The Way It Was – State Fairs

Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

1965 State fairs are always big draws for baby-animal births and white-knuckle amusement rides, but it’s the friendly contests that often provide the best entertainment: hog-calling smackdowns, recipe rivalries, longest ponytail battles, and, of course, pie-gorging competitions. The lad pictured here, Steve Sibula of Hazel Park, is grinning ear to ear after nabbing first place in a pie-eating contest at the Michigan State Fair, his face smeared with blueberry goo. Sibula, who now lives in Pinckney, was only 6 at the time of his messy victory, but he recalls the event with fondness. “I really don’t remember that I consumed such an awful lot, only that I made such a huge mess,” he says. “My sister had to wipe my face.” He wasn’t a chubby kid, but as Sibula says, “Sometimes the skinniest people can eat the most.” Michigan’s fair was the country’s oldest, dating to 1849. There were several sites through the years, but the one on Woodward Avenue between State Fair Street and Eight Mile Road lasted the longest, from 1905 until the fair ceased operations after the 2009 event. It was an end-of-summer ritual, starting in late August and ending on Labor Day. Today, there are a few smaller state fairs in Michigan, including the Fifth Third Bank Michigan State Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi (Aug. 29-Sept. 1); the Upper Peninsula Michigan State Fair in Escanaba (Aug. 11-17); and the Eastern Michigan State Fair in Imlay City (July 29-Aug. 2). These days, Sibula indulges in a wedge of pie only occasionally — and, he says, he prefers apple over blueberry.


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