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The State Fair of Texas: Weird Things You Never Knew

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It’s not all cotton candy, cattle, and concerts at the State Fair of Texas. There’s a long and sometimes weird history to go with it.

Someone Died On the Very First Opening Day in 1888
One person died on a rollercoaster the very first day ever the State Fair of Texas was open.

The Two-Headed Woman in 1891
Siamese, aka conjoined, twins Millie and Christine, billed as ‘Millie Christine,” appeared at the fair as the ‘two-headed woman.’

Whale of a Time in 1897
Except not for the whale. The 80,000 lb. wonder was the featured exhibit. How, you say? It was dead and displayed with barrels and barrels of embalming fluid.

Feeding Headhunters in 1905
A ‘headhunting’ (and we don’t mean the kind who recruit great jobs for you) tribe from Igorrote Village on the Philippine Island of Luzon came and spent a few weeks entertaining spectators by performing daily chores and holding spear-throwing contests. Part of the deal was the State Fair supplying the headhunters with their evening meal, for which the fair supplied three large dogs every day. Dogs. We know. This is the worst.

Dallas is Dry in 1917
Shuffling in the Prohibition Era, Dallas was voted a dry city in September of this year, so non-alcoholic beer was sold at the fair.

Can You Hear Me Now? Began in 1921
The strangest exhibit this year belonged to the Bell Telephone Company. The first loudspeaker debuted with eight wooden horns on a tower, carrying sounds from the “remarkable voice-carrying apparatus.” This year on Kids’ Day, nearly 3,000 kids got their 15 minutes of fame by reporting themselves lost and having their names announced on the fancy new loudspeaker.

Wednesday, October 24, 1923 was Ku Klux Klan Day
150,000 people attended the fair this day. Klansmen came from all over Oklahoma and Texas to attend. Supporters proudly displayed badges as they roamed throughout the fair; rodeo star Yakima Canutt even performed his act while wearing Klan regalia. A crowd of 25,000 watched as 5,631 KKK candidates were initiated, followed by the burning of crosses and a parade through downtown Dallas.

Fletcher’s Corny Dogs: The Legend Begins in 1942
Brothers Neil and Carl Fletcher serve the first Fletcher’s corny dogs this year and, believe it or not, they had to give them away at first because no one was buying. But once the samplers got a taste, they were hooked and the rest is history.
A snack the former Vaudeville brothers remembered from their touring days, the deep-fried treat enjoyed early names like ‘Brown Bomber,’ ‘K-9,’ ‘Meal-On-A-Stick,’ and ‘French-Fried Hot Dogs.’ These days, the only fighting over the proper name comes from those who say ‘Corny Dog’ and those who (mistakenly) called them ‘Corn Dogs.’

Elsie Rules in 1946
Although Jackie Gleason and Gypsy Rose Lee were world famous celebrities entertaining fairgoers this year, the longest lines by far were for those waiting to see Elsie the Borden cow in her first State Fair of Texas appearance.

Memphis, Texas Band Student Killed, Others Hurt on Sky Wheel in 1955
A seat on the Sky Wheel broke loose, causing three teenage girls to fall through the ride’s framework and killing one of them, a 15-year-old.

Two Gondolas Fall in 1979, Killing 1 and Injuring 15
On the last day of the fair, several gondolas on the Skyride got stuck in the air before plummeting to the Midway, killing one person and injuring 15 others. This prompted the removal of the Skyride.

Fairgoers Watch in Horror as 1 Person Is Killed on The Enterprise in 1983
A car carrying three people spun several times — with passengers screaming — as it disengaged from The Enterprise before crashing 50 feet to the ground and landing upside down — shattering on a crowd of people between another ride and a root beer stand. One rider was killed while his brother and another rider in the car were seriously injured.

Source (and highly recommended reading): The Great State Fair of Texas: An Illustrated History by Nancy Wiley.

Whats the weirdest thing that ever happened to you at the State Fair of Texas?

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