Friday, July 30, 2010

Scenes from the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa: Tradition Against Time

I marvel at how the classic Tilt-A-Whirl lives on! Of old carnival rides I recall from my youth, only the Tilt retains virtually its identical original size and platform configuration, albeit, I read in Wikipedia, with seven rather than nine tubs. It debuted in 1927 at the Minnesota State fair, and has been, it would seem, the longest running un-revised hit on midways ever since. We have modern versions of the Ferris Wheel, the swings and the Octopus, but the tilt-A-Whirl whirls on totally unchanged and unmolested by trendy enlargements. Perfection alone stands the test of time.

I could spend hours gazing at the amazingly varied "facial expressions" of the charming rabbits. No other animal I know of comes close to the rabbit in giving off such a vast catalog of human-like attitudes. Either that, or I have a field day seeing a world of characters in them.

The kids chased this hog/pig/swine back and forth; it had a will of its own.

My favorite exhibit hall contains art work by the younger generations, from very early ages to teen years. So exciting to spot genius that you hope will not be class roomed out of existence. That you hope will inspire and shape an entire life. This by Sydney N. Walter, age 12, of Cotati.

This by Andrew C. Yu, age 14, of Petaluma.

The flower show that locals claim to be, and could be, the best in the country. Some of course are better than others. This year struck me as basic. I am still ruing the exit, 16 years ago, of my favorite of all Sonoma County Fair Flower Show designers, Jacque Giuffre.

They have a new track announcer, an English voiced gentleman who adds such color to the races. In fact, I'd never thought of "exotic" as an English trait; in this rare instance, it applies. He helps restore some of the color that, year by year, seems to be slowly vanishing from the county fair. When we moved up to Santa Rosa in the late 1940s, my mom got me, my sister and brother straw hats and neckerchiefs and took us to our first fair. Such magic; sometimes, just the right whiff of cow manure brings back a rich boyhood memory.

At the racetrack, they say fewer people attend. What I miss the most are the human cashiers who once took your bets. I used to now and then place two dollars on "show." Made a few pennies on better days.

Every summer, it moves farther away from this idyllic image, snapped by my Brownie Hawkeye in the fifties. How I loved just walking under those trees. Some years back, they were all removed, the sheds rebuilt, the old folksy atmosphere rendered sterile. The management seems to favor asphalt over dirt, well-defined order over a countrified ramble. I could scream, let it be! What happened here was very much like what "Governor" Ronald Reagan did in Sacramento, when he sold the old state fairgrounds and built a new world expo type venue, dull, lifeless, cold.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I loved hearing about your trip to the Fair, and some of the feelings you were confronted with there.

Why is it that so much of the "MAGIC" of yesteryear has been lost? Can anyone answer that question? What would it take to "get that magic back again?"