Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: State Fair of Texas

“Hola, Folks!” — Big Tex at the State Fair’s “Exposition of the Americas” — 1965

sfot_big-tex_serape_1965_dallas-heritage-village_portal

by Paula Bosse

This “Howdy from Big D” postcard features Big Tex wearing a colorful Mexican serape at the 1965 State Fair of Texas. The theme that year was a salute to the Americas, with events celebrating Canadian and Latin American culture held during the fair’s run. In honor of Mexico Day (and the arrival of the Danzas y Cantos de Mexico troupe of performers), Big Tex donned a snazzy 60-foot-long serape which was provided by the Dallas Beer Distributors Association as a “goodwill gesture.”

Looking good, Big Tex. El Guapo Grande!

big-tex_serape_sfot-1965_plano-star-courier_090165Plano Star-Courier, Sept. 1, 1965 (click to read)

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Sources & Notes

Postcard is from the collection of Dallas Heritage Village, via UNT’s Portal to Texas History; more info is here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Prepping for the 1932 State Fair of Texas Midway

state-fair-of-texas_1932_gimarcBackstage” at the SFOT… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

We usually see photos of the State Fair of Texas as the fair is underway, with everything already built, assembled, painted, and manned. But what happens before the gates open each year? Here’s a great photo (from pack rat George Gimarc, of Dallas dj fame) showing what things looked like in 1932 as workers prepped midway attractions for the fair’s opening. Let’s zoom in and look at a few details (all images are larger when clicked).

sfot_1932_gimarc_det-3Axle problem?

sfot_1932_jungle-killers-det_gimarc“ALIVE. Jungle Killers from the Wilds of Sumatra.” And someone — or some creature — named “Big Ben.”

sfot_1932_beckman-gerety-det_gimarcAbove, in the background at the right you can see a partial sign for Beckman & Gerety, providers of midway entertainment for fairs and carnivals around the country. (I don’t  know who these two men are, but they do not appear to be Fred Beckman and Barney Gerety, who can be seen here.)

When George Gimarc sent me this photo, he also sent me images of the State Fair of Texas envelope he found it in (see the envelope here). Below are details from the front and back.

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“Alice Joy in ‘Dream Girl Follies’ with Henry Santrey’s Band in the Auditorium.” Alice Joy was fresh from two years as NBC’s “radio dream girl” and was the namesake-headliner of this spectacular three-and-a-half-hour revue at the Music Hall which featured a bevy of chorus girls, acts-a-plenty, and “hot jazz novelties.” 4,000 people witnessed the show’s opening night. Probably gave those jungle killers from the wilds of the Sumatra a run for their money.

There was a lot going on at the 1932 State Fair of Texas. Check out this (comprehensive) ad from the opening weekend (click it!). Cars! Football! Alligator wrestling! Hoot Gibson’s Rodeo (“famous outlaw broncs”)! An aviation show! Everything!

sfot-1932_oct-9-1932_adOct. 9, 1932 (click to see large image)

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Sources  & Notes

Photo and color images from the collection of George Gimarc, used with permission (thank you, George!).

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

David Bates — “Corny Dog” (1986)

bates-david_corny-dog_litho_tyler-museum-of-art_1986“Corny Dog” by David Bates, 1986

by Paula Bosse

First day, y’all. Here’s how David Bates, one of my favorite contemporary Texas artists, sees it. Click it to see that corny dog real big.

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Sources & Notes

“Corny Dog” by David Bates (lithograph, 1986), shown at the Tyler Museum of Art this summer in the show “David Bates: Selected Works From Texas Collections.” More on that exhibition is here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

State Fair of Texas Midway — 2017

midway-entrance_sfot_night_100417The State Fair of Texas midway never gets old… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I haven’t been to the State Fair of Texas for several years, so I took a trip out to Fair Park this past Wednesday to see what’s new.

Food. The only thing I ever really want is the traditional Fletcher’s corny dog, and I’m happy to report they’re as good as ever.

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I also tried the Fried Texas Sheet Cake which was — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — too sweet, and just … too much. A bite would have been plenty. The topping of chocolate syrup and pecans was the best part. Maybe someone should offer a bowl of just that. …And then fry the whole thing — bowl and all. I’d probably try it.

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When I saw the sign for “Fried Chicken Skin” I had to try it. I guess it’s something you either really want, or it’s something that makes you recoil in horror. I really wanted it. I was expecting more of a battered-Church’s-fried-chicken experience, but I don’t think there was any batter at all. I still liked it, but it could have been a lot more mouthwatering. It needed a bit more heft. (Speaking of fried skin — there’s a phrase I’ve never uttered — why aren’t there chicharrones at the fair? Done right, those things are incredible. Isn’t pork belly still a thing?) (And someone really should do battered fried chicken skin.)

