State fair a cornucopia of sights and flavors

Rides, animal events attract thousands

August 28, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

A blue ribbon was awarded for a 79.6-pound watermelon, and emu chili was free for the asking. Midway winners walked off with stuffed prizes in the latest pop culture images: Pokemon and the Taco Bell Chihuahua. A bovine beauty contest was in full swing.

And, in the middle of all this, a Texas farm girl asked the burning question: "Do fish get thirsty?"

The 118th Maryland State Fair opened in Timonium yesterday -- in all its peach-pie, corn-dog splendor -- with its usual mix of carnival kitsch and farm-family values.

Take it from David Epstein, an admitted thrill-seeker who says the state fair beats the big amusement parks in at least one way: "This has more of a nice, country feel to it."

Epstein, a psychologist from Kingsville, was sampling the emu chili -- "Not bad, tastes fine," he said. But his 12-year-old daughter, Sara, was in no mood to experiment with spicy food.

"I feel nauseous," she said, adding that her condition might have something to do with a ride called the Tornado.

Officials say that as many as 500,000 people will pass through the turnstiles at the state fairgrounds before the fair closes on Labor Day. Normally, the fair opens on a Saturday. Organizers decided to open on Friday to allow the 4-H competitions to wrap up by Sunday evening. Many of the youngsters are to return to school on Monday.

Also, the Montgomery and Howard County fairs ran a week earlier than usual, removing a potential conflict.

This year's fair got off to a rocky start Thursday night, when a thunderstorm washed out a "preview" night for the midway and knocked out the computerized ticket system. But the sun came out yesterday -- and so did thousands of fair-goers.

Some, like 9-year-old Bradley Dubin and his schoolmate, Kara Kashen, were most interested in the rides. They bounded off The Inverter, a new ride that leaves passengers hanging upside down, six stories above the ground.

Kara announced her approval by saying, "It's good. Can we go again?"

Suzette Desser, chaperoning Kara as part of a birthday party, said she was a bit nervous about the rides because of recent deaths at amusement parks in Virginia and California. Her husband, David Desser, said, "Some of the rides, we're not letting anybody go on."

Greg Deggeller, whose company operates the rides, said he expects a small decrease in ridership because of publicity surrounding the amusement park accidents. He, along with state inspector Sal Sapienza, said the rides are constantly checked to be sure they are safe.

Others were interested in the animal world. Brandon Steiner, 6, of Pikesville, was among the small crowd that gathered for the Barn Tours program, a new attraction.

The program is designed to give an organized tour of the Cow Palace, the Sheep Barn and anywhere else with an animal in a cage or a pen. Christian Foster, an animal sciences student from Texas A&M, raised questions and provided some answers.

Yes, fish get thirsty, she said -- at least according to a $4 million government study.

What animal helps save human eyesight? she asked. Answer: The chicken, because its comb contains a chemical used to moisten eyes during surgery.

And she asked Brandon: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

"The chicken," he said.

Foster explained that evolutionists will say the egg, creationists will say the chicken, and, anyway, "The two things you don't talk about on a barn tour are politics and religion."

During the tour, she pointed out that you can tell whether a hen will lay a white egg or a brown egg by the color of its earlobes. White earlobes mean white eggs; red earlobes, brown eggs.

"No matter how old you are, you can keep learning," said Dulcie Carey, 64, of Joppatowne, who was along for the tour.

In the poultry building, even the fowl were adjusting to the opening of the fair. Two young roosters, new neighbors in adjoining cages, stood staring at one another, each trying to claim dominance. Eventually, one bird submitted by sitting down. The pecking order was established.

Later, contestants competed in the "On the Farm Game Show," where they answered questions such as: How can you tell when your dairy cow is stressed? A: She's taking Valium, or B. She's not letting her milk down.

The tour and game show are not the only new attractions at the fair this year. There's also the Baboon Lagoon monkey show and the Max-Air Ski Jumping Show.

Also, an Essex couple is scheduled to get married tomorrow on the carousel. And the fair has brought in several expectant animals for a "birthing center" scheduled to open next weekend -- which happens to be Labor Day.

The 118th Maryland State Fair runs through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road, Timonium. Admission is $4, free for children under 12. Information: 410-252-0200.

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