Saturday, April 24, 2021

Danbury Fair, 1968

Years ago I came across a group of slides from 1968 labeled "Danbury Fair". I didn't know what that was, so I did a little research. Wikipedia sez: The Danbury Fair (also known as The Great Danbury State Fair) was a yearly exhibition in Danbury, Connecticut. It was begun in 1821 as an agricultural fair, but did not have a regular schedule until 1869 when hat manufacturers Rundle and White helped form the Danbury Farmers and Manufacturers Society. From then until its closing, the fair was open for ten days every October. 1821! Wow! 

In this first photo you can see what I believe is a Minuteman Missile, though I'll leave it to those more informed than me if I am wrong. Rockets were a pretty big deal in 1968, with the moon landing only about a year away. In the foreground is an earth mover on exhibit, quite a contrast to the rocket.

Ken Martinez helped me out with identifying those classic amusements (thanks, Ken!); to the left we can see a sign for the Skyliner. Mostly hidden behind the rocket is a Chance Zipper, while the double Ferris Wheel thingy is a Chance Sky Wheel. Behind that is a Hrubetz Paratrooper, which Ken tells us is "rim-driven". Maybe he can elaborate in the comments! 

Look! A flying metal bird! It's probably bringing Elvis in for a surprise visit. Folks probably didn't see a lot of helicopters in 1968, so it was worthy of a photo. Ken helpfully tells us that the ride that is barely in the photo (to the left) is an Eyerly Rock-O-Plane. Another Ferris Wheel variation is the Chance Skydiver (you can see how the cars rotate on a central axis); and hanging from overhead cables is the Skyliner (no passengers).

Ah, the Zipper. A physically demanding ride, if memory serves. For some reason I recall hanging on to a metal bar that seemed perfectly placed to remove teeth if one lost one's grip. We can imagine what this must have looked like at night, covered in neon and other lights.

Folks are milling around, not sure where to go. Maybe they're looking for the nearest bathroom. A fiberglass bull (sporting a blue ribbon) stands atop a pedestal for some reason. 

"Up on the pole stands an old red bull, he eats and eats - but he never gets full". This is supposedly an "old riddle". but I don't get it. Is this like one of Gollum's riddles? Is the answer "fish"?? If so, it's hilarious. I did a Google search for the first line of this couplet, and it came up empty. My abacus didn't help either.

The only thing more fun than a Ferris Wheel is TWO Ferris Wheels, and that's just what you got at the Danbury Fair. Twice the opportunity to get sick or drop your wallet and keys.

Wikipedia says, When the fair's owner John Leahy died in 1974, the organization fell into disarray. The last day of the fair was October 12, 1981, with an estimated 400,000 people having attended that year. All of the rides, attractions, and holdings were auctioned off. The Danbury Fair Mall was built on the fairgrounds by the Wilmorite Corporation. It's sad that this piece of classic Americana is no longer with us.

I have another six or seven photos of the Danbury Fair to share with you someday! Thanks once again to Ken Martinez for his help. I hope you have enjoyed your visit.


GDB friend Jonathan sent me this photo of a comic book adaptation of the TV show "Whirlybirds", which I honestly don't ever remember even hearing of before today. As I said to him, whenever I see Kenneth Tobey I think of "The Thing From Another World". "Whirlybirds" ran from 1957 to 1960 (a Desilu production!), and was a solid hit. I was amazed to see that Kenneth Tobey's final film role was in 2005 - 45 years after "Whirlybirds"! What a career. Thanks, Jonathan!



My luck I’d get to go back to the New York World’s Fair , but end up at the Danbury Fair instead.......

"Lou and Sue" said...

I see a Mickey Mouse balloon in the last picture!

I’ll be back later to look at these more - I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s comments!

TokyoMagic! said...

This looks like a fun fair! I wonder what that building with the "wrapped packages" on the roof was (second to last pic). Maybe it was Santa's house? It also looks like there are some leaping reindeer in that last pic.

Thank you, Major and Ken!

K. Martinez said...

I love that Red Bull on top of the pole. If no one was looking, I'd just reach up and snatch it and run. Of course with my luck, I'd probably impale myself on the horns. Ha, ha!

I love these Danbury Fair pics. This is the kind of environment I loved to visit as a child. I definitely want to see the rest of your Danbury Fair photos. Thanks, Major.

