The Roller Coaster on the Prairie — 1894
by Paula Bosse
Texas State Fair & Dallas Exposition Fair Grounds, circa 1888
by Paula Bosse
Above, a wonderful view of the “State Fair Grounds and Dallas Exposition” from an 1894 advertisement. The Little Roller Coaster on the Prairie!
If you want to see this very large (and, trust me, you DO), click here (and then click again). It’s like wandering through those old phone book covers, but without the jokes and the dinosaurs.
UPDATE: The artwork was used in a previous ad that appeared in The Dallas Morning News in 1888, with the following text:
The coming Fair and Exposition will, beyond a doubt, excel in point of attractiveness, numbers and variety of exhibits any heretofore held.
The County Exhibit Department promises to be the most attractive feature, one never before attempted by any State. Over forty counties up to date have secured space, and more still to enter. The exhibits these counties will present will be something that will astonish visitors.
Every variety of attractions has been provided for, and the musical treat we have in store for visitors will be presided over by the world renowned Cornetist , Prof. A. Liberati.
The purses offered in the Race Department cover $20,000, and will be competed for by the best racers in the land. The management of this department propose to give during the Fair and Exposition the finest races ever given in the South.
We desire to call the attention of counties to the fact that now is the time to get up their exhibits, when grain, fruits, etc. are ripening, and not wait until it is too late.
Space in the County Exhibit Department is free, and no county of our State can afford to be not represented. There will be more people here than ever before, and we want them all to see the varied resources of our great State.
To exhibitors in general we can promise them the finest opportunity ever offered to make displays from which will return good results, and to visitors we can assure them of the grandest entertainment ever given in the Southwest.
The scene above looks idyllic (to me, anyway), but here is a description of what the land was like before anything was built on it, from a Dallas Morning News history of the SFOT (Oct. 2, 1960):
An 80-acre tract approximately in the center of the present-day State Fair Park was chosen as the site for the Fair. The location was termed by some to be “the worst kind of hog wallow,” and the question most frequently asked was “How are you going to hold a fair in all that mud?”
The Dallas State Fair and Exposition (which became the State Fair of Texas) was chartered in 1886, and unless that artist’s rendering is highly romanticized (which it probably is), it looks like the hog wallow was but a faint memory by the time that roller coaster was plopped down on top it.
Sources & Notes
Artwork by the Dallas Engraving and Manufacturing Company. Top ad appeared in the Souvenir Guide of Dallas (1894); bottom ad appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Sept. 5, 1888.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
That $75,000 in prizes is roughly equal to $2 million today.
That’s pretty crazy. But apparently, the only thing that really made money at the fairgrounds — and made a LOT of money — was the fervent gambling at the packed racetrack.
From an article on the history of the fair: “The Fair showed its first profit for the exposition of 1893, which featured a racing program with 400 horses and five races a day.” (DMN, 10-2-1960)
When gambling was abolished just after the turn of the century (and after the exposition building had burned down) there was serious talk of discontinuing the fair and selling the property to developers who wanted to build a residential subdivision. Thankfully, clear thinking prevailed.
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