STRANGE STORIES OF THE OHIO STATE FAIR

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:

16 The Oak Ridge Boys Country 1980, 1982, 1984-91, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013
15 Bob Hope Comedian 1966-70, 1972, 1975-82, 1991
10 Johnny Cash Country 1958, 1969-71, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1996
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
8 Willie Nelson Country 1984, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002
7 Vince Gil Country 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004
6 Alabama Country 1984, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005
6 Rascal Flatts Country 2002, 2005-07, 2009, 2010
6 The Beach Boys Rock, pop 1974, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 2014
5 Kenny Rogers Country, pop 1972, 1978, 1979, 2006, 2009
5 Kool & The Gang R&B 1981-83, 1986, 1988

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.

I'd have to say the most surprising artist to ever play the fair was jazz great Miles Davis who performed at the Ohio State Fair in 1965. East Coast, urban, sophisticated, self-consciously hip, aloof, indifferent to audiences, and working in a musical genre of narrow appeal, Davis couldn't be a less likely candidate for a show at the fair but it happened. Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane were also on the surprising bill as part of the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival.

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.

JIM RHODES- Ohio governor Jim Rhodes (1963-71, 1975-83), himself a small-town boy from 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.

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

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

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 after 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.

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.

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.

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

A great source of information about the fair, its traditions, oddities, and history is C. LaVon Shook’s History of the Ohio State Fair (2000). Recommended.