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It might have been healthier had I just swallowed the cute Big Tex earrings ($10, zero fat grams), which I almost went back for. It takes a special kind of person to be able to pull those off, and I’m afraid I’m not that whimsical. But I bet they make a great conversation-starter and help break the ice at parties.

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Everything was remarkably clean. I mean really clean. …Freakishly clean. This is not the grimy, dirty, cigarette-butt-laden fair I remember as a kid, and I have to admit, I kind of missed the grime and trash. Also, I don’t remember the plush toys being so remarkably colorful. My retinas will never be the same. Click the photo below to get the full neon blast of color.

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Speaking of things I miss, I also miss the seediness of the fairs from my childhood in the ’70s (certainly the seediest decade in modern times): the unkempt carnival barkers who never sounded like they were from Texas, the bored ride operators going about their repetitive jobs with a cigarette hanging from their mouth, the half-eaten candy apple stuck to the asphalt, and, yes the side shows. Without doubt, I think my favorite thing about the annual fair was seeing the huge banners emblazoned with vivid images of freaks and oddities — those banners were works of art and sheer advertising genius. I never wanted to see the shows, but I loved those banners, and I loved listening to the raspy voices of the going-through-the-motions barkers. Now? I saw a teeny booth along the midway wherein was what was purported to be the world’s smallest horse (yawn), and then there was the exhibit below featuring what appeared to be nothing more than a two-headed rattlesnake and a couple of two-headed turtles inside a little building about the size of a portable garden shed. But a kid will always be fascinated by anything with two heads. I realize my interest in two-headed creatures isn’t what it used to be, and I also realize that the day of the brilliant freak show banner art has come and gone.

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When I was a kid, my favorite “ride” was always the German Funhouse. I did see one funhouse, which did not seem to be specific as to country of origin. These haunted houses get high marks for decorative impact. This is what you want to see at a state fair!

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Incidentally, it will cost you 6 coupons to experience the full gory glory of “Scary Park” — that’s HALF the price of one order of fried chicken skin! Seems like a pretty good deal. There are some “extreme” rides that will cost you 150 coupons. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY COUPONS. That’s $75. I watched one of these rides, which began with two teenagers being strapped into some sort of horizontal harness. The second step was the signing of the waivers. Then the boys were raised way, way up and then dropped and flung across the sky from a height which makes me queasy just thinking about it. They swung back and forth a few times and were then lowered to terra firma, no doubt thrilled and nauseous. That makes a whirl on the quaint Kamikaze seem like a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood after a light meal.

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The Texas Star ferris wheel is pretty impressive and deserves a better photo than this, but look at the ground — you could eat off that!

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In case you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “Amusement Park Rides,” this might be helpful.

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I don’t know how many Fletcher’s stands there are at the fair, but this one on the midway is certainly the brightest. (And if you say “corn dog” in my presence I will be forced to correct you….)

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My favorite sign at the fair was this one, at the beautiful entrance to the beautiful Hall of State: “NO FOOD, NO DRINK, NO BALLOONS.” Don’t even think about it.

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And look at Hall of State at night. Nary a balloon in sight.

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I was actually working in the Hall of State the day I took these photos, so I had a short walk around the park right after it opened (that corny dog was my breakfast!) and a longer walk around the midway at night. A few thoughts:

  • I’m the only person who wishes it weren’t quite so clean.
  • Neon Big Tex is way better than “new” post-flambé Big Tex. Everyone complains about the new Big Tex, and I’m one of them. There’s a new kid in town, Tex, and my allegiance is now firmly with Neon Big Tex, the old Centennial Liquor sign featuring a neon-outlined Big Tex recently planted in Fair Park.
  • I never liked the nightly parade as a kid, but I really enjoyed it this year. The floats were attractive, the cowboy on stilts and the unicyclist on a stuffed pony were fun and goofy, and the Carter High School band was really, really good (and brought memories of my high school marching band days back with a vengeance). Also in the parade were several policemen on horses. I wondered what happened when a horse would leave its … um … byproducts behind them in the (meticulously clean) street, and then I saw a policeman riding behind in a golf cart, with a shovel strapped to the side and a large receptacle in the back. I wonder if the officers draw straws before the parade to see who gets stuck with shovel-duty?
  • I did not visit any buildings. I saw no canned peaches, no automobiles, no butter sculptures, no livestock, no miracle mops, no pig races. I’ll have to leave those for next time.

parade_neon-big-tex_lasso-stilts_sfot_100417

The best thing about the fair is that everyone is happy — especially the children, who are often over-stimulated and beside themselves with excitement — and it reminds me how much I used to look forward to my annual visit.

