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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eastern States Exposition

The Eastern States Exposition located in West Springfield, Massachusetts runs for 17 days in late September every year. This “state fair” encompasses all the six New England states, and so the exposition, or “Big E” as it is called, is quite large. It’s probably not terribly different from state fairs all over the US, except perhaps with a bit more lobster, maple sugar candy, and cranberries.

Cattle and sheep shows, equine competitions, produce, floriculture, wine making competitions are pretty standard, and reflect on New England’s agricultural history. There is a strong reputation for urban and industrial communities in New England, but this part of the country is still pretty rural despite the reduction in number of farms. This only increases their importance to us.

Sometimes I think nothing is so humbling to a city dweller than seeing a 12-year old boy or girl care for a horse or cow larger than they are with a sense of responsibility and maturity that is absent in many adults when caring for their own children.

The Eastern States Exposition was founded by Joshua L. Brooks, and in 1917 the first Exposition took place to bring together all six New England states in one spot to share ideas and improve regional agriculture. The cultural and historical unity of the New England states is exemplified by the unique attraction of the Avenue of States, where life-size replicas of each state's original capitol display products and attractions of each of the New England states. I heard a man in the crowd describe it to his guest, a newcomer to the fair as “kind of like (Disney’s) Epcot, but instead of different countries, you’ve got the states.” Maybe. Here’s where you load up on your Maine baked potato, your Rhode Island quahog fritter (Pronounced co-hog. That’s a clam.), and your road maps of Vermont.

Over one million visitors come to the fair each year, not just for the cattle judging or the state buildings, but for the circus, the live performances, the vendors selling everything from luggage to kitchen gadgets, the country crafts and the junk food typical of probably most fairs.

It doesn’t change much from year to year, but that in itself is a comforting thing. One might go to see country music star Trace Adkins this year, where you might have gone to see the McGuire sisters a few decades ago is about the only big difference.

I can recall going as a child with my parents, and later as a teenager, and still later pushing my elderly father in a wheelchair before he died. He loved the Big E, and always referred to the first cold mornings of September followed by warm afternoons as “Big E weather.” Minor exhibits, like the fads, come and go, but memories like that, and the essence of continuity with the past and renewal of heritage, is what really probably brings us back. And the carmel apples.

Want to go? Take a look at the Big E website for information.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

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