The oldest fair in the nation, maybe in the world, started new this year with a new fair queen, new acts, new rides and new entertainers.
Nicole McCord, a young woman from Delta, Pa. was selected after the queen contest was coordinated by a former 4H-er who suggested to fair general manager Mike Froehlich that the fair should have a queen. McCord reigned throughout the event that ran from Sept. 6 through Sept. 15.
But the queen wasn't the only thing new at the York Inter-State Fair. There were helicopter rides and a huge parade in honor of those who were hurt or killed in the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
People jumped into airbags and a strongman contest returned from last year, stronger than ever. A parade with a 9-11 theme was probably one of the most pleasing events of the fair, Froehlich said. It stretched from one end of the grounds to the grandstand, and the participation was amazing.
"We're thinking about doing something similar to this every year," he said. "Maybe we'll do it for Korea one year, for Desert Storm the next, on the recent conflicts in the Middle East."
The York Fair has plenty of history to play on.
This fair started in 1765, eleven years before the United States was founded. In the beginning, it was a two-day agricultural market on the town commons, known as Penn Park.
In 1865, a group of prominent agricultural leaders formed the York County Agricultural Society for the purpose of making the fair a three-day event. In 1856, the society purchased a new fairground of seven acres.
Meanwhile, in 1862, when the Civil War was going on, injured soldiers from Antietam were brought in and a hospital was established on the fairgrounds. The fair was closed until 1865.
In 1888, the society purchased land and moved the fair to the 73-acre site that was eventually expanded to become the current York County/York Expo Center property.
As tastes in entertainment evolved, the fair added horse races, dancers, strong man competitions and other entertainment. The fair expanded to five days in 1926. In 1942, it moved from October to September. In 1975, it grew to nine days.
The fair was underway on Sept. 11, 200l, when the terrorist attacks occurred and remained open, after a decision made by the board of directors, as a celebration of American culture. Fair attendance this year was a little down because of unseasonably hot weather and thunderstorm threats at midweek, said Froehlich. In all, 587,866 people came through the main gates.
The admission cost was $8 for adults, $4 for children over the age of six and students. Parking was $7.
"We kind of said every day was for students," said Froehlich. The special price included those over age 18, if they had a school identification.
Admissions may have been down a little, but the food sales were up by 8.4 percent. Fairgoers ate the traditional fair menu like funnel cakes, corn dogs and burgers, but they also ate the new offerings, like a cheese burger wedged between two Krispy Kreme donuts. You could have that with or without chocolate-covered bacon. Apparently, the treat went over well, and people went back for thirds and fourths.
There were also a powdered sugar covered, deep fried gummy bears. The bear was about 5 inches tall and fairly low in calories.
"We also added roasted corn," said Froehlich. "They sold 750 ears in an hour."
The free entertainment that came with fair admission was extremely popular, said Froehlich, especially the Royal Hanneford Circus, featured daily. The circus provided high-flying motorcycles that kept adults and children alike on the edge of their seats. It also had trained house cats that walked tight ropes and climbed poles. The cats are trained by the Panfilov family.
There were camels to pet, feed and to ride, and an enclosure filled with parakeets where you could go inside and interact with the colorful birds.
Another popular act was Mac's Family Jam that featured a mom, dad and three musical boys. The family rode through the fairgrounds on a golf cart pulling a lighted wagon behind, singing and playing music.
You could also jump into a 50' by 50' airbag and hope you landed safely. People who chose to take the chance had to sign a waiver, Froehlich said. They were first required to jump from a platform about eight feet in the air and then moved up to a platform 27 feet above the ground. The U.S. Airbags were a very popular attraction.
On the midway, ride revenue increased over last year by about four percent. The midway, presented by Deggeller Attractions, was in their third year with the fair. Deggeller is based in Stuart, Fla. The display featured 50 rides, games and food stands. Deggeller debuted its Mind Bender roller coaster, a Wild Mouse style coasted that the show purchased from South of the Border Amusement Park in Hamer, South Carolina. The coaster had been fully restored by Deggeller Attractions and racked for transport.
The advertising budget for the fair was around $200,000, said Froehlich. He used radio, television, newspapers, billboards and some social media.
"Those electronic billboards are great," he added.
Entertainment was more than cats, camels and parakeets. Although people lined up for those attractions, they also came for Florida Georgia Line, a country rap duo of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. The concert was sold out.
Halestrom, from the York area, also performed, at a cost of $29. There was the Marshal Tucker Band, at $30, and Alan Jackson, at $49.
Also amazingly popular was the strongman contest, Froehlich said. Last year, the event attracted a total of 12 entries. This year, more than 80 contenders stepped forward.
York is located in south central Pennsylvania, about 50 miles west of Baltimore. One of the most difficult things about organizing the fair is staying true to the agricultural traditions, said Froehlich. The fair managed to do that. There was a birthing barn, livestock exhibits and competitions. The 4H and Future Farmers of America livestock sales brought in $151,000, more than the $131,000 brought in last year. The money goes to the young owners of the animals and the proceeds are most often used to help with college tuition.
The 2014 York Fair will be held from Sept. 5 through Sept. 14