Head Copy Editor
If you’re feeling adventurous on an early autumn day and you head towards Northeastern Pennsylvania, betwixt the anthracite coal region and the Pocono Mountains you’ll stumble upon Bloomsburg, the only municipal town in Pennsylvania. This quaint area is known primarily for Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (one of the 14 PASSHE universities), and for hosting the largest annual fair in Pennsylvania.
This year marks the 159th anniversary of the week-long Bloomsburg Fair, which began in 1855 as an agricultural exhibition. Since its inception, the fair has grown to notable proportions. Beginning the third Monday after Labor Day each year, it had an attendance last year of over 400,000 people, all there to take in the incredible variety of food and fun that the fair has to offer.
With more than 1,500 food stands, calling it an ‘incredible variety’ is almost an understatement. Within a hundred-yard radius of the Gate 5 Entrance, stands can be seen selling Orange Julius, French fries and pierogies, waffle ice cream sandwiches, haluski, pizza and cactus fries, a culinary delight made from potatoes (and unfortunately, not cacti) which are thinly spiral sliced and then deep fried, solidifying into a cactus-like shape, for those with an overactive imagination. Then there are gyros, assorted kebabs, pickles on sticks, homemade jerkies, Vince’s Cheesesteaks (a perennial fan favorite), and Normand’s Saltwater Taffy, freshly made right before your eyes. If all that wasn’t enough, one of the crowd favorites is the stand run by Pennsylvania Dutch families who sell homemade goods.
Standing inside the gate, those who can tear their eyes from the food and are brave enough to venture to the right are met with the bright flashing lights, screaming sirens and gigantic stuffed teddy bears that are signature to the Carny area of the fair. There are stands left and right offering everything from goldfish to guitars to giant inflatable hammers, and all if you can win the game. There are darts games, basketball games, whack-a-moles and water guns, all tempting whoever happens to pass nearby.
If the carnival scene isn’t your thing, inside the gate you may want to take a turn to the left, where you’ll be met with an entirely different atmosphere. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the Grandstand, a combination tractor-pull-slash-demolition-derby track and concert venue, where this year’s country group Little Big Town will join Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Three Days Grace and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the long list of music acts that have performed at the Bloomsburg Fair. While it’s not ideal for the claustrophobe, under the Grandstand offers its own allure as well. There are two aisles that run the entire length of the Grandstand, and on each side there are dozens of vendors selling jewelry, toys, candy, clothing and just about anything in between.
If you make it out the other side, you’ll be met with the sights and smells often associated with fairgrounds. Despite its perpetual growth and popularity, the Bloomsburg Fair still holds true to its century-and-a-half old roots, with the livestock and crop exhibits remaining ever popular. There are rabbits, chickens and ducks to be seen, along with pigs, cows, goats, sheep and horses, all waiting to be judged. For a small fee, visitors can have their Polaroid picture taken with a newborn calf, all proceeds benefiting the local 4H clubs. You could also stop by to see the oldest dog show in the United States for just 50 cents.
The educational building showcases work by students from school districts all across Columbia and the surrounding counties. Next door, the industrial building hosts a myriad of vendors, much like under the Grandstand. The next two buildings, horticultural and agricultural, showcase flowers and crops, respectively.
The horticultural building houses floral plants and displays, centered on “A Night at the Movies,” this year’s horticultural theme. Little popcorn buckets filled with white and yellow carnations serve as centerpieces to the tables that surround the fountain, where fair-goers toss their spare change in exchange for wishes or good luck. The agricultural building not only showcases the best tomatoes, potatoes and every other local crop, but also has the fair’s largest and second largest pumpkins, often weighing in at more than 500 pounds.
There is also an “Our Living Past” exhibit at the Barton House, which has furniture, clothing and household tools that would have been used at the time of the fair’s inception in 1855. Built by Caleb Barton, this luxury home, as it would have been at the time it was built, is the only remaining farmhouse to sit on state fairgrounds.
Whether you’re in it for the food, the farming, or the unavoidable fun, the Bloomsburg Fair is sure to have something to fit anyone’s idea of a good time.
The 2014 Bloomsburg Fair is running through Sept. 27 and costs $8 for admittance. Don’t let another year go by without reveling in the home-grown majesty that is the Bloomsburg Fair.