Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



IN THE MAIL: State fairs continue a summer tradition

NEWARK, Del. -- My old professor, geographer Fred Kniffen (1900-1993), loved the state fair. Who doesn't? The cacophonous midway, corndogs and funnel cake and big-name entertainment have considerable appeal. But Kniffen saw the state fair as a ce...

NEWARK, Del. -- My old professor, geographer Fred Kniffen (1900-1993), loved the state fair. Who doesn't? The cacophonous midway, corndogs and funnel cake and big-name entertainment have considerable appeal. But Kniffen saw the state fair as a celebration of an American tradition: agriculture.

A century ago, when Kniffen was a growing up in Michigan and developing an interest in geography, the U.S. population was 60 percent rural, and 38 percent made a living from farming. (Today, four out of five Americans live in cities and only 2 percent are farmers.) State fairs reminded him of his youth, but he didn't dwell on the much-publicized demise of the family farm. As a scholar, he examined state fairs as part of the cultural landscape and wrote about their origin, diffusion, form, and function.

According to Kniffen, the roots of the American agricultural state fair can be traced to European market fairs, not unlike those celebrated by popular Renaissance festivals, where people congregated after the harvest to buy and sell all manner of produce. Market fairs also attracted a variety of vendors, as well as the ubiquitous traveling shows, acrobats, fortune-tellers and thieves. Market fairs -- "to market, to market, to buy a fat pig" - were common in colonial America, but disappeared after the American Revolution.

Increased industrialization and urbanization created the need for greater commercialization of agriculture, and by the early 19th century, regional agricultural societies were advocating methods of scientific farming. The first educational agricultural fair was sponsored by the Berkshire Agricultural Society and held in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1811. The idea spread throughout New England and beyond.

Form follows function, and by the mid-19th century, fairs were both educational and entertaining. The educational component included showcasing diverse agricultural products and domestic arts, livestock judging, organizational booths, lectures and exhibits and, increasingly, the latest machinery and equipment. The entertainment component most often meant a midway and a racetrack. Fair buildings included few permanent structures, although today most fairgrounds have an architectural core and expand accordingly. This is obviously true of the midway, with its myriad rides, concessions, and other attractions.


Not surprisingly, the Iowa State Fair, one of the country's oldest and most popular fairs, was portrayed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical "State Fair" (1945). It is also featured in Patricia Shultz's best-seller, "1,000 Places To See Before You Die." Not all states have a state fair, however. Connecticut, for example, continues a tradition of agricultural fairs at the local level.

In my home state of Delaware, the first state fair was held July 27-30, 1920. Its layout today, typical of most state fairs, consists of a racetrack, grandstand and assortment of livestock barns on the original 30-acre fairgrounds. The Delaware State Fair now attracts more than 300,000 visitors every July.

As a sign of the times, the Delaware State Legislature in 1996 approved the installation of slot machines at the fairgrounds. Midway Slots, recently renamed Harrington Raceway & Casino, was born. It now operates year-round and generates considerable revenue for state coffers. Although the gaming industry (one of my favorite euphemisms) further erodes the raison d'tre of the American agricultural fair, that is, its educational function, perhaps this is just the next phase in the evolution of what we call the state fair.

Like Kniffen, with whom I shared many a fond memory on the subject, I, too, let the state fair take me back to halcyon days. My grandfather was a large-animal veterinarian, and I used to show horses. I even managed to win a modest collection of ribbons. Now, when my wife and I go to the Delaware State Fair, we spend most of our time in the barns admiring the animals. I guess we prefer the occasional whinny to the staccato of paying slots, the smell of manure to that of money. We walk past the kids with 4-H and FFA insignia and are reassured that another generation will feel as we do about the state fair.

Peter Mires

Mires teaches geography at the University of Delaware and is a member of the American Geographical Society's Writers Circle.

Not only AA offers

sobriety programs


EAST GRAND FORKS -- Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 and through the years has helped many seek, find and maintain sobriety. For that, it should be commended.

But for another addiction, that of being overweight, there are many plans or programs. One plan will work for one person but not another. Likewise, there are other programs to assist people seeking to maintain sobriety, which may work better than AA for certain individuals.

One such program started in 1976 began with the premise that recovery rates for male alcoholics were higher than for women. It then was declared that women were harder to treat and were less cooperative than male alcoholics.

"Women For Sobriety" was founded with the belief that women require a different kind of program in recovery than males. The WFS "New Life" program has shown that although the physiological recovery may be the same for both sexes, the psychological/emotional needs for women are very different. This New Life program begins with the first of 13 affirmations: I now take charge of my life. I accept the responsibility.

Jean Kirkpatrick, former ambassador to the United Nations, was a person who found sobriety through this program. Since 1976, this program has been successful to the extent that Men For Sobriety was founded with the same 13 affirmations.

Another more recent program begun in the 1990's is SMART Recovery (Self-Management And Recovery Training), which helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors: alcoholism, drug abuse, substance abuse, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction and addiction to other substances and activities. SMART Recovery offers specific tools and techniques in its four-point program; motivation, coping, managing thoughts and feelings and lifestyle balance. It is available via face-to-face or online. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Family Physicians, The National Institute on Drug Abuse and many more.

If you would like to know more about each of these recovery programs or to find the group closest to you please contact: WFS/MFS Inc. SMART Recovery, Box 618, 7537 Mentor Ave., Suite 306, Quakertown PA 18951-0618 or call (215) 536-8026 or (440) 951-5357.

Again, I am applauding those helped by AA but just want to offer alternatives to others still struggling with an addiction.


John Johnson

Johnson is advocate/trainer at Options Center for Independent Living.

What To Read Next
Get Local