Rim driven means that motorized rubber tire wheels are in contact with a metal circular band fitted around the ride so it rotates the ride. I actually think Andrew would be a great at explaining it since I'm not sure how to describe it better. Hope you chime into Andrew. Always appreciate your input when it comes to flat rides and any other amusement park devices. Also if I make any errors in identification, please feel free to correct me. Two heads are better than one.

JC Shannon said...

How fun, I wanna go. You are indeed correct Major, that is a Minuteman 1 or 2, it's 1.2 Megatons of pure fun. The helo looks to be a Bell 47 J Ranger. Pretty cool, for it's day, and featured on the TV series Whirleybirds along with the Bell 47 bubble top. I loved that show, but now I'm showing my age. I'm about to woof my cookies just thinking about all those thrill rides. Great stuff as always Major, thanks.

Chuck said...

Fun photos! Thanks, Ken, for the additional commentary and I look forward to Andrew chiming in.

I did a Google search on that poem and it took me here. Congratulations, Major - you've managed to add something to the Interwebs that's truly unique in every way.

I wonder if the riddle is in reference to the British Empire? "John Bull" is the personification of England, sort of like Uncle Sam is for the USA. Or maybe it's a reference to the Spanish Empire; Spain is sometimes represented by a bull. Of course, this may be along the lines of "why is a raven like a writing desk?"

Concur with you & Jonathan on the Minuteman ID and with Jonathan on the Bell 47J spotting. Interesting that the Wikipedia entry on the 47J shows a helicopter in the exact same paint scheme as today's photo. I'm sure it was a factory-standard option, but it's fun to think it might be the same helicopter.

Chuck said...

Forgot the link to the Wikipedia photo:

Andrew said...

Thanks for doing the ride IDs, Ken - you definitely nailed it! :-) The only one I can add is the Scrambler immediately to the left of the double Eli Ferris wheels.

Here's a video that shows a Paratrooper's tire drive system, if anyone's interested. The main identifier of these rim-driven Paratroopers is that they stay in the "up" position the entire time and load just a few seats at once (like a Ferris wheel). They're unique in that they can run backwards; I saw one of these in Delaware but didn't ride it because the line was long. Hrubetz later introduced a hydraulic version, which can lower to load all seats at once, decreasing wait times (more $$$). These models build up momentum by spinning at ground level before lifting, so the need for the tire drive is eliminated. BTW, I did a short post on the Paratrooper in 2019 and explained the rim-driven system there too.

An early Zipper, Skydiver, and Skywheel all in the same place makes me happy. Of these three, Chance still manufacturers the Zipper (with new restraints), but they remain most famous for the C.P Huntington miniature train.

I've heard of the Danbury Fair before because hundreds of their fiberglass statues were purchased by the Magic Forest, a storybook park in the Adirondacks of NY that looks like it was an incredible time capsule. I wish that I had stopped there on the way to my aunt's in VT because it closed after 2018 to be turned into a park with a focus on animatronic dinosaurs. The rides remain, but the diving horse is no more and the majority of the statues were sold.

Here's two specific examples from today's images: the reindeer in the last one and the boy with outstretched arms on the roof in pic #4. Both of these pictures are from the site I linked above, a treasure trove of Magic Forest photos.

That was probably my longest comment ever. Thanks for the great pictures, Major!

Stu29573 said...

Yup, Minuteman. I think this was a dummy that the Air Force used to promote itself at public events around the country (they may have had more than ons). It's fairly easy to find on the ol' interwebs.I could do more research, but I don't wanna.

Bu said...

We Connecticutions love our fairs...they are still going strong (in the season), and every town seems to have their own: some better than others. The ones with livestock and old-time things like pie contests are the best and who doesn't like a big helping of FRIED DOUGH!!! I actually WORKED in the Danbury Fair mall and had no idea is was on land that was the actual Danbury fair. There is not much excitement in Danbury so i am sure the residents were none too happy about their fair turning into a mall. The fair looked way better than the mall...and it is very much a "mall, mall" could be in "anywhere USA." Since Sikorsky is so close to Danbury (in Stratford, CT) I'm sure that these fair dwellers were very familiar with iron birds in the sky...and probably at that time Sikorsky was churning out a lot of inventory. The ZIPPER! I haven't heard of that in quite a while. My childhood friend and I built one out of LEGOS and it actually worked like a zipper. I wish we would have taken pictures of all the things we made with Legos before they had "kits"....we just had a giant bin of legos and we even made a Swiss Family Treehouse, and our own "Lego Theme Park". Amazing what you can do with Legos and a few rubber bands!

