When I called the Walmart in New Albany to confirm the availability of discount tickets to the Indiana State Fair, the employee with whom I spoke seemed a bit surprised. I got the impression the phone wasn't exactly ringing off the hook with people looking for fair tickets.
The fair, which is held in Indianapolis, may seem distant to some residents of Southern Indiana, but that wasn't always the case. In fact, the fair was held in New Albany in 1859.
In 1851 - the same year the state constitution was approved - the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation that led to the establishment of the fair the following year, making Indiana the sixth state to begin holding an agricultural fair. The first fair was held in what is now Military Park in downtown Indianapolis.
New Albany was one of five cities other than Indianapolis to host the fair before the Indiana State Fairgrounds opened in 1892. The others were Lafayette (1853), Madison (1854), Fort Wayne (1865) and Terre Haute (1867).
The Indiana State Fair is a big deal, and big is a recurring theme at the 17-day event, which starts Friday and runs through Aug. 22.
The fair attracts big crowds. Last year set an attendance record with 973,902 visitors. Fairgoers can expect big fun and big spectacles. For example, last year's winner of the Giant Pumpkin Contest weighed in at 1,145 pounds, and that wasn't even the heaviest entry at the fair. The winner of the World's Largest Male Hog crown tipped the scales at 1,175 pounds.
Pigs of all sizes will be prominent at this year's fair. It's the Year of Pigs presented by Indiana Pork, the trade association of the state's 3,000 pork farmers. According to the association, Indiana is the fifth largest producer of pork in the United States, contributing more than $3 billion annually to the state's economy. In fact, there are more pigs than people in Indiana. With a human population of approximately 6.4 million, Indiana marketed about 8 million pigs last year.
In addition to agriculture, the fair will highlight other important parts of Indiana's economy and culture.
My wife, Amy, who teaches Japanese (along with French and Spanish) at the elementary level, is looking forward to the Bridges to Japan exhibit. Created in partnership with the Japan-America Society of Indiana and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the exhibit will present both traditional and contemporary Japan and the close ties the country has with Indiana. It will feature performances, cultural demonstrations and food.
Bridges are another theme at this year's fair. To mark the 100th anniversary of Scouting, a new 71-foot long bridge of Indiana hardwood lumber will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Aug. 15, which is Boy Scouts of America Day at the fair. Scouts will use the bridge and an encampment area year-round.
Here are just a few of the many other special days and events:
Band Day Competition - Friday: The fair kicks off with an all-day band contest.
World's Largest Drive-Thru Breakfast - 6-8 a.m. Aug. 13: For $3, receive a beef and egg burrito and coffee, juice or milk. Your vehicle will also receive a drink - a gallon of E10 (10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline).
Giant Hot Air Balloon Race - Aug. 14: The balloons will lift off just after dawn. There will be a Night Glow the evening before the race, during which visitors can walk among the inflated balloons.
Traditional Arts Indiana State Fair Fiddle Contest - 9 a.m. Aug. 14: Indiana's best fiddlers compete on the stage while showcasing styles from bluegrass to old-time to western swing.
Old-Fashioned Pancake Breakfast - 7:30-9:30 a.m. Aug. 18: Indiana Farm Bureau will help fairgoers start their day off right with a pancakes, sausage, veal bacon and juice, milk or coffee. Cost is a $3 donation to the Indiana FFA Foundation.
Honoring our Armed Forces & Veterans Day - Aug. 19: All military personnel, veterans and their families will be admitted free.
ABATE of Indiana Motorcycle Day & Tribute Town - Aug. 19: ABATE stands for American Bikers Aimed Toward Education. The day will include displays, a People's Choice Bike Show and concerts.
Open Car Show - 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 22: Come see some of the best classic cars, hot rods and Corvettes lined up along Main Street.
A full schedule is available at www.indianastatefair.com. Even if you don't plan to visit the fair, you should visit the website. It even features pig jokes. (What is a crafty pig called? A CunningHAM). If you would like a paper copy of the fair program, call my office at 1-800-382-9841.
Fair admission is $8 (children 5 and younger are free); $7 discount tickets are available at Walmart and Indiana Farm Bureau offices. A $25 fair admission and midway ride combination pass is available at Walmart until Sunday. The wristband is good for unlimited rides during special hours on certain days.
There are several other good deals:
· A $5 coupon book - available in the fair's gift shop - includes more than $100 in discounts on everything from corndogs to sunglasses.
· On both Tuesdays of the fair - Aug. 10 and 17 - admission is $2, compliments of Turkey Hill Dairy with voucher printed from www.turkeyhill.com/indianastatefair. Food vendors will be offering $2 servings all day long.
· BMV Carload Day is Aug. 16. Admission is $15 per vehicle for up to 10 people with voucher printed from www.mybmv.in.gov.
· All seniors - age 55 and older - can ride the tractor shuttles around the fairgrounds for $3 a day when they purchase a special wristband. On Golden Hoosiers' Day, Aug. 17, seniors can ride the shuttles for free.
With so many discounts, there's no excuse not to plan a trip to the Indiana State Fair. Go ahead, pig out!