No Pumpkin Spice Hush Puppies This Year: 3 Things Besides Coronavirus that Cancelled the State Fair

The NC State Fair in 2017. (Image via NC State Fair)

By Max Millington

August 17, 2020

North Carolinians face a fall without the annual state fair for the first time since World War II. 

No one could have predicted the NC State Fair would have its first cancellation since World War II when planning for the centuries-old fair started up last November.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has struck down numerous public events throughout the country and, last month, officials decided a state fair that follows CDC and NC DHHS recommendations was not possible.

This means many North Carolinians will miss out on ferris wheels, pony rides, ring tosses, culinary treats like pumpkin spice hushpuppies and NC State’s speciality ice cream

“We waited as long as we could, hoping the numbers would take a turn and we’d be able to continue with our planning, but each day brought more challenges than solutions,” stated a NC State Fair press release about the fair held in Raleigh annually.

The last cancellation of the fair nearly 80 years ago, like this year’s, was the result of a worldwide crisis. The fair was also cancelled during World War I in 1918, and also from 1861 to 1868 during the Civil War and Reconstruction.  RaeLana Poteat, a curator at the NC Museum of History, said many Americans had a singular focus in the early ‘40s that attending the state fair didn’t square with. “People were working to support the war effort,” Poteat told Cardinal & Pine

Starting in 1940, military base construction became a lucrative industry in the state, providing important economic benefits following The Great Depression, according to NC Digital History. This economic recovery helped the fair to see record-breaking attendance in 1941. Despite this success, the state’s focus was on providing materials and man-power for the war effort, according to Poteat. 

Though fair broke attendance records in 2017 and 2018, fair officials say this year’s cancellation was a no-brainer given the seriousness of the pandemic.

“We really didn’t make a decision,” said NC State Fair Manager Kent Yelverton. “It was so apparent at the time what was the right thing to do.” 

Yelverton says the state fair internally polled 2019 fairgoers last month and when asked if they planned to attend the fair this year, 60% reported they would be hesitant to attend. The NC State Fair officially announced the cancellation on July 29th. 

While fairgoers can still see cattle, horses, chicks, sheep, and harvests from various farms, the present-day state fair is more commonly associated with food, rides, and games. 

“The state fair is all about agriculture and learning about agriculture. At the time of the 1940 census, the state was about 27% urban and 73% rural and that’s basically totally flipped by 2010. So we’re much more urban today than we were then,” said Poteat.  

Despite the cancellation, the fair hopes to hold smaller-scale events at the state fairgrounds, both for agriculture enthusiasts and for the general public to get their annual NC State Fair fix.

“We will be continuing with the junior livestock shows. Those youth that have raised and prepared their animals for the 2020 North Carolina State Fair will still have that opportunity,” said Yelverton. 

Fans of state fair delicacies like funnel cake and turkey legs will be able to enjoy them at drive-thru fair food days, which were introduced last month

Fairgoers will have to wait until October 14, 2021 to enjoy the full fair experience. Yelverton told Cardinal & Pine: “Everybody’s going to be ready, we’re going to be ready as we put two years of energy and two years of support into one event. Watch out it’s going to be big!”

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