Seeing the fair in the daytime and at nighttime are two completely different experiences. Daytime in general is overrated. Always choose nighttime!

super-midway_sfot_100417

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Sources & Notes

All photos by Paula Bosse. Most are pretty big — click ’em!

The 2017 State Fair of Texas runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 22. There’s plenty of time left!

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Film Footage: “The State Fair of Texas in the 1960s”

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_men-in-suits_ice-creamEveryone likes ice cream…. (G. William Jones Collection, SMU)

by Paula Bosse

Thanks to Twitter, I discovered this cool video of film clips of the State Fair of Texas, shot throughout the 1960s, courtesy of SMU’s WFAA Newsfilm Collection/G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, put together by Moving Image Curator Jeremy Spracklen. There are 15 or so clips, some in black and white, some in color, some silent, some with sound. This compilation runs about 24 minutes. Watch it. You’ll enjoy it — especially the montage of fair food at the end! (Make sure you watch in fullscreen.)

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Here are a few screengrabs I took, to give you an idea of the content (images are much cleaner in the video!).

Getting ready for the fair.

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_midway

Fair Park entrance.

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_entrance

Crowd, baby, binoculars.

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_crowd

Neuhoff hot dog stand.

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_neuhoff-hot-dogs

The monorail (with a cameo by Big Tex).

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_monorail_big-tex

I don’ t know who this guy is, but he’s in several shots and I love him! Here he is losing out to the woman who correctly guessed his weight.

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_guess-your-weight

Kids eating … Pink Things! “Made famous at Six Flags.”

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Aqua Net and Moët. (I have to say, I’ve never seen champagne at the fair, but perhaps those are circles I don’t travel in.)

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Everyone needs a corny dog fix.

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Everyone.

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Have a groovy time at this year’s State Fair of Texas!

sfot_1960s_jones-collection_smu_groovy-poster

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Sources & Notes

Film clips from Southern Methodist University’s WFAA Newsfilm Collection/G. William Jones Film and Video Collection; the video has been edited by SMU’s Moving Image Curator, Jeremy Spracklen. The direct link to the video on Vimeo is here.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Howdy, Folks! Welcome to the 1959 State Fair of Texas”

big-tex_1959Big Tex and his people… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Big Tex and a crowd of serious-looking adults watch something in the distance at the 1959 State Fair of Texas.

The 2017 State Fair of Texas starts in one week!

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Sources & Notes

Source of photo: unknown!

See a whole passel of Flashback Dallas’ State Fair of Texas posts here.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Over-the-Top University Park Christmas Display Featuring Big Tex and a Six Flags Spee-lunker

xmas-wayne-smith_university-park_2015_big-tex_speelunkerBig Tex on the roof, a “Spee” to the right (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

You may have heard about Wayne Smith’s annual spectacular Christmas display in the 3600 block of Southwestern in University Park — the one with a cast of thousands, including a previous head of Big Tex, what seems like hundreds of illuminated Santas, Dracula, Moe Howard, and a former denizen of Six Flags Over Texas’ “Cave”/Spee-lunker ride. Before I get back to the “Spees” (the name the creatures have been given by their surprisingly enthusiastic fan-following), here’s a wider shot of a photo I took during last year’s holiday season. (Click it!)

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(And this gives you only an inkling of what’s actually there. I LOVED it! I waited until after Christmas — in fact, after New Year’s — to wander around — I can only imagine how backed up with looky-loos the street gets closer to Christmas.)

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Back to the Spees. The Cave water ride debuted in 1964 and was an immediate hit. When it opened, there were 28 of these creatures who, according to the original marketing, “came from innerspace.”

They are 30 inches high and they play harps, do the Twist, play cards, hammer cave crystals into rock candy and engage in a shell game — turtle racing.

This ride was always one of my favorites (probably because it provided a brief, cool respite from the glaring sun and the blasting heat that plagued my annual summer visits to Six Flags).

The Spee-lunkers left Six Flags a long time ago, so it’s nice to see that one of them is still entertaining local crowds, right next to another beloved DFW icon, Big Tex … along with a phalanx of festive Santas!

