“Clean, Delightful, Refined” — The 1908 State Fair of Texas

by Paula Bosse

ad-1908_sfot_dmn_101508_katzenjammer-castleDon’t miss the Katzenjammer Castle!

by Paula Bosse

As it’s State Fair of Texas time again and I’ve recently reposted the wonderful 1908 panoramic photo of a crowd-filled entrance to Fair Park (seen here), I thought I’d look to see what kinds of attractions that particular fair had to offer.

The 23rd State Fair of Texas was held from October 17 to November 1, 1908. Below are two ads that ran before the opening of the fair, the first one in The Dallas Morning News, the second in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The very wordy ad copy is similar in both, but they’re different enough to warrant taking a look at each one (click for larger images).

ad-1908_sfot_dmn_101508-textDMN, Oct. 15, 1908

An excerpt:

The very best features of every species of entertainment, from the Olympian games of old down to the creations and inventions of this year. Our permanent amusements represent an investment of $100,000. In addition to the Scenic Railway, Katzenjammer Castle [pictured at top], Hall of Mirth, Electric Theater, Figure Eight, Laughing Gallery, we have constructed this year the latest in the field of amusement and novelty – the ‘Tickler’ – the most laughable and fun-producing creation yet devised by man. Our Amusement Park an ensemble brilliantly spectacular and educational – a miniature Oriental City as it were. Here will be gathered a grand ethnological congress – Turks, Arabs, Cinghalese, Igorrotes, Bedouins, Turcomen, Japanese and Zulus – the strange peoples of the world, living as they do in their native lands.

Wow. The Hall of Mirth, the Tickler, and a “grand ethnological congress” — it had everything! But, wait — there’s more!

Here’s the ad for Fort Worth:

ad-1908-sfot_FWST_ 101608FWST, Oct. 16, 1908

And an excerpt:

Clean, Delightful, Refined

More than 100 new and superb shows constitute our amusement department. Permanent attractions alone represent an investment of $100,000. A grand aggregation of the latest and most ingenious attractions and revived sensations from all parts of the world. A cosmopolitan gathering of Oriental dancing girls, wrestlers, whirling dervishes, magicians, torture dancers, rough riders of the world, in a strange display of barbaric splendor. Marvelous free attractions, including the great Velaire, in his act “Beyond the Limit.”

Wonderful Exhibitions

Six acres of implement and vehicle displays. Three thousand birds in the poultry department. Over two thousand head of exhibition stock. Magnificent arena program. Agricultural and industrial growth of the state exemplified. Notable display of the handiwork of the women of the South in all departments of home life. Superb art display. Great dog show.

Martial Pyrotechnic Display Thrilling to Thousands.

Barbaric splendor, whirling dervishes, and a “great dog show.” And that mysterious “torture dance” (which I’m sure was “clean, delightful, and refined”).

Here’s one more ad promoting “Fort Worth Day,” which was held as “The Greatest Fair on Earth” was winding down:

ad-1908_sfot_FWST_102808FWST, Oct. 28, 1908

So, lots of interesting stuff was going on. But apparently the thing that people were most excited about was the horse racing (…and the wagering). Back then, people looked forward to the races with the same manic enthusiasm that people today look forward to the fried food. Racing aficionados were such a huge source of SFOT revenue that it seemed only fair they got a brand new grandstand that year.

state-fair_grandstand_dmn_082308DMN, Aug. 23, 1908

state-fair_grandstand_dmn_082308_textDMN, Aug. 23, 1908

There was also a new Grand Gateway at the main entrance to Fair Park, designed by one of Dallas’ most notable early architects, James Edward Flanders (read about him here).

fair-park-entrance_gate_flanders_dmn_052208DMN, May 22, 1908

fair-park-entrance_gate_flanders_dmn_090608DMN, Sept. 6, 1908

You can see it in this detail from the panoramic photo by Henry Clogenson mentioned earlier:


There was an exhibit of thousands of live bees in a mesh-enclosed apiary.

state-fair_bees_dmn_092908DMN, Sept. 29, 1908

And fireworks. Gotta have fireworks. Somehow they managed to recreate a pyrotechnic display which simulated a Crash at Crush scenario of two locomotives colliding with each other head-on. I’m not quite sure how that worked, but it seems to have been effective. (I’m not a fireworks connoisseur, but this “set-list” is really great.)

fireworks_trains-colliding_dmn_103108DMN, Oct. 31, 1908

fireworks_trains-colliding_dmn_110108DMN, Nov. 1, 1908

I have to say, I’m a big fan of the exhibit that was set up in the new Agricultural Building: three figures of women, each about seven feet tall, one made of rice (from Beaumont), one made of salt (from Grand Saline), and one made of coal (I’m going to guess from somewhere like Thurber),

state-fair_salt_lots-wife_dmn_092408DMN, Sept. 24, 1908

That last sentence:

She will stand in the attitude of looking over her shoulder, and in the direction in which she is represented as looking will be placed paintings of the Cities of the Plain in flames, and the terrified inhabitants making desperate though vain attempts to escape the wrath which they have called down on their stiff necks.

How fun! (When I visited Grand Saline a few years ago, I saw a little cabin in the center of town purported to be made of salt. I was curious, and when no one was looking, I licked it. Yep. Salt. I’m sure I wasn’t the first to have done that, disgusting as it was. But I digress….)

Lastly, my favorite little throwaway factoid mentioned in one of the many endless articles that appeared in the weeks leading up to the opening of the fair was that the walkways were paved with “finely crushed pink granite.”

state-fair_pink-granite_dmn_092708DMN, Sept. 27, 1908

I’d like to have seen that.


The photo at the top shows the Katzenjammer Castle, a popular attraction that had appeared the previous year and which sounds like the old German Funhouse (the thing *I* used to look forward to every year). The photo accompanied the ad that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 15, 1908 (the first ad posted above). It looks as if it shows part of the Shoot the Chute water ride. (You can see several pictures of this ride, which was right next to that brand new grandstand, in a previous post “The Chute,” here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.