryland of 1954, and Michael J. Birmingham, chairman of the Baltimore County Commission, officiated at the ribbon-cutting that signaled the opening.

The midway beckoned with its amusement rides and games.

Busy exhibitors carefully groomed animals; readied cattle for judging, eggs for grading, jams for tasting, and tractors for the operator's contest; and set up 4-H exhibits.

"The Four Flying Valentines is a most sensational aerial act," said The Sun while declaring that "Chloe, a 12-week-old fawn, and Jesse, a playful raccoon, part of a traveling menagerie sponsored by the Maryland Game and Inland Fish Commission, is the fair's most popular exhibit."

"Governor [Theodore R.] McKeldin yesterday missed the Maryland State Fair at Timonium for the first time since he was a boy of 7 because of his mother's death," reported The Sun.

Ladies' Day proved as popular as ever.

"The free admission, 90-degree weather and the running of the 'Maryland Horse Breeder's Purse,' packed the racetrack grandstand and the fairgrounds with thousands of women dressed in warm-weather frocks," reported the newspaper.

While hordes of children dined on cotton candy, candied apples, hot dogs, hamburgers and sodas, food judges lamented the liability of their calling.

Suffering judges

"Childhood dreams of endless feasting are becoming adult nightmares of acute indigestion for a small band of women at the Maryland State Fair. The sufferers are the experts who are now in their second day of judging candies, preserves, jams, jellies and baked goods," said The Sun.

"A cake taster who nibbled through entries in both the 4-H and open classes was subsequently indisposed for three days," said Mary F. L. Bull, superintendent of the Home Arts Department at the fair. "They get $10 a day, but that doesn't even pay for the doctor's bill."

Janet Hobbs, a 16-year-old from Howard County, won the Cherry Pie Baking Contest for her pie, which featured a "special twisted lattice design top."

A dramatic moment of that year's fair was the crowning of the Maryland Farm Queen, Mary Charlotte Gough, a 17-year-old from St. Mary's County.

The somewhat shy graduate of St. Mary's Academy in Leonardtown told reporters, "It's the greatest thing that ever happened to me."

By the time the fair closed, 257,970 had come to Timonium and established an attendance record.

"In line with greater attendance, activities have spread out over Timonium acreage with the midway spilling westward toward the railroad sidings, mounted exhibits brightening the dairy cattle rings for the first time this year and some of the cow barns dispensaries selling milk," said The Sun.

John M. Heil, longtime general manager of the fair, boasted that the fair's success was due in large measure to more exhibitors and entries. "In the exhibition hall canned goods, food and fancy work at times had to be stacked double for judging and showing," he declared.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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