The GPS announced in three miles we would reach our destination and I was overwhelmed with excitement. The car crawled in a procession past large signs proclaiming “Big E” and arrows pointing straight ahead. The day had finally arrived, I was going to the Big E. The Big E or the Eastern States Exposition is one of the largest fairs held today and its history goes all the way back to the early 1900’s. It boasts a wide variety of food, culture, tourism, animals, crafts, history, and much more. Joshua L. Brooks the founder of the exposition started it as a place to educate farmers in new methods of farming. His hope was that this exposition would encourage an interest in farming and thus revive New England’s dwindling agriculture.
Brooks wanted to incorporate all six of the surrounding New England states and had a building built for each of the following: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The collection of state buildings make up what is known as the Avenue of States. Inside each of these buildings it houses crafters, vendors, and tourist information from their respective state. The fair along the way gained more culture by adding nine original historic buildings. Helen Osborn Storrow an exposition trustee and philanthropist decided to search the six surrounding New England states to find original historic buildings. Her vision was to add to the history and culture of the exposition, and thus has helped further the “living history” programs that go on today. The buildings are available for touring and have costumed guides that allow you further understanding about life from 1700s and 1800 era.
As I walked up to the iron gates that surround the grounds the smells and sounds of the fair illuminated me. I could see the bright flashing signs announcing delicious treats, I could hear the clomping of hooves on pavement and I could feel myself turn into a child again. I grabbed a map from the booth and I scoured the many options. I decided I should walk towards the Avenue of States first and then work my way back. I passed dozens of crafters tables located in barns and little cabins along the walk. I passed dozens of fair food trucks, Belgian waffles, stuffed baked potatoes, BBQ, popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes, fried dough and more. When I reached the first building a line had grown outside but we quickly moved in and I could smell the blueberry pies cooking. I had reached the Maine building first. Blueberry pies, seafood chowders and other delights were being offered about the room. After each turn there were more crafts, sweaters, flannel, leather products, and jewelry. It was fascinating to see the many types of products in each building. Vermont had a Ben and Jerry ice cream stand. Rhode Island had local foods like a giant whoopee pie. Connecticut had a Lego station and Dino exhibit inside where most of the children were found. New Hampshire had real maple syrup for sale among artisan cheeses, breads, and beer. The Massachusetts building had apples for sale in bags from local orchards, pies, and cakes. The entire process took about an hour and a half to walk through and with each turn it was hard to resist the kind people leaning over to hand me samples.
I had heard about the spectacular shows the Big E puts on and when I noticed a free circus was going on, I knew I had to go. As I headed to the big top I noticed a small sign: Clyde Reynolds & Brooke Evans “Circus in Miniature.” My curious nature got the better of me and as I stepped inside I was glad this time it had. Surrounding the room were miniature detailed displays of circus scenes. The first display had a wagon parade with several horses frozen in march pulling a circus wagon. A plaque above showed the proud Reynolds positioning his creation. The circus wagon and horses were crafted and painted by Reynolds using pictures and drawings. The remaining buildings, people, and animals were hand crafted and painted by Brooke Evans. The detail captured by both these men add to its enchantment. Miniature men taming lions in cages, circus trains with animals peeking out from the inside, rows of animals marching with bright painted designs. There wasn’t a detail missed in any of the scenes. The little boy holding his balloon and even the grumpy teen waiting at a booth was added to the diorama. Miniature people serving breakfast in tents, and people sitting in the stands under a miniature big top. I left the exhibit excited to watch a real live circus.
While I sat on the bleachers under the large tent I was reminded of seeing the circus when I was a child. Men and women yelling “Popcorn, soda, cotton candy here” surrounded me and as the men set up the high wire I felt a hush go over the crowd. The circus had high wire acts of men and women doing daring tricks with bikes, flips, jumps, and more. There were trained Doberman dogs that came out on a bike in a sidecar. Probably one of my favorite acts was the four women balancing bowls on their heads while riding unicycles. They lined up in a row and one at a time, they would ride the bike with one foot while placing a bowl on the available foot. Then they flipped the bowl up in the air and it would land perfect on the woman’s head next to them. Chinese dancers in two giant gold and red dog costumes. A funny clown act that even made the announcer laugh in spite of himself. A juggler who juggled seven tennis balls so fast while doing flips and jumps they seemed to form one large ball. An areal silk dancer balancing with just his strength alone did flips and spirals while using two long columns of fabric to hold him up. The last act involved a pair of acrobats spinning on an elevated trapeze. As they glided through the air they did splits and balancing acts. I was so impressed by the show that I couldn’t believe it was over.
I was famished and as I ate my big baked potato with veggies piled on top I walked over to where the barns were. I observed large paddocks with beautiful clydesdales, llamas, pigs, goats and rabbits. I gasped at the giant pumpkin contest and was in awe of the carving winner. I walked through the many rows of crafters looking at the homespun detail on many of their products. I managed to make my way over to the amusement part of the fair and gazed up at the large shadow of a ferris wheel. As afraid as I was of ferris wheels I knew this was an experience not to be missed. Armed with my camera in hand I took several shots of the park. When I finally was able to get off the ride I laughed at myself, all that fear for nothing. I decided to make my way over to where the historic buildings were. History was more my thing anyway.
The buildings were amazing from the outside and even more so from the inside. The guides clothed in costumes were adept at commanding your attention. The little school house had a school teacher who enjoyed elating us with its history. It was lucky enough to have a covered stove and not an open fireplace and an indoor necessary or bathroom. The walls were covered in chalk boards and she explained that the small room had ages from four all the way to eighteen. The Captains house across the way was brought to the exposition property piece by piece and was not replicated in any way. They had a blacksmith, and a regular farm house to tour, a quiet little church and others. I liked the historical aspect immensely, it helped me appreciate all the innovations we have had along the way.
The end of the day was closing in and even though I was sad it was over I was happy to have had the experience. I finally understood why the fair was so popular and why people flock to it time and time again. I stood for a few minutes and admired the marching band playing various songs with majorettes. The band began to file out while still playing the drums and as it left I took that as my cue to head out too. I took one last look at the signs and one last smell of the food and smiled. Until next year Big E, I will definitely be seeing you again.♥
The historical information about the Big E was found on the website. If you would like to do some research of your own about it for a potential trip the website is great. http://www.thebige.com/ese/about/history/