The Big E Begins Its Centennial Fair
The Eastern States Exposition, known as the Big E, opened its gates to the public in West Springfield today as the annual fair observes its 100th anniversary.
The centennial edition of the 17-day fair, the largest in the Northeast, will have all the familiar attractions. There are animal shows, product displays, an eclectic mix of entertainment, a bevy of food, and carnival rides.
A special giant exhibit this year highlights the history of the fair itself. Big E President and CEO Eugene Cassidy says photographs and memorabilia chronicling 10 decades of the fair’s history have been assembled and put on display in a 3,500-square-foot exhibit.
"Our fair-going public has been very generous with an outpouring of historic memorabilia," said Cassidy.
Cassidy, who grew up less than two miles from the fairgrounds and used to sneak in to the fair when he was a kid, said the centennial underscores the impact the fair has had on people. As an example, he pointed to two sisters who grew up in Ludlow and now live in Alaska, who took the time and trouble to package and ship Big E posters saved from the 1900s to display at this year’s fair.
" It shows that there are so many folks who consider the Eastern States part of their DNA," said Cassidy.
The recollections of fairgoers are also part of the special exhibit.
The fair’s history began when Joshua Brooks, a Springfield businessman, and others formed the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition. They purchased 175 acres of land in West Springfield and in 1916 hosted the National Dairy Show.
The Big E is the annual fundraiser for the Eastern States Exposition, a nonprofit corporation that operates year-round to promote agriculture.
"I think one of our most important missions going into the next century is to educate people about food," said Cassidy. " Where does your food come from? What do you need to be concerned about?"
Food is major attraction at the Big E. The fair will sell tens of thousands of its famous creampuffs and éclairs. A few years ago, the Big E drew national attention with the introduction of the “Craze-E” burger, a bacon cheese hamburger on a glazed donut.
Gillian Palmer, the Big E’s food and beverage coordinator, said every year brings something new for people to sample along with the tried-and-true favorites.
" Bring a big appetite and check your calories at the door," Palmer advised with a laugh.
The entertainment lineup for the centennial Big E has a twinge of nostalgia with acts like Blood, Sweat & Tears and George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
The opening “Big E Bash” was to have been headlined by DJ Diesel (aka Shaquille O’Neal), but he bowed out to perform at a benefit for Louisiana flood victims. The replacement act is the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, which covers classic British rock acts.
After three consecutive record-setting years, attendance for last year’s fair was down. Cassidy said it was because there were five days of rain.
" Our goal is to sustain the Eastern States in the top-5 fairs in North America, last year we slipped back to 7," said Cassidy. " My challenge to the region is lets see if we can get to 1,500,000 people."
Getting to the fairgrounds by car always requires some patience, and this year could be especially trying because the reconstruction of Interstate 91 in Springfield has resulted in lane reductions in both directions.
State transportation officials have put up additional electronic signs to rely real-time traffic information.
The Big E is operating shuttle buses from shopping mall parking lots in Holyoke and Enfield, Connecticut.