JG said...

I’m coming back later to read all the ride identifications. You guys are amazing.

This place reminds me of the Fresno Fair of my youth. Always a lot of fun.

That helo is “like a tea tray in the sky...”

Chuck, I think you’re right about the bull.

Thanks Major!


Nanook said...

I agree with TM! in regards to the 'wrapped packages'. Also the red and blue 'ribbons' topping the poles surrounding the bull. (I wonder if they also performed double-duty as some sort of outdoor lighting-?)

Thanks to Ken for the ride ID's. And Andrew, thanks for all your links - I see Chance still refers to the cars on the Zipper as tubs. Rub-a-dub-dub-! The images from the Magic Forest are so much fun. They [had] quite the menagerie of fiberglass figures - both human and fauna-!

Thanks, Major.

Melissa said...

Bu, our local Wal-Mart is built on what was once our county fairgrounds.

The tall feller in the last picture looks like a Muffler Man variant: I wonder if he’s still around somewhere.

Major Pepperidge said...

Mike Cozart… it would be a bummer to miss the New York World’s Fair, but you could do a lot worse than the Great Danbury Fair!

Lou and Sue, jeez, you’re right! What’s Mickey doing there??

TokyoMagic!, I’ll bet a day at the fair was a big deal for the locals. I noticed those wrapped packages, but did not consider that kids might be able to visit Santa (in October??). Anything is possible! There are a lot of random figures around the fair… notice the bears, and the Indian; maybe those are Santa’s reindeer though.

K. Martinez, I still don’t get the “old riddle”, maybe there’s nothing more to it than, “Here’s a bull who ate a lot”. Needs work! The bull would be a fine souvenir for sure. While I didn’t really know what “rim driven” meant, I pictured something very much like what you describe (and you did a good job of describing it!). We’ll see if Andrew can add anything. The pressure is on for him!

Jonathan, there is nothing more fun than an armed nuclear missile. Back in the late 1960’s, all of the coolest people had one. Some had to choose between buying a Minuteman missile or a color TV. Talk about a “Sophie’s Choice”! “Whirlybirds”, I have never heard of that show, I need to look it up. I know a kooky song called “Whirlybird”, I wonder if it was the theme to the show? Don’t woof your cookies!

Chuck, wow, you have blown my mind! I certainly wasn’t considering that the “riddle” could be an allegory for the British Empire. I wouldn’t rule it out, but if that’s the case, they are much deeper than I gave them credit for. And everyone knows that a raven and a writing desk are delicious when properly prepared. Riddle solved. I always love seeing those old bubble-domed helos in TV shows and movies, there’s something very appealing about that design.

Chuck, thanks for the link, it really is the same color scheme.

Major Pepperidge said...

Andrew, it’s great for me to have two - TWO - experts on old classic rides! How many blogs can say that? I’m not seeing the Scrambler at all, what am I missing. Thank you for the video of the Paratrooper drive system. That rock and roll music is too intense for me though, and I had to drink some holy water. I love it that they used tires for the friction drive. Thanks also for the link to your blog, which I need to be better about visiting. I just have so much stuff going on right now (mostly an elderly parent who needs a lot of help). Glad to hear that the Zipper is still being manufactured. And THANKS for the information about the fiberglass figures ending up at the Magic Forest! I think I have a brochure or two from that park. Bummer that it is now a dinosaur park, kind of lame. But I guess they have to change with the times. Your comment was long, but packed with great information!

Stu29573, that’s how they fooled us; the MInuteman missile was fully operational! Just in case the Russkies had any notion of invading Danbury, Connecticut. They want our funnel cake technology.

Bu, you live in New York, but worked at Disneyland, but your are a Connecticutian (or whatever they call themselves)?? Fried dough - funnel cakes definitely qualify. The last time I had a funnel cake was at the Santa Monica pier. It was delicious, but I regretted it later. ‘Nuff said. I did see pictures of the Danbury Mall, and you are right, there is nothing special about it. It’s nice to have a big mall, I sort of miss the ritual of going to the mall with friends, but it’s such a shame about the loss of the Fair. Your friend sounds like so many other Lego fanatics, able to build things that seem impossible to us mere mortals.

