For 100 years, New England has been blessed to have a celebration like no other. It’s an annual exhibition of New England’s finest in agriculture, crafts, music and more that draws crowds from all over to compete in various activities, participate in parades, feast on some of the best fair foods around and dance the night away to the music of some well known artists. This year, we honor its 100th celebration here in Springfield, Massachusetts, and, already, it is breaking record attendance.
I remember attending once as a child. A close friend of my mother’s, whom we endearingly called “Auntie Joy,” was very faithful in trying to immerse my two sisters and me in various cultural activities. I have vague memories of her taking me to the Big E when I was about the age my youngest son is now, but never knew how much I would cherish those even vague memories until I brought my own family to this event. I can close my eyes and picture quilts, horses and maple sugar candy as the highlights of that particular trip when I was young. So, when I pass each of those items now…I remember “Auntie Joy” fondly (sadly, she passed away from cancer just under 20 years ago….and I miss her more every time I think about her).
When we moved back to New England as a family of five in 2012, four of us attended the Big E (formally called the Eastern States Exposition) and that had been the first time for everyone except me (I was too nervous to take our son with food allergies at that point). I was proud in a way to be able to share a piece of my history with them and everyone had a fantastic time. Unfortunately, timing didn’t allow us to return until this year and, this go-round, we ALL went to enjoy the festivities.
So, I’m crazy. I knew it was opening night of the centennial celebration and that the crowds were going to be atrocious. It didn’t stop me, however. I thought it would be a memory in the making to attend and enjoy the excitement of opening day. It would give me something to write about in a time-frame that would perhaps allow someone nearby to decide to make this a part of their own history. It was also both “kid’s price” night and military night, providing at least my now retired army hubby the opportunity to enter for free with his ID card. There are various “special” nights throughout the 17 day exhibition (click here for a list) that allow for discounts, as well as a pass that can be purchased allowing access every day the fair is open.
We arrived late afternoon, so the fair had been going on for about six hours by that point. The crowds were immense and there were lines for traffic and lines at the ticket booth to enter, but they seemed to dissipate, or at least spread throughout the fairgrounds, as we passed through security. At that point, we had to make a decision: rides, animals, crafts or food. I knew at least three of us were hungry, two had to go to the bathroom and two (yes, there is an overlap) were eager to ride the crazy fair rides that give this momma a heart attack every time she sees one start up.
We headed over to the animals first – primarily because there were bathrooms in that general vicinity. We headed into the building that had sheep and cows. Yes, in the farm-a-rama buildings, there is a certain aroma that fills the air, but it’s natural. It’s part of the experience. It helps to solidify the memory in your senses.
Side note – as most of my homeschooling friends know, fairs are a tremendous place for learning!! There were educational plaques everywhere and opportunities galore to watch sheep being sheered, cows being milked, etc. All across the fairgrounds were lessons in the making.
From there, we decided that the best thing to do would be to let the older two get their “ride fix.” For $28, they purchased a colored paper bracelet (the color changes each day, I believe) and were able to ride as many rides as they wanted. Each individual ticket was approximately $1.25 and a lot of these rides require between four and seven tickets, so this bracelet made the most sense. The rides designed for younger visitors were usually around two tickets per rider. The ticket price breakdown this year , otherwise, is as follows:
- 1 Coupon – $1.25
- 22 Coupons – $25
- 55 Coupons – $60
The two older ones rode six or more rides within a time span of about an hour or so, jumping like crazy kids between each one as if they were visiting Walt Disney World for the first time. The lines at that point were short, which was part of our thinking (as well as giving them no reason to complain when we wanted to explore more educational exhibits). Now, I am not going to lie. My momma heart is always nervous watching these temporary attractions operate. Fair rides are not my favorite and I have terrible memories of hurting my neck on one when I attended a county fair while living in Northern New York. However, the Big E rides have always seemed to work well and appear safe. It took some strength for me to let them ride a certain few of them – particularly Speed (which had them suspended hundreds of feet in the air for what seemed like forever – minutes, really). Nonetheless, they survived and appeared very grateful that I let go and let them be boys….for once.
Time to eat!
