The Big E
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The Big E, also known as The Eastern States Exposition, is billed as "New England's Great State fair". It is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the seventh-largest fair in the nation. The Big E is inclusive of all six of the New England states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Each of the New England states is prominently represented at the fair.
Located in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, a short distance from the Memorial Bridge spanning the Connecticut River, The Big E is held every autumn in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Each year, the fair opens on the second Friday after Labor Day and runs for seventeen days.
The first Eastern States Exposition occurred in 1916. It was originally conceived by Joshua L. Brooks as a way to help promote agriculture and educate young people with the skills and knowledge needed in agricultural vocations. The Exposition featured displays of innovations in the industry, and held contests designed to encourage farmers to better themselves through competition. Since the first Exposition, only World War I and World War II, during which the military requisitioned the grounds as storage depots, have interrupted the annual tradition.
The Fair was first titled "The Big E" in 1967 and remains true to its agricultural roots today, with more than 7,100 4-H and FFA participants, and 1,100 open-show exhibitors, as well as educational displays and attractions.
Avenue of States
One of the most popular attractions at The Big E is the Avenue of States. The Avenue is said to contain life-size replicas of the six original New England statehouses, as well as the New England Grange House. In actuality the state houses are not replicas but rather modeled after original state houses in most instances. The buildings for New Hampshire and Vermont have no resemblance to their original state houses.
These buildings feature exhibits and vendors that best exemplify the heritage, food, and traditions of each state. Food vendors can be found in each building selling items that are traditional to their jurisdiction. For example, the Maine House offers lobster, blueberry, and potato items, while the Vermont House has Ben and Jerry's ice cream, maple syrup, and cheddar cheese. Vendors also sell locally-made products and handicrafts. The Maine baked potatoes have become an icon, with buyers regularly joining long lines during the fair's busier periods. The Connecticut building supplies Timex watches, as well as Lego, which has a factory there.
Much like national embassies, the statehouses and the land on which they sit are owned by the respective jurisdiction. Through an arrangement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, they are administered by representatives from each state's police force during the Fair. Due to this distinction, tickets for each of the six lotteries can be purchased among the houses. There also is an emphasis on tourism promotion here.
Livestock and animals
In keeping with the fair's agricultural roots, there are many livestock displays at The Big E. The Big E Coliseum features daily horse shows, while the Mallary Complex houses livestock and other farm animals, including goats, chickens, pigs, and sheep.
Other animals, such as those found at petting zoos or in the Big E Circus Spectacular, are also featured at The Big E. Small-scale dog and pony shows are regular features of the Fair. There are also many 4-H youth livestock shows and a sale of the 4-H steers.
Many foods representing New England cuisine can be found at The Big E, along with traditional fair foods like fried dough, corn dogs, and lemonade. Aside from the state houses, food sellers can be found throughout the main vendor areas and around the perimeter of the fairgrounds.
In recent years, The Big E has endeavored to introduce its own signature foods. This began in 2002 when The Big E introduced Big E Cream Puffs, which it intended to be the signature dessert of the Fair. The Big E features the cream puffs in some of its advertising; in addition, the cream puffs have been featured on local and national TV shows, including Live! with Regis and Kelly. This was followed by the introduction in 2004 of "The Big (Chocolate) Eclairs" and, in 2006, of Big E Chocolate Chip Cookies, made with Ghirardelli chocolate. In 2009, they introduced the "Craz-E Burger", which is a bacon cheeseburger on a glazed donut rather than a bun.
Small shops are a primary attraction of the Big E. Vendors can be found across most of the fairgrounds, selling items ranging from state-specific trinkets and regional memorabilia, to household goods and clothing and accessories. Many vendors set up shops selling the same goods in multiple areas of the fair in order to attract as many customers as possible.
The Better Living Center is the largest vendor area, featuring household wares, home improvement services, cookware, and health supplements. The International Building is home to vendors selling items from other cultures, in particular those with a common connection with many New Englanders, in particular Irish and Italian imported goods.
The xfinity arena provides an open-air performing area with seating for over 6,000 people. Each weekend, big-name bands and musicians come to perform on this stage. There are ticketed shows (admission to the fair is included with the purchase of a concert ticket as long as it is purchased before the date of the show) as well as a number of free shows that are seated on a "first-come, first-served" basis.
The Court of Honor Stage, located right in the heart of the fairgrounds, also offers free concerts that can be seen just by passing by the stage. The music can be enjoyed from a distance or on one of the many benches that surround the stage.
- Storrowton Village, where fairgoers can experience New England life from the 19th century
- The Midway, home to carnival rides and games and operated by North American Midway Entertainment. The Giant Slide is 46 feet high and 135 feet long. It was originally erected near Gate 5 in 1969 but moved to its current spot behind the Better Living Center in 1983.
- A daily Mardi Gras-style parade
- The Eastern States Coliseum, more colloquially known as the "Big E Coliseum," an arena on the grounds where numerous equestrian contests and other special events are held. The building was formerly a professional ice hockey venue.
- Animatronic Shows, namely Melody Farm Follies in the "Farm-A-Rama" section and the Billy Bob's Bear-A-Dise traveling Rock-afire Explosion show.
The fairgrounds are used for other events throughout the year, including
- Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show
- Springfield RV Camping & Outdoor Show
- Society of Manufacturing Engineers EASTEC exposition
- Springfield Sportsmen's Show
- Equine Affaire
In January 2013, the Exposition joined with Hard Rock International in a proposal to build a casino and hotel on 40 acres of the fairground, in a bid for the single casino license available in Western Massachusetts. In a town referendum on September 10, the voters of West Springfield voted the project down.
- "2015 Carnival Attendance" (PDF).
- Mark Arsenault; Martin Finucane (January 11, 2013). "Hard Rock unveils plans for casino at Big E fairgrounds". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-01-11.
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