Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Fair connects Whitman, community

When people pour in from out of town, parking becomes impossible and cowboy look-alikes become commonplace, it all points to one thing. The Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days is back for yet another year.

The annual event took place this past weekend––the Labor Day holiday that Whitman does not celebrate. Permeating the event, which was located at the fairgrounds near Lincoln Park, were a 4-H exposition, carnival rides and games, a rodeo and never-ending greasy fair food. Whitman students could be sighted moving between attractions and seated at the evening rodeos.

Distance from campus and the expenses of going to the fair do not seem to hold Whitties back from enjoying a piece of Walla Walla history; the fair as a tradition goes back to a time before Whitman College existed.

The first annual Fair of Washington Territory Agricultural, Manufacturing and Art Fostering Society, according to the fair’s website, took place in 1863. At the time, the fair was the only fair in the state of Washington. Today, while it no longer speaks for the entire state, it still represents the same cultural values. Whitman students are especially drawn to the agriculture side of things––particularly the 4-H livestock.

“I spent a majority of my time looking at and petting all the different animals,” said junior Beth Levin. “It was also fun to hear animals like geese and chickens making noise. Growing up in San Francisco, I didn’t get to hear a lot of farm animals in my childhood.”

Some Whitman students had a specific favorite animal in the 4-H competition.

“Petting the cow that kept licking my hand was my favorite part of the fair,” said sophomore Rachael Barton.

Going around and petting farm animals is not a normal weekend activity by many a Whittie’s standards. Still, as fun as the animals may be, there is more to the Walla Walla fair than what lies on the surface.

As a staple of the town itself, it has undergone transformations as well as quite a few name changes over the years.  From its lengthy-named beginning, the title of event became, in order, Walla Walla County Fair Association in 1903, then Southeastern Washington Fair in 1936, with Frontier Days added to that in 1938, then Walla Walla Frontier Days in 1992. This went on until the present name of the event, the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days, was decided upon in 1996.

For all involved, the fair represents a place apart from day-to-day life in which people can take on temporary personas and appearances. It is a step into the deep history of Walla Walla, and even its temporary Whitman residents take part in the celebration of country culture.

The manifestations of country-style performance could be seen in big ways. Students and townsfolk alike donned full western gear acquired from Goodwill specifically for events like this. Whitties could be seen decked out in Western apparel, from their cowboy hats down to their leather boots.

“It’s a hodgepodge of clothes. I got my boots from the OP gear sale, just had a pair of jeans, and my mom got me a western-style shirt from the Southwest,” said sophomore Tom Whipple of his Western style get-up. Hailing from the East Coast, the fair and the attire that goes along with it are a novelty. “It’s not what I usually wear, even though I’m known to sport some of it to class on occasion. It’s all about blending in with the local crowd.”

The act of going to the fair itself, a celebration of conservative agrarianism, is stepping out of the box for many Whitties.

“There was a huge Republican booth at the entrance, and an anti-abortion booth in a building with vendors,” said Levin. “The Democrats’ booth was much smaller. It might just be because it is close to election season, but I don’t remember political activities at other fairs.”

Even those accustomed to going to the fair in their hometowns were surprised by the immediate political differences.

“The fair I go to in Clackamas is more liberal, but still agricultural,” said Barton. “This is very different from the fair back home … especially when the only political booth I saw supported Romney.”

Whitman students may pride themselves on being health-conscious, especially when reading Bon Appétit’s odes to hale and hearty dining. This all goes out the window when confronted with the slough of curly fries, funnel cakes, pulled pork sandwiches, burgers, onion rings and corn dogs that can be found at the fair.

“I tried to stay away from the more greasy food,” said Levin. “But those fries, while bad, were sort of addicting.”

The curly fries are the most visibly notable item of fair fare. A large amount of curly fries are placed in a deep fryer and are served in the rectangular shape of the deep fryer in a solid brick of fries. This is then served on a paper tray that is too small for the food it holds.

The rodeo was an extra treat for those who were willing to stay at the fair into the night, when they could otherwise be partaking in usual weekend activities. This was a novelty to many attending students, and the events entertained well.

“I was absolutely amazed at the bareback riding. They were riding so far back on those bucking broncos. It was intense,” said Whipple.

The Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days is but a part of a larger series of local agricultural festivals that happen every year, including but not limited to the Grant County Fair in Moses Lake, Wash., the Adams County Fair in Othello, Wash., and the Pendleton Roundup in Peldleton, Ore. To see what all the commotion is about, the Pendleton Roundup is coming up, from Sept. 12-15.  Otherwise, make a point to join the festivities at the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days fair next year.

 

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