As the sun set and night crept in, the crowds grew around the rides, as did the lines. More smoke and slightly intoxicated visitors began to surround the attractions, so that was when we agreed it was time to go eat. We had already packed a fun dinner for our youngest, knowing that we were not going to take chances. (PS – whenever we go out and are unsure of food allergy preparations, we pack a meal that includes some of his favorites and a few special items to make him smile). The older two and my hubby knew exactly what they going to get, as did I. The Big E is famous for a few particular food items: the Big-E Cream Puff and the Craz-E Burger. We had enjoyed the Cream Puff a few years ago, but were not eager this year to get one. This year, the boys were craving the Craz-E Burger – a thin bacon cheeseburger nestled in between a glazed donut bun. Yup – a glazed donut! The lines were moderate for this, so the youngest and I went to find a table and the others grabbed their meals. The burger was smaller than I had anticipated, but the boys were happy. I took a bite to say I tasted it. It was good – sweet, the burger cooked well. It wasn’t as messy as I had anticipated. The boys were satisfied and they were able to check that off their bucket list of food items to try in their lifetime.
Me? I have one food item I must get every time I visit the Big E. It’s something to which I was introduced by “Auntie Joy” during that first Big E experience so many years ago (but it certainly made an impact on my taste buds’ memories)…and something that is so hard to find elsewhere! I love my fried dough with marinara sauce and grated parm! What??? Yeah – I know. I have lived all over this country because of my hubby’s job and nearly every vendor at every state or county fair selling fried dough has stared at me with confusion. Marina sauce on fried dough?? Absolutely! There is no other way to have it! My favorite and tonight did not disappoint!
I just want to add a quick little note for those with food allergies. We are a very overcautious family when it comes to trusting foods are safe for our little guy and we had already had a discussion with him about foods offered at fairs such as this. The good news is that there are signs in various places that warn those with food allergies whether or not it would be safe to consume that vendor’s food items. The bad news is that…most of them say these foods should be avoided.
Avenue of the States
After enjoying something to eat, we made our way over to the Avenue of the States. On the property, there are six buildings that represent the six states located in New England: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Each houses foods, clothing and other items for which that state is well known – though apparently every single one of them seems to think they are famous for maple sugar and potatoes. Some of the buildings even house various forms of entertainment to entice the crowds. During our exploration of the state buildings, our oldest discovered apple cider doughnuts being sold between the Connecticut and Vermont buildings – a half dozen for $5….he thought he had found heaven! It was a task trying to keep him from eating all of them in one night! We were able to get through each of the buildings before they closed at 9 PM. So take note – the state buildings close earlier than the fair itself.
Crafts, Animals, Demos ~ Oh, my!
At that point, darkness had taken over and some of us were beginning to experience leg fatigue, so we thought it would be best to start making our way towards the exit. We made use of our time, though, by walking through the other multiple buildings that housed craft vendors, product demonstrations, more animals and various other types of booths and exhibits. Musical entertainment filled the streets and is a big part of the nightlife at the fair. We saw the Budweiser Clydesdales, as well as llamas and alpacas (it’s fun to find out what makes them different), enjoyed available samples and strolled through a section that detailed the 100 year old history of the Eastern States Exposition. It’s fascinating to see how it has changed over the years and yet stayed the same. It has drawn over 66,000,000 visitors over the century. Simply astonishing!
The Big E seems to be a well-oiled machine – running every year successfully with a schedule of events that operates like clockwork. This year, the exposition runs from September 16th through October 2nd. If you have opportunity to visit Western New England and attend this amazing expo, be sure to check the website for what is going on that day.
- Music: Famous artists such as Maren Morris, Lee Brice, Elle King, and Blood, Sweat & Tears to grace this year’s XFinity Area and the Court of Honor stages.
- Competitions: Sheep sheering, horse shows, dairy judging, youth working steer, creative arts, Christmas trees and more.
- Agriculture: Wine and Cheese Barn, farm to family table and various other agricultural experiences.
- Parades: State parades
- Rides: Thrill rides, fun houses and kiddie rides alike.
- Craft vendors and product demonstrations: A wide variety of rugs, ornaments, collectibles, product demonstrations and more.
- Food: Cultural foods, Craz-E burger, Cream Puffs and standard fair options.
And so much more!!
Happy birthday, Eastern States Exposition! Here’s wishing you 100 more years of celebrating culture, family, hard work and community!
Until the next set of footprints…T