Photos by Alyssa Willey
There’s something about the South Carolina State Fair that keeps you coming back. It’s not the Ferris wheels or the whack-a-moles or the funnel cakes–it’s the continuity. It’s the promise that year after year, decade after decade, the only thing that’s going to change is the pavement.
“Oh, it all used to be straw and dirt, but now it’s paved over. That’s about the only thing that’s changed,” Joyce said. She’s brought her great-grandchild, who’s sitting in his stroller eating a vanilla ice cream cone, to the fair for the first time. She did the same thing with her grandchildren and her children. She’s not alone. The fair is a generational tapestry as much as it’s sugar-fueled adrenaline rush.
Drew began working the state fair route six months ago. Before that, he had never left his home state in Alabama. Since he started, he has seen the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Great Lakes of Wisconsin and the plains of Indiana. “I’ve always felt like outside of Alabama it was a little bit different, possibly worse, but it’s not,” Drew said. “It’s great.”
Whichever way you cast your eyes, there’s a visual wonder to behold. The light bulb-fringed food stands, the shabby thrill rides and the state-winning pumpkins blend together effortlessly. It’s a singular image you see in every photo and every memory from every fair in every state.
Modernity feels like a constant fight between innovation and nostalgia. At the fair, nostalgia wins every time.
“I’ve been coming to the fair since I was a little girl,” Maryanne said. The Columbia native has been enjoying the fair with her friends Mary and Nancy for over 50 years. She said the only thing that’s changed is herself–she’s too afraid to ride the rides now.
“You bring your children, then your grandchildren, and so on,” Mary added.
We have a yearning for sameness. For the comfort of a tried-and-true classic. The state fair is not just a tradition, it’s an American cultural bedrock–solid and eternal.