Childhood Memories of the Virginia State Fair

The Virginia State Fair is one of the oldest events in Virginia. Inaugurated in 1854, this annual event has become well known for its contests, which include a SPAM competition, an equestrian competition, and a “Mutton Bustin” competition. This annual event causes happiness for some, but for others, it raises a question: How have I lost all of my money, and we just got here?

When you first arrive to the State Fair as a young child, happiness rises as you drive past the Ferris wheel and the many games designed to take your parents’ money. You get to the ticket counter, eager to get inside and get a whiff of that circus-like atmosphere.

But as an adult, you see the price for tickets: $15 per person (adult) and $10 for 13 years old and younger. At $15 per person, the State Fair makes a fortune at the ticket counter. The last time the fair released their attendance data was in 2014, and they recorded 238,000 people had attended the fair while it was open. So if 238,000 people attend the fair, and 75% of the people who go to the fair are adults, that adds up to almost three million dollars, not counting the money spent during the fair itself. When asked about revenue, cost, and attendance numbers from 2016, a spokesperson for the Virginia State Fair said that “they would not be releasing those numbers ever” due to privacy concerns.

To enter the fair, you walk through a tunnel, dodging the vendors peddling kettle corn and cotton candy, and you arrive at a dilemma. To the left there are games and rides, which will likely result in an empty wallet. While wandering the fairgrounds, you will enjoy long lines, fried Oreos, and a poorly-made blooming onion. To the right is the Farm Bureau educational area, completely dedicated to teaching students about what it’s like to be a farmer, what corn feels like, the different types of corn, everything you’ve ever wanted to know about soybeans, and whether a 9470RX John Deere tractor is a worthwhile investment. 

When I was in middle school, I thought the fair was where my teachers would take me to have fun. But there was an underlying motive to have us learn about the last 150 years of Virginia’s agricultural changes. So on my most recent visit, my friends and I stayed to the left, and I got to re-experience something totally new and different. I enjoyed going to the fair, despite the fact that I arrived with $60 dollars and a Sweet Frog gift card and left with only the same Sweet Frog gift card.

The first place we went to was the ticket counter. The 20-minute wait was almost worth the $50 of tickets. The first ride we rode was called the The Galaxy Wheel. For five minutes, we spun sideways at high speeds. After the ride stopped, I tried to jump off in an attempt at coolness. I immediately regretted it. The ride had left me so disoriented and dizzy that I tripped and almost went headfirst into the speaker next to the ride. Thankfully, I managed to collect myself before that happened.

The second ride I went on were the swings. These were not your usual playground swings. The swings spin you around and take you high enough in the air that you can see the entire fairground. If you have been to any amusement park, you probably will not be fazed by the ride. By this time it was almost 9:30 at night. Because of the length of the lines, I only had time for one last ride. I chose the Ferris wheel. This iconic ride was a great way to top off the night filled with smells from the petting zoo and projectile vomiting for the people who actually tried the blooming onion. Even though I left without any of my money, I can honestly say that the fair was a unique experience.

All photos by Ellis Henderson.

About the author

Ellis Henderson is a Junior at Collegiate.