The familiar sounds of the U.P. State Fair

Karen Wils photo My brothers Mark and Jim at the fair photo booth. Having a picture taken at the fair was a big thing before cell phone cameras.

ESCANABA — Summers in north Escanaba over many decades have been great.

The soothing sound of the bayshore and the whistle of trains, gave way to one tremendous sound in August, the U.P. State Fair.

For one week out of the year north Escanaba was in the spotlight!

With only a few interruptions during World War II and for the COVID pandemic in 2020, the U.P. State Fair has been an annual event since 1928.

Living my whole life only a stone’s throw away from the fairgrounds, I’ve heard a lot of carnival music and smelled a lot of fair food over the years.

Karen Wils photo My brothers Mark and Jim at the fair photo booth. Having a picture taken at the fair was a big thing before cell phone cameras.

The fair is more than an event; it has become a measure of time for Escanaba. Held the third week in August, the fair meant summer was waning. The school year was soon to begin. Summer jobs and summer camps had nearly run their course.

When I was a youngster growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Northtown was a lively place. Most families had five kids or more. Bicycles were everywhere. The Bay Shore was the place to be and ore boats waited at the docks for loading.

When the Harnischfeger factory changed shifts, traffic flowed. But then came that one week in August when police officers directed fair traffic on the highway.

Gulls, loons and morning song birds were hushed by the loud speakers announcing the daily activities at the fair. The mooing of cows could be heard all the way up to the bars on Sheridan Road.

The music and the sound of the midway rides carried for miles depending upon what way the wind was blowing.

The sound of stock car races, county western singers and ring toss game barkers drifted into my bedroom window.

Off in the distance, just west of our house the nighttime sky would glow from all of the colorful lights at the U.P. State Fair.

I grew up in a family with six children, so going to the fair could get a bit pricey for us. We economized by going to the fair just one day with my Aunt Sandy. We’d walk from home and spent a great deal of time walking around all of the barns and free displays. I loved the animals the best.

We each got our turn to go on a couple of rides and cotton candy was usually the treat we got to take home.

All of us remember the exciting time when my youngest brother David wandered away from us on the midway. My Aunt Sandy was franticly searching for him when an announcement came over the loud speaker about a little boy at the State Police post under the grandstand. Dave was found.

When my children were young, we’d spend one whole day at the fair. My husband grew up on farm and he’d have to see every single cow, pig and chicken on the grounds.

My mother would enter her flowers and plants in the fair and back in the day I often entered photos or wood carvings. My husband has won a few ribbons on his pepper plants and garden produce, too.

The one thing that does not seem to change about the fair in all of these years is the sound of it. The music, laughter, commotion, the animals and the voices, then it is quiet.

And time to think about fall!


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.


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