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Lest you think the publicity mill wasn’t working all angles of this new attraction, we see below that one of the Spees got a visit from, of all people, TV-darling Donna Douglas who played Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

cave_hood-county-news-tablet_060464

cave_hood-county-news-tablet_060464-text
photo and article, Hood County News Tablet, June 4, 1964

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August, 1964

cave_grand-prairie-daily-news_052577
Grand Prairie Daily News, May 25, 1977

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Sources & Notes

Photo of Wayne Smith’s Christmas display taken by me on January 2, 2016. The house is in the 3600 block of Southwestern, between Baltimore and Thackery. Since the display is probably visible from space, there’s no way you can miss it.

Postcards found on eBay and Google.

Every year TV crews descend on Smith’s house to do a story. Watch one from this year — from CW33 News — here.

For those who might like more info on the Spee-lunker attraction/ride (which, by the way, is classified as a “dark ride” in amusement park lingo) at Six Flags Over Texas, here’s a bunch of links:

  • Weird video and music (and history!) by a superfan, here
  • Article by the same guy who put the above video together, here
  • Spee-lunker vignettes described here
  • Google images aplenty, here

More on the new ride can be found in the Dallas Morning News archives in the article “$300,000 Hole: Six Flags To Open Cave Ride” (DMN, May 24, 1964) — accompanying the article is an amusing photo captioned “Gail Powers yelps in mock fear as lobster seizes her hand.”

A shout-out to Wendy Cook who, when I posted the top picture to the Flashback Dallas Instagram feed in January, pointed out to me that the Spee-lunker was even in there. She recognized him right away, but with so much visual overload, I hadn’t even noticed him! Thanks, Wendy!

See stuff bigger — when in doubt, click it!

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Albert Einstein “Threw the Switch” in New Jersey to Open the Pan-American Exposition in Dallas — 1937

pan-american-expo_einstein_061237Einstein at the switch, June 12, 1937…. (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Who knew? Albert Einstein, the world’s most famous physicist, helped open the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition. The exposition was held at Fair Park for 20 weeks, from June 12, 1937 to October 31, 1937, as a follow-up of sorts to the Texas Centennial (the city had built all those new buildings — might as well get their money’s worth!). I’m not quite sure how Einstein got roped into this, but looking at the photo above, he seemed pretty happy about what was, basically, a long-distance ribbon-cutting. Via telegraph.

The plan was for Professor Einstein to officially open the Pan-American Exposition by “throwing the switch” which would turn on massive displays of lights around Fair Park. He would do this from Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived, by closing a telegraph circuit which would put the whole thing in motion. Newspaper reports varied on where exactly Herr Einstein was tapping his telegraph key — it was either the study in his home, in his office, in a Princeton University administration building, or in the Princeton offices of Western Union (the latter of which was mentioned in only one report I found, but it seems most likely).

Einstein was a bona fide celebrity, and this was national news — newspapers around the country ran stories about it, and the ceremony was carried live on coast-to-coast radio. Almost every report suggested that Einstein’s pressing of the key in New Jersey would be the trigger that lit up the park in Texas, 1,500 miles away — which was partly correct. According to The Dallas Morning News:

Lights on the grounds will be turned on officially at 8:40 p.m. when Dr. Albert Einstein, exponent of the theory of relativity, presses a key in his Princeton home to fire an army field gun. With the detonation of the shell, switches will be thrown to release the flood of colored lights throughout the grounds. (DMN, June 10, 1937)

So on June 12, 1937 he pressed a telegraph key somewhere in Princeton, NJ, an alert was instantly wired to Dallas, an army field gun (in some reports a “cannon”) was fired, and that blast was the cue for electricians positioned around the park to throw switches to illuminate the spectacular displays of colored lights.

The Western Union tie-in gimmick was a success. Newspaper reports might have been a little purple in their descriptions, but from all accounts, those lights going on all at once was a pretty spectacular sight.

Dr. Albert Einstein, celebrated scientist, threw a switch that flashed a million lights over the 187-acre exposition park. The flash came at 8:40 o’clock and instantly the huge park became a city of a million wonders. Flags from a thousand staffs proclaimed their nationality [and] bands played the national airs of the nations of the Western Hemisphere as lusty cheers roared with thunderous approval. The Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition was formally opened. It is on its way. (Abilene (TX) Reporter News, June 13, 1937)

The Dallas News describes the crowd as stunned into silence:

The waiting participants in the ceremonies at Dallas heard the results [of Einstein’s telegraph signal] when a cannon boomed. Electricians at switches around the grounds swung the blades into their niches and the flood of light awoke the colors of the rainbow to dance over the 187-acre park. Its breath taken by the spectacle, the crowd stood silent for a moment, and then broke into a cheer. (“Pan-American Fair Gets Off to Gay Start” by Robert Lunsford, DMN, June 13, 1937)

Many of the lighting designs and displays had been used the previous year during the Centennial, but, as with much of the attractions and appointments throughout the park, they were improved and spectacularized for the Pan-American Expo. And people loved what they saw.

