Apr 02, 13 2013 SOUTH FLORIDA FAIR

Warren Resen – North American Travel Journalists Association  

Jeanne O’Connor – photographer

Anything more than 50 years old in Florida is normally considered archaic and ready for replacement. Does this also include Florida’s large senior citizen population?

The South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach defied this trend when it closed its gates in January of this year, completing a successful run that has spanned 101 years.  Yes, the fair entered its second century.  Just think of the changes that have taken place since its beginning in 1913.

Best in Show & Best Standard of Show Golden Phoenix owned by Brittany Conway

Multiple wars, depression, men landing on the moon and the computer   revolution are only the tip of the iceberg when you compile a list of events that have taken place since its opening.

Back then Florida was mostly unexplored woods and swamps. It was literally the Last Frontier in the USA.  The Seminoles still had active villages.  Lake Okeechobee fisherman supplied fresh fish to the Northern cities by way of Flagler’s new railroad.   Cattle were king and roamed the state freely on open land and the push was on to drain the Everglades to turn it into “useable” land.    Florida’s land rush was still in the future

Patriotic Ice show in Expo Building.

One of life’s truisms is that everything changes.  Thankfully the West Palm Beach/South Florida Fair is a time capsule reminding us of where we came from and showcasing much of what Florida was before the major changes occurred.

People return year- after-year because of the familiar sights, sounds and aromas that bring back memories of other visits.  This is especially true in the section called Yesteryear Village that showcases the area’s rich history.

Yesteryear Village is a replica of a rural community set on 10 acres featuring buildings and artifacts dating from the 1850’s.  When the Village comes to life every January, volunteers dressed in period clothing inhabit the homes and shops and reenact the life of the times on the Village Green.  Dancers in Native American regalia delight the crowds, recreating performances of authentic centuries old ceremonies.

Many fairgoers on passing through the gates rush to their favorite food stand(s) that sell things which no nutritionist would approve.  But it’s only a one-day-a-year splurge for most.  Elephant ears, corn dogs, funnel cakes, smoked turkey legs and other goodies can be seen walking the fairway in the hands of delighted adults and children.

Ain’t that the truth.

The nighttime fairway, with its spinning lights, is a delight for young and old.  Parents remember what it was like when they were children staring at the spinning, dipping swirling rides and kaleidoscope of colors. Now they return with their children to share the experience and perhaps regain a little of their own childhood enjoyment. One of my favorite things to do is watch little children here for their first time, their eyes as big as saucers,  taking in this strange and wonderful new world.

In recognition of and to honor Florida’s rich agricultural heritage and the original focus of the fair, 135 acres at the SE corner of the Fairgrounds are dedicated to the area called the Agriplex.  Exhibitors and contestants come from all over Florida to show off their animals, produce and skills, competing for that all important blue ribbon.

There is an enclosed air conditioned Large Animal Barn of 30,000 square feet where livestock is exhibited and judged.  Riders show off their horsemanship.  In the 24,000 square feet mixed footing Large Animal Show Ring.  A Mooternity Tent gives city people a rare opportunity to watch calves being born.  Other tents    house poultry and small animals.

Forbidden Fruit

While much of the fair is thankfully remains the same (fairway, food, vendors, games of chance and rides), the 70,000 square foot Expo Building features a different theme every year.  In past years themes have included Tales of the American West, America’s National Parks, Gateway to the Tropics and many more.  The 2013 theme was Washington, DC without the politicians.  Originally I was going to say “”without the clowns.”

It included a replica of the Oval Office when Reagan was president and a section of Air Force One that he used. There were never before seen photos of the daily lives of presidents and some of the first ladies’ inaugural gowns. A magnificent sand sculpture replica of the Lincoln Memorial and many more items of historical interest were there for viewer’s enjoyment. But there was more going on to please the crowds.

On the main stage was a professional ice show honoring our solders, an ever popular hypnotist performed nearby, other shows and exhibits and of course vendors were everywhere in the main building and throughout the fairgrounds.

replica of President Reagan’s Oval Office Desk

Author behind replica of President Reagan’s Oval Office Desk

Every year the South Florida Fair seems to end much too soon but that’s when the organizers get preparations under way for the next year. The South Florida Fair will open its gates again the second week of January 2014 for its 102nd year run.  The new theme is kept a secret until just before the opening.

New arrival.

New arrival.

The South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach is located west of Florida’s Turnpike on Southern Boulevard (SR 80).  Parking is FREE.

Life is short. Sand sculpture was demolished at end of fair.

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1 Comment

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