Why do they call it that? Why is the Florida State Fair in Tampa?

10:01 AM, Feb 8, 2012   |    comments
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This still image comes from a film about the 1952 Florida State Fair in Tampa.




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The Florida State Fair opens Thursday in Tampa, and that got us wondering. Why is the fair held in Tampa, and not in Orlando, Tallahassee or somewhere else?

Why do they call it the Florida State Fair?

A guy with an old-time announcer voice captures the flavor of the Florida State Fair wonderfully in an amazing film shot 60 years ago at the 1952 fair.

"The 48th annual state fair at Tampa, Florida marks another brilliant chapter in the Sunshine State's spectacular progress," the announcer belts out.

"For eleven February days and nights, while most of the nation shudders in winter's icy grip, historic Tampa plays host to over a million visitors."

"The world's outstanding mid-winter festival, it is highlighted by the famous Gasparilla pirate celebration."

The Gasparilla pirate invasion kicked off the fair for six decades.

Sixty years ago, most counties had their own displays with crops to show off. Some were colorful -- and maybe a bit odd -- arrangements of fruits and veggies.

St. Johns County's booth featured two young women in swimsuits sitting on a heap of cabbages. Hey! Eyes on the cabbages, people!

But the fair's not just big cows and big rides; there's always more to see, and some of the highlights from 1952 are spotlighted in the film.

There's something called an aqua-kitchen. The flooded room display is complete with a live mermaid and a stove, which I assume doesn't work too well underwater.

Folks cheer for stunt shows with crashing cars and circus acts.

And as a marching band performs in the film, the announcer awkwardly declares, "Negro Day -- where the colored youth of Florida display their athletic and cultural achievements."

It's clear the Florida State Fair has seen a lot of our state's history -- but not always from the same spot. It's only been held at the huge fairgrounds near Interstate 4 since 1976.

Before that, the fairgrounds were just north of the University of Tampa, across the Hillsborough River from Downtown. And that location is the key to why there's a state fair at all, and why it's in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Hotel is now the centerpiece of the University of Tampa. But in 1904, it was still a resort hotel, and it was struggling.

So the hotel's new manager convinced city leaders to put together a festival -- something, anything! -- to get visitors here.

They called the event the South Florida Fair. And it was a hit!

Then, in 1915, the folks in Tampa applied to Tallahassee to have their fair group incorporated.

Their paperwork proposed a long, complicated name for their group of fair organizers. But the people in the capital realized no one else in the