Despite the multi-million dollar structures, air conditioning demos, works of art and other newfangled additions to the space, when people left the Centennial Exposition one thing was on everyone’s tongues, according to historical pollsters: the lights.

Positioned behind the Hall of State were 24 searchlights scaffolding into a crowned fan shape. “They all moved and were different colors,” says [Jim] Parsons [co-author of the book Fair Park Deco]. “It sounds gaudy, but people loved it.” The lights, he goes on to tell, were visible up to 20 miles away.

Considering most of the people who were visiting the fairgrounds were coming from rural farming communities with no electricity, the inspiring nature of those far-reaching beams makes a lot of sense. (Dallas Observer, Nov. 7, 2012)

Thanks for doing your part for Dallas history, Prof. Einstein!

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Below, photos from the Texas Centennial, 1936. The multicolored lights could be seen from miles away — here’s what they looked like from downtown and from White Rock Lake.

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skyline_downtown-to-fair-park_1936_GE-colln_museum-of-innovation-and-science

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tx-centennial_night_hall-of-state_lights_flickr_baylorvia Baylor University Flickr stream

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(All pictures and clippings are larger when clicked.)

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Denison Press, June 9, 1937

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einstein_pan-am-expo_waxahachie-daily-light_061137
Waxahachie Daily Light, June 11, 1937

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Denison Press, June 14, 1937

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Medford (Oregon) Mail Tribune, June 23, 1937

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Vernon Daily Record, June 24, 1937

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1937

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Sources & Notes

Top photo from the old Corbis site.

Black-and-white photos from the Centennial seen from Fair Park and White Rock Lake are from the Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library; the photo of the lights seen from downtown Dallas (titled “New skyline at night from Dallas, Texas”) is from the GE Photo Collection, Museum of Innovation and Science (more info on that photo is here).

Sources of other images and clippings cited, if known.

More on the Pan-American Exposition from Wikipedia, here, and from the fantastic Watermelon Kid site of all-things-Fair-Park, here.

Click pictures and clippings for larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Dallas Midway, Night Illumination” — 1936

tx-centennial_midway_night_cook-coll_smuAll calm in Fair Park along the Centennial Midway (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a nighttime shot of an almost empty Midway during the Texas Centennial. All this scene needs in order to boost the moody atmosphere is a little fog. Go a little further and add some zither music, Joseph Cotten, and Orson Welles running past the Texaco Building and you’d have a pretty cool setting for a Texas version of The Third Man.

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Photo titled “Dallas Midway, Night Illumination, Centennial Exposition, State Fair of Texas” (taken by an unknown photographer on Oct. 16, 1936) is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info here.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Fair Park’s Statue of Liberty

statue-of-liberty_fair-park_flickr_colteraGetting a bit lost in the crowd… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Somehow I missed the fact that October 28th was the 130th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. And somehow I also forgot that there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty here in Dallas, at Fair Park. It was a gift from the State Fair of Texas to the Boy Scouts and the people of Texas and was dedicated by the Boy Scouts of Circle Ten Council on July 4, 1950. (These miniature replicas of the Statue of Liberty were placed all over the United States in 1950 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.)

Below, the plaque at the base of the statue which stands near the Hall of State in Fair Park. (Click pictures to see larger images.)

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Were they sentient, I’m sure Lady Liberty’s numerous miniature offspring would join me in sending belated birthday greetings to their full-size non-replica progenitor.

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Photo: Adam Cruz/Roaming Itinerant

Here’s another view of Mini Lady Liberty welcoming the huddled masses to the State Fair of Texas in 1956:

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Sources & Notes

Photo of the Statue of Liberty replica amidst the crowd outside the Cotton Bowl is from Flickr user Coltera, here.

Photo of the plaque is from Flickr user Aringo, here.

Photo of the replica with the Hall of State in the background is by Adam Cruz, from his blog, The Roaming Itinerant.

1956 photo is from eBay.

A list of the Statue of Liberty replicas in Texas is here.

Perhaps we should send NYC a replica of Big Tex to keep Lady Liberty company. (The Statue of Liberty is kind of like a New York version of Big Tex, right?)

Hey — live webcam at the Statue of Liberty, here.

Click pictures for larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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