Ohio State Fair: Fair Food and Interesting Displays

Last week Tom and I spent the day at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.  Both of us have attended the Ohio State Fair off and on during our whole lives.  Tom went every year when he was a kid living in Columbus.  I went when I was in grade school because I was in 4-H and often did demonstrations or presented projects at the State Fair.  In 1976 I was a member of the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Symphony and lived and played in concerts during the two weeks of the fair.

Me with some members of the All-Ohio State Fair Orchestra in 1976

Tom and I attended the Ohio State Fair together during our married life in Ohio.  When my nephews were in 4-H we would attend when they were presenting a project or demonstration.  We didn’t go every year, but we went often enough to feel nostalgic about going this year.  And, after two years of being closed to visitors, the Ohio State Fair was open to everyone.

Cardinal at the 17th Street entrance

We met our friend, Chris Ferlinc, at the fair.  Chris’s daughter, Jill, works for Ohio Sea Grant, a research consortium out of Ohio State University.  Jill was working at the fair that day and Chris accompanied her.  All the public parking is at the north end of the fairgrounds.  Jill and her booth were at the south end of the fairgrounds.  Tom and I parked, paid the Senior admission fee of $8 each, and walked all the way through the fair to the Department of Natural Resources Park where Jill’s booth was located.  As we walked, we noted the locations of things we wanted to come back to see.

Chris, Me, and Tom with Smoky Bear

The Ohio State Fair started in 1850.  For the first 36 years, it was held in various locations.  The current fairgrounds was dedicated in 1886 and has been home to the fair every year since.  In 1894 the fair hosted a college football tournament with Denison University, Miami University, Wittenberg University, Buchtel and Ohio State University participating.  Guess who won that tournament.  Would you believe Wittenberg?

In 1896, the Ohio State Fair became the first fair with an electric lighting system. This made it possible to offer night-time racing. Also this year, horseless vehicles made their first appearance at the Ohio State Fair.  The first Butter Cow and Calf were featured at the Fair in 1903.  The butter cow continues to be one of the most popular features of the fair.  The sculptors use real butter but it is butter that is past its expiration date, so it would otherwise be thrown out.

This year’s butter cow

The Ohio State Fair was suspended during World War I and World War II,  It was also closed in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The All-Ohio Boys Band started in 1925.  It is now called the All-Ohio State Fair Band and includes both boys and girls.  The All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir started in 1963 and is still going strong.  The All-Ohio State Fair Orchestra probably started about this time, but after 20 years or so, it was disbanded.  I couldn’t even find a history of it on the internet.

The Junior Fair formed in 1929.  Ohio is proud to host the nation’s largest Junior Fair with more than 17,000 youth participating. In the same year, the Ohio State Fair Junior Fair Board was formed. The Junior Fair Board is made up of outstanding individuals from various youth organizations including 4-H, Future Farmers of AmericaGirl Scouts of the USABoy Scouts of America, and Farm Bureau Youth, and others.

In 1990, the condemned Ohio State Fair Grandstand was demolished. The Celeste Center replaced it as the site for the Fair’s big-name entertainment, as well as a venue for many Expo events each year.  Big name entertainers have performed in the Celeste Center such as Willie Nelson, Rascal Flats, Weird Al Yankovic, and The Oak Ridge Boys.

K-9 Conservation officers
Corn dogs!
Sheep judging
Central Ohio Weavers Guild
More butter sculptures

After meeting Chris we wandered around the fairgrounds.  We walked through the animal barns and watched some sheep judging.  Seeing the animals is my favorite part of the fair.  We were a little disappointed that there weren’t any horses at the fair.  All of the horse shows take place before the Ohio State Fair and then the horses go home.  Someone told me that horses were too big a liability to have at the fair.  But we saw lots of cows, sheep, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and turkeys.

It was a really hot day at the fair, close to 90 and very humid, so we enjoyed the air-conditioned buildings.  The only place that felt crowded at all was the “Taste of Ohio” building where every table was full at lunchtime.  Otherwise we didn’t encounter any lines.

One of the things I really look forward to is fair food.  Tom and I decided we would throw all our dietary restrictions to the winds and eat whatever we felt like that looked or sounded good.  My first treat was a chocolate covered frozen banana.  It is my absolute favorite fair food.  We also got corn dogs.  We were planning on getting other food, but fried stuff just sounded too heavy for such a hot day.  The corn dogs,  cold drinks, and my frozen banana ended up being our only fair food.  Not such a splurge after all.

Aside from the animals and the food, we strolled through Kasich Hall to see the various exhibits, the Rhodes Building to see the 4-H displays which were not on display, the Fine Arts Building, and the Land and Living Building.  We saw the butter sculptures, which celebrated 4-H animals and checked out the Marketplace.  Our second time at the Natural Resources Park we watched a K-9 conservation officer working with her human.  I also spotted the display by the Central Ohio Weaving Guild, which I joined in May.  We got the map and entertainment guide when we entered and Tom kept us oriented as we walked through.  By the time we left we had walked back and forth at the fair three times and saw most of the things we thought would be interesting.

Fairground map

The fair wasn’t busy.  Most of the booths had no lines.  We watched a conservation movie as the only people in the theater.  When we walked by the AEP booth, the people working there begged us to come in and get a picture taken in a service bucket.  Chris and I climbed in together and got a print out to put on our refrigerators with an AEP magnet.

Chris and me in the AEP bucket

Tom and I enjoyed our day at the Ohio State Fair very much.  We enjoyed seeing Chris and meeting Jill again.  I think the last time we saw Jill she was 4 or 5 years old.  The Ohio State Fair is a great state fair.  If you missed it this year, be sure to mark it on your calendar for next year.