The first official Kansas State Fair opened its eight-day run on Sept. 13, 1913.
By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle
Fairgoers were abuzz about the Boys’ Sheep Show, and the women were busy preparing their preserves for competition.
The premiere entertainment attractions were Alexander The Monkey and the Shaw Comedy Animal Circus.
The big headline in the Hutchinson News that day: “Kansas’ Real State Fair Has An Auspicious Opening”
One hundred birthdays later, the Kansas State Fair is preparing for another auspicious opening. The annual fair starts Friday and runs through Sept. 15 on the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
Organizers have planned a big 100th birthday celebration for the event that will both recognize its decades of growth and expansion and pay homage to its homey, farm roots.
The celebrating will start early this year. On Monday afternoon, a special 100th birthday parade will proceed through Hutchinson to the fairgrounds, where attendees can stay and enjoy a live band, Pronto pups, free ice cream and more.
Once the fair opens, the schedule will be filled with all the expected attractions, from big-name Grandstand acts to the butter sculpture to the Midway carnival rides. Boys and girls are both allowed in 2013’s state fair sheep show – and there are bears on the bill rather than monkeys.
But the schedule also will include throwback events that were once popular at the fair, including an old-time bingo game and a mincemeat pie competition.
Several birthday-themed activities also are planned, including free birthday cake at the opening ceremonies, food vendors frying up birthday cake-flavored funnel cakes and deep fried birthday cake, and a birthday cake competition in the Domestic Arts building.
“Certainly, the fair has evolved,” said the fair’s general manager Denny Stoecklein, who has led the event for the past 10 years. “But a lot of what we’re doing is still the tradition of the fair and why it started 100 years ago. Livestock and agriculture are at the root of it.”
As he and his staff busily prepare for opening day, Stoecklein said, they are hoping for good weather, which often results in strong attendance. Attendance last year was 343,007, he said, up a little more than 1 percent from 2011.
Birthday buzz should help this year’s crowd count, he said.
“The hundredth birthday has generated a lot of excitement,” he said. “And looking at some of other fairs taking place throughout the summer, they’re doing well. Mother nature has been treating them pretty well, and hopefully, she’ll extend us the same courtesy.”
Among the other big events planned for this year’s fair:
The grandstand has nightly entertainment planned, including a Sept. 15 show by country superstar Toby Keith, whose concert so far is the top seller, followed by classic rockers Kansas on Friday, and Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd on Sept. 14.
Reno county resident Steve Dillon, from the family that Dillons grocery stores are named for, is raising money to buy an additional 2,000 tickets to the Keith concert to give to active-duty Kansas military members.
Other acts include teen singer Bridgit Mendler on Saturday, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers on Sept. 10, Jars of Clay on Sept. 12, and Theory of a Deadman on Sept. 13.
Tickets are available at www.kansasstatefair.com or by calling 620-669-3618.
Weird fair foods
As always, food vendors will be selling unusual novelty foods, designed more for shock value than for nutritional value. Among the inventions promised for this year are the above-mentioned deep fried birthday cake as well as maple bacon snickerdoodle cookies and deep fried mac and cheese.
Unusual acts and street performers are always part of the fair. This year’s Gottschalk Park attraction is called Welde’s Bear Show, which features four big bears performing tricks.
Barney of Mayberry, a pretend police officer who looks and sounds a lot like Don Knotts, will roam the fair Friday through Sept. 10. “He’ll help provide additional law enforcement,” Stoecklein said with a laugh.
Mama Lou, who bills herself as an “American Strongwoman,” is a petite woman who will walk around the fairgrounds tearing phone books in half and bending pots and pans with her bare hands. She’s scheduled for Sept. 11-15.
Oscar the Robot also will have a new competitor and companion. Rock-It the Robot is a 9-foot-3-inch robot who, like Oscar, will circulate the grounds talking to fairgoers.
At 3 p.m. on Saturday, fair officials will open a time capsule that was sealed in 1973 inside a Sergeant missile displayed near the Information Center on Grandstand Avenue. It was created as part of the fair’s 60th birthday celebration, and an engraved plaque on the outside instructs that it be opened in 2013.
The fair also will have all the attractions fairgoers have come to expect, including the butter sculpture, train rides, giant pumpkins, stilt walkers, pig races, a comic hypnotist, the Midway, the sky ride, a chainsaw woodcarver, the birthing center and more.