JG, oh, the Fresno Fair, I’m going to have to look that one up! That Lewis Carroll was “on something”, I’m telling you.

Nanook, I suppose that we had Santa’s Village, where Santa lived year-round, so why not have him appear at the fair in October? It’s not like he has anything better to do (except build my blue Schwinn bicycle with the banana seat!). The Magic Forest’s fiberglass figures were looking pretty weathered, I wonder if that’s why they finally jettisoned them for a dinosaur theme?

Melissa, I know that a lot of county fairs have gone the way of the dodo, they cost too much and sometimes the public just isn’t interested anymore. There is a local carnival that comes to my mom’s town once a year, but the event used to be a much bigger deal, with a rodeo, chili cookoff, parade, and more.

Andrew said...

Here's where that Muffler Man is now, Melissa. It sounds like Danbury had a bunch of them; four went to Magic Forest.

Bu said...

MP: Fried Dough is deep fried yeast pizza dough...served with tomato sauce/etc. to put on it...although with most fair food you eat it with your bare hands like an animal. It is heavier than a funnel cake. Funnel cake is more cakey and sweet with sweet toppings. Tends to be more flakey. Fried dough stays with you a while...until it doesn't...I will leave it there! I love fair food, but it's all a bit "explosive". To clarify my geography...grew up in Norway, England, and LA- when I worked at DL. Moved all about the US, and was a road warrior for 15 years- if you want a REALLY good fair- the Minnesota State Fair is the best- and has a laundry list of deep fried everything- including deep fried butter (an Oprah Favorite.) And the corn straight from the field roasted over a coal/apple/cherry/etc fire and then DIPPED (the whole thing) in butter and covered in cheese is soooooo good. Lived (past tense) in just work here and commute to CT. It's great to go home to the "country" every night...and have things like fairs and fried dough (and bears, deer, foxes, coyotes) near me.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Did I hear someone say 'funnel cake'?! I want one!!

These fairs are fun on a nice summer evening, when everything lights can ride a ferris wheel and grab a bite of some crazy feel like a kid, again.

I'm near miles of farm land, so we have a few local fairs, and tractor and steam shows, tractor pulls, etc. Good excuse to enjoy a nice day, walking around with friends. Hopefully everything will start up, again, soon - nothing's quite the same via Zoom.

Melissa said...

I’ve never seen fried dough without sweet toppings! I don’t know if I’d care for it any other way.

Thanks for the Muffler Man update, Andrew!

Major Pepperidge said...

Andrew, very neat! I love those old Muffler Men. The perfect decor for any occasion.

Bu, you’ve certainly been around! Your fried dough sounds like those things you “pizza bites” that you get at certain places. I’ve only had those when friends have ordered them, because when I’m already having pizza, I’m not in the mood for *just* dough and sauce. If you know what I mean. I love Minnesota, my dad was from there, and we went nearly every summer to fish and enjoy the beauty of that state. Since my dad and grandparents passed I have not been back, and miss it very much. There’s much to love in the midwest, without a doubt!

Lou and Sue, I went to something called “Railroad Days” in Fullerton, California a few years ago and waited in the world’s slowest line (not that long, just slow!) for a funnel cake, but it was so hot, and there was no place to sit that wasn’t in the blazing sun. It kind of took the fun out of it, though it did taste good. I just got powdered sugar on mine, though some folks got ice cream or whipped cream. I don’t like my funnel cake to get soggy. Sounds like you have some near things that you will be able to do soon! I’m jealous.

Melissa, yes, at carnivals and fairs, I think I’ve only seen sweet versions of fried dough. But these days, anything goes. My brother watches a show called something like “Carnival Eats”, and the variety is pretty astonishing.

Melissa said...

The best food at our local fair is always the salt potatoes and hot buttered corn. They pick the corn that morning, so it’s super fresh.

So glad I got to ride Kennywood’s vintage Paratrooper before they gave it the old heave-ho.

JG said...

Thanks JC Shannon for the magazine cover, I’ve never heard of that show, but I bet I would like it!