There may be no greater stimulator of all five senses simultaneously than the South Carolina State Fair. Sight, hearing, feel, smell and taste are all bombarded by the delights that have drawn millions to the fairgrounds in Columbia for 150 years.
Fair Executive Director Nancy Smith quoted high school students' comments from applications for an annual scholarship given by the fair. Each year the application contains a special question. "This year the question was 'when you hear the words South Carolina State Fair, what comes to mind?' They said 'when we think of the fair we think of family, we think of tradition and we think of fun.' And that's really what we're all about."
Smith said the tradition includes finding out "what's the new ride, what's the new food, what are the new things going on at the fair, and I think it's just a time that people can come and maybe forget about other things and just have a good time."
Many new features of the sesquicentennial State Fair include a circus, sculptures from Brookgreen Gardens, and partnerships with various organizations including the South Carolina Philharmonic. In addition, historian Rodger Stroup has written a history of the fair, "Meet Me at the Rocket," which will be on sale during the fair's 12-day run. The iconic rocket itself has been a meeting place for families and friends for a half-century now, and has been decorated to resemble a birthday candle in celebration of its 50th year.
Also new this year are new "weird food" the "chili mac attack" and the Celebration Wheel, a giant Dutch ferris wheel making its debut at the fair. The wheel, fittingly, stands 150 feet tall. According to Smith, it took 16 or 17 tractor-trailers to bring it to the fair.
There are many reasons people come to the fair: the rides, the food, the art, the animals, the games. But Stroup said perhaps more than anything, people come for the shared experience. Smith added that as much as has gone into the planning of the 150th anniversary fair, there are always new plans for the future, so South Carolinians can look forward to more food, fellowship and fun every year.
The South Carolina State Fair runs from Oct. 9-20 at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia.