Book Review: "The Orange County Fair-A
History of Celebration" By Chris Epting, The
Review By C. MacDonald
I love County Fairs because everyone seems so happy—from the 1-year-old to the 100-year-old—once they enter the grounds. They're laughing; their eyes are sparkling with "wonder and awe" at the sights they see around them and the aromas they catch from the myriad of delicious foods nearby. Most can't contain their enthusiasm for the fantastic escape from urban life and drama. I've covered every role at County Fairs, from excited spectator to newspaper reporter to vendor to official judge in the major newspaper category to performer to inspector. My two top fairs are Del Mar and Orange County.
I'm delighted that Chris Epting has come out with "The Orange County Fair—A History of Celebration" for the prestigious event's 125th Anniversary. The front and back cover should win an award as the best book design I've ever seen and I've reviewed books for over 40 years. The design and photos reel you in like a fish on a hook. They express "wow" and "wonder."
Chris, whose "Roadside Baseball" has long been one of my favorites, has done a masterful job of documenting the "thrill" of the OC Fair through sensational photos that capture the true feel of livestock, peanut vendors, beauty queens, canned fruit, Ferris Wheels, celebrities, fairgoers and creative entertainment, like entomologist Norm Gary, whose body was covered with live bees while he played a clarinet.
Epting shows how the quaint community fair started in 1890 with no carnival, no food vendors, just some livestock exhibits and a horserace at a Santa Ana track (Bristol Street and Edinger Ave.) The fair moved around to Anaheim and other cities before settling at its current site in Costa Mesa in the 1950s, after the 32nd District Agricultural Association, formed by the state, purchased land at the Army Air Base.
In chronological fashion chapters in the pictorial book highlight noteworthy events through the decades, taking you on a ride where you never know what's around the bend!
You'll read about the 16-year-old Fair Queen,
who deserted her post in 1955 to become an
actress for Howard Hughes; Hugo Zacchini, "The
Human Cannonball;" Stan Volera, "The Man on the
Swinging Pole;" Jeff Block, who set a world
record by spending 38 days riding a Ferris
Wheel; Bug Chef Ron Taylor and the Cattle Drive
down Fairview Road with 250 head!
In 2005, the OC Fair broke the million visitor mark for the first time. The "heart and soul" of the Fair remains livestock and local awards. More than 10,000 ribbons are given for homemade baking, photography, woodwork and more. It's also famous for its mouthwatering "eats," from corn to smoked turkey legs to bacon-wrapped pickles. And let us not forget the Carnival Zone thrill rides and game booths, where you can throw ping pong balls and win prizes.
The OC Fair is a lot more than just fun, fabulous sounds, aromas and experiences. It gives back to the community with events like, "We Care Wednesdays" (where more than 85,000 pounds of food was donated by the public to help the less fortunate). Even after the Fair, the public can visit its Centennial Farm, a 3-acre working ranch that educates the public on chickens, pigs, cattle, goats and other farm animals as well as corn and other crops. (See OCFair.com for details).
Thanks again to Chris Epting for taking the time to weave together the fascinating tale of one of the most notable and fun Fairs in the World. I highly recommend you attend the OC Fair (and every other Fair) every chance you get. You'll be glad you did!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Epting is the author of 25 travel/history books, including James Dean Died Here (Santa Monica Press), Roadside Baseball (McGraw Hill) and most recently Hello It's Me, Dispatches From a Pop Culture Junkie (Santa Monica Press). He is also an award-winning travel writer and has contributed articles for such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Westways and Travel + Lesiure magazine, and writes a weekly newspaper column for the Huntington Beach Independent. In addition, Chris is a veteran music journalist and hosts and produces the weekly syndicated radio show, "music." Originally from New York, Chris now lives in Huntington Beach, California with his wife and their two children.