Sideshow at the 157th Ohio State Fair, August 2010.

BOB HOPE- Bob Hope grew up in Cleveland and is claimed as an Ohio son. Hope appeared at the fair a record 15 times--more than any other performer until The Oak Ridge Boys surpassed his record in 2013. Hope first appeared in 1966. Last at the age of 88 in 1991. Just once during the term of a Democratic governor.


THE FAIR'S FAVORITES- These are the performers that have appeared most frequently at the Ohio State Fair:

17 The Oak Ridge Boys Country 1980, 1982, 1984-91, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016
15 Bob Hope Comedian 1966-70, 1972, 1975-82, 1991
10 Johnny Cash Country 1958, 1969-71, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1996
9 Alabama Country 1984, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2024
9 Willie Nelson Country 1984, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2022
9 Pat Boone Pop, Christian 1956, 1957, 1967, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1988, 2002
9 Mac Davis Country, pop 1971-78, 1981
8 The Osmonds Pop 1965, 1967, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1986
7 Vince Gil Country 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004
7 Rascal Flatts Country 2002, 2005-07, 2009, 2010, 2017
7 The Beach Boys Rock, pop 1974, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 2014, 2018
6 Kenny Rogers Country, pop 1972, 1978, 1979, 2006, 2009, 2016
6 Cheap Trick Rock 1984, 1986, 1995, 2001, 2015, 2018
5 Kool & The Gang R&B 1981-83, 1986, 1988
5 Dolly Parton Country, pop 1977-79, 1982, 2016

As one might expect, a little heavy on the country-side.


THE LEAST LIKELY FAIR PERFORMER EVER- New Wave pioneers Devo in 2010 were pretty unlikely but they are from Akron and formed at Kent State so there's a strong Ohio connection.

Liza Minelli in 1974 was even more unlikely.

Ringo Starr--the only Beatle to ever play the fair--was a surprise in 1992.

Still, I'd have to say the most surprising artists to ever play the fair were the East Coast jazz musicians--Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Theolonius Monk--who performed at the Ohio State Fair in 1965 as part of the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival.(Miles Davis was scheduled to appeared but was ill.) The royalty of American contemporary jazz--hip, urban, coastal, cool--performed amidst the carnival rides, midway barkers, hog judging, horse races, and 4-H kids from Tuscarawas County. Doesn't get much unlikelier than that.

NO FAIR- Very first Ohio State Fair in 1849 (not in Columbus) was canceled due to a cholera outbreak. In 1942, 1943, and 1944, the War Dept. took over the fairgrounds and used them to support the fight against the Axis. In 2020, the fair was canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a bare-bones fair was held for only youth exhibiting animals. The fair was closed to the general public. No butter cow, no midway, no performances.

NO VACANCY- In the early 20th Century, fair week overwhelmed the city. Every hotel room was taken. Hotels set up cots in halls and ballrooms. Rooms and even front porches in the University District rented for up to a week’s wages.

In the past, fair parking filled up fast and out-of-towners gladly paid $5-$10 to neighboring homes and businesses for the privilege of parking there. This still goes on to a limited degree. As recently as the late 1970s, the Ohio State University parking garages on High St., over a mile from the fairgrounds, were advertised as a reasonable option for fairgoers.

Lights come on at dusk on the midway. Opening Day (July 25, 2012) of the 159th Ohio State Fair.

JIM RHODES- Ohio governor Jim Rhodes (1963-71, 1975-83), a small-town boy from rural Jackson County, loved the fair. It was his custom as governor to attend every day and press the flesh. To the chagrin of all later governors, in 1982, Rhodes established the tradition of the governor spending a night at the fair and sleeping in the barns with the 4-H kids and their families there to exhibit animals. The tradition endured until broken by John Kasich in 2011.


THE FLESHPOTS OF 11th AVE- In the early years of the fair, rural Woodward Ave. (11th Ave.) would be lined with illicit, makeshift bars, games of chance, gambling dens, lurid sideshows, and even brothels to separate fairgoers from their cash.


ORPHANS!- In 1902, The Children’s Home Society invited fairgoers to pick out and adopt an orphan at the fair

Tired concession stand worker takes a break and listens to a concert a few yards away as late day sun gilds a concession booth on Opening Day (July 25, 2018) of the 165th Ohio State Fair.

DISCO ROBOT- A robot from the planet Plurus has come among us to discover earthly disco... In the summer of 1978, one of the fea tured attractions at the fair was a portable, science fiction-themed disco called Disco World. The disco was hosted by an "alien robot" called MEGGA-4.


BUTTER DARTH VADER- In 1977, Star Wars-mania reigned and the fair featured a butter Darth Vader. A summer storm knocked out power and Darth slowly melted in the August heat. Grisly.

Symbols of Ohio, carved in butter, at the 161st Ohio State Fair (July 23, 2014)


RED SCARE AT THE FAIR- In August 1951, chart-topping folk group The Weavers were scheduled to appear at the fair. The group's leftist politics terrified the Ohio governor who called up J. Edgar Hoover for dirt and intervened to have the folkies fired from their fair appearance. Thus 1000s of youngsters were saved from becoming Buckeye Bolsheviks from hearing "On Top of Old Smoky." In 1985, two of the four Weavers returned to the fair with Arlo Guthrie. Ohio's governor Richard Celeste made up for past wrongs by hosting the musicians at the Governor's Mansion.


MICHAEL JACKSON- On August 31, 1973, 15 year old Michael and his brothers appeared at the fair as The Jackson Five.


Trophies for the winning in the Coliseum at the 164th Ohio State Fair.

PRE-TEEN RIOT- In 1989, several girls were injured in the tumult generated by a New Kids on the Block concert.


DEATH AT THE FAIR- In 1899, two people were shot and killed when real and blank rounds became mixed during a recreation of The Battle of San Juan Hill by National Guardsmen.

In 1990, a 529-lb. fatman in a sideshow suffered a heart attack and died at the fair.

On Opening Day of the 2017 Ohio State Fair, part of a thrill ride called the Fireball came apart in mid-air, slamming riders to the ground and raining debris. An 18-year-old man was killed immediately. Another rider was severely injured and hospitalized for over a year before also dying. Six others were seriously injured. A support beam that had been compromised by rust was determined to be the cause.


Postcard image of produce display at the Ohio State Fair, 1910s.

BABY BEAUTY CONTESTS- In the early 20th Century, vaguely eugenic beautiful baby contests were a popular draw at the fair. In a strange coincidence, the winner of one of these contests became fair director in the 1990s.

Meats cooking at the 163rd Ohio State Fair in 2016.

DINOLAND- In 1968, Brontosaurus, Trachodon, Tyrannosaurus, and other life-sized dinosaur favorites invaded the 115th Ohio State Fair as a part of Sinclair Oil's Dinoland. Creatures had debuted at the 1964 New York City World's Fair.