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Dust Bowl Exposition

I knew I wouldn’t come back but I got my hand stamped anyway. 

Crossing the avenue, and we were on our way home. The hot afternoon sun baking the asphalt as we walked by a line of parked cars. Past the church we went. The curved street cooled down under big, leafy trees. A little bit more now, no more trees, it’s straight under the sun until we get to the front door. A little bit longer and I can enjoy the rest of this milkshake on the cool patio of my grandmother’s back porch.

In August this was my ritual and what I wish I could return to.  It was the end of the summer and the end of the State Fair. There wouldn’t be another real vacation until Thanksgiving; those teacher inservice days never count. 

The final walk home from the State Fair for the season was my end of the summer. It was the last time to feel the bright and ineffable sun. The days would be shorter now. The sun would color everything differently. The hot and dry summer air would have a tinge of cool with it. 

I loved this final day of summer. Labor Day was really just the end of the Fair and the end of the Fair was the end of summer. I’m not sure I ever missed or wanted the State Fair to come, but I liked the idea of it. Ice cream, fireworks, the smell of livestock, the taffy machine that would spin and spin. I miss the mini Rainbo bread loaves. Even the sight of ‘Bessie’ there to greet you as you walked into the Fair from the west gate. 

It was always the same. As a kid, I didn’t care. I didn’t know better. Country singers just show up and play and people buy tickets. There’s a rodeo and a bunch of cheap things to buy. It’s all the same. 

To this day the Colorado State Fair is still the same. And every year Colorado debates its worth being in Pueblo. 

As much as I love what the State Fair represented to me, as hard as this is to admit, the Fair was never great. It was just something to do. It might not have always been that way but it is that way now. And unlike politicians from Denver, I love what the Colorado State Fair is supposed to represent. I just don’t like what it has become. The Fair like many other things in Southern Colorado is an homage to what once was but no longer is. 

Like the World’s Fair, the Colorado State Fair and Exposition was the showcase of Colorado. People from all over the state would descend on Pueblo. Farmers and ranchers to see and share the latest technology. The ribbon winners of the county fairs would bring their best to pit against other ribbon winners. 

The Dust Bowl is over but its buildings are still standing on Beulah Avenue as relics to what once was. Two Colorados are being formed, the one that we will become and the one that fails to reinvent the past—saving our agrarian future. And Pueblo, the should-be center of the state during the Fair, nearly has to shut down because Colorado doesn’t even support its own State Fair. This economic driver then drives Pueblo to close. 

The answer of course is to move the State Fair. Not to Denver. Denver would never appreciate it enough to value it. No politician is worth his/her salary who thinks it’s a better solution to move an institution than to fix the institution. Would these same politicians think that to fix the University of Colorado’s football program, they should hire John Wristen and move the Buffaloes to Pueblo? If location is of no importance, why not just move the pieces of the state around. Boulder is the reason for the Buffs losing seasons. If they can’t win in Boulder they should move to Pueblo where we have a winning football program. 

None of these ludicrous ideas will fly because every summer So. Co. has kept the Colorado State Fair going. Not Denver. Not Ft. Collins. Not Grand Junction. Every year we support it, maybe out of honor or even boredom but always out of complete reverence for what the Colorado State Fair should be—the nostalgia of a true Colorado’s Fair. 

To keep the Fair here, it must be moved, not away from Pueblo, not away from agriculture but to nostalgia. Away from this idea, that for ten days, cheap stalls selling cheap trinkets with overpriced food and beer is what attracts people. Colorado, yes we are bored with it too. 

The answer is to return these ten or so days to the original idea of what state expositions should be. The best technology. The best food. The best entertainment. What if the fair wasn’t ten days of uninspiring vendors but a month-long celebration of Colorado that consumes Colorado. From the best companies, to the best hamburger joints, to the best musicians, to the best breweries, and yes, as it is already, to the best cornbread, the best livestock, and the best arts and crafts. 

If we want to end the yearly ritual of saving the State Fair, the State Fair needs to be a yearly ritual of promoting the best of Colorado by the state of Colorado. 

(Photo Denver Public Library | Western History Collection)

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