- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

Three cheers for a true American tableau, star-spangled and perfumed with the telltale scent of curly fries. Behold the state fair, where life is measured by the revolutions of a Tilt-a-Whirl and cows reign supreme, where cheese and cabbages and tatting are forces to be reckoned with.

Things may be edgy in the Middle East and absurd in the media, but the spirited state fair goes on, boasting husband-calling contests, butter sculpture, pig races, cakewalks, quilting bees, tractor pulls and young ladies wandering the midway in cotton-candy-pink lipstick and flip-flops.

Huzzah. Thank heavens the nation is once again in fair-going mode.

It is reassuring to know that the Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off will take place at the Alaska State Fair as planned this year, with giant-cabbage-growing aspirants pining to upset the giant-cabbage-growing record, which is 106 pounds. And at the Wyoming State Fair, the Rubber Chicken Race is right on schedule, requiring team members to pass a rubber chicken between them as they ride, with equestrian skills intact, upon a horse or in a wheelbarrow.

“Don’t forget the rubber chicken. That will be your baton,” cautions the official rule book.

And yes, the Illinois State Fair is still proud of its annual husband-calling contest, in which wives holler at their beloved for prizes in a bout staged, incidentally, following the hog-calling competition. Visitors also can vie for honors in the horseshoe-eating contest, the horseshoe in question being two pieces of toast topped with ham, French fries and cheese sauce.

This year’s big draw at the Iowa State Fair is a statue of Brandon Routh, star of the newest “Superman” movie, done entirely in butter. Meanwhile, the dairymen of the Wisconsin State Fair plan to concoct a cheese fondue for about 1,000 people, with assorted “cheese prizes” doled out by a troupe of yodelers and somebody named Alice in Dairyland.

Not to be outdone, the Indiana State Fair will stage the World’s Largest Drive-Through Breakfast for fair-goers, who will consume 14,000 pounds of pork chops, 56,000 rib-eye steaks, 10,460 deep-fried Snickers bars and 37,160 milkshakes, this according to fair officials. The fair will showcase the Cheese Lady, a sculptress bent on carving something aesthetic out of a 1-ton block of cheddar.

Indeed, the culinary excesses of the state fair are a source of considerable pride.

Texans will go through a half-million corny dogs — and it is “corny” as opposed to “corned” in the Lone Star State — when their fair-going time arrives come October. On a more basic level, Oregon State Fair visitors will gnash their way through 23,500 ears of roasted corn along with 34,000 onions and 27,500 potatoes.

Just to make sure no one forgets his farm roots, the Maryland State Fair will offer cow-milking lessons and a, uh, er, Birthing Center in which “fairgoers will have the opportunity to witness the birth of calves and piglets under the supervision of veterinarians and students.”

All of us here at the Curly Fries Monitoring Station most likely will skip the latter.

“I like fairs. I like the livestock shows and seeing the kids,” said Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, about a recent visit to his state’s fair.

Mr. Burns saw fit to release the gate of the inaugural pig race, wagering a bet on Piglet No. 4 — Rush Limbhog — who lost both the race and the first prize, an Oreo cookie, according to an account in the Great Falls Tribune.

“It’s hard to teach him to turn left,” said Tim Swinehart, who owns little Rush.

Think of it as Americana. After all, “State Fair” is the name of three Hollywood movies and one ripsnorting musical. But bright tradition also is part of it: The first agricultural fair was staged on these shores 199 years ago, when one Elkanah Watson, a Colonial patriot and emissary of George Washington, displayed a splendid little collection of merino sheep beneath an elm tree in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1807.

“Many farmers, and even women, were excited by curiosity to attend this novel and humble exhibition,” Watson wrote in his account of the event, according to the Missouri-based International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

The gentleman obviously knew a good thing when he saw it. By 1810, Watson was displaying 386 sheep, 109 oxen, nine cows, three heifers, two calves and a single boar — which undoubtedly became the patron saint of pig races.

Given his success, Watson might not be surprised to learn that more than 3,200 fairs — state, regional and local — are held in North America each year. Given his political inclinations, Watson also might understand that several states use their fairs to conduct massive public opinion polls over legislative issues, taxes and the fair itself.

All hail funnel cakes, not too mention husband callers, piglets and Tilt-a-Whirls: The most recent results from 8,822 persons who attended the Minnesota State Fair revealed that food was the No. 1 attraction, followed by people-watching, animal barns and the midway.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and rubber chicken races for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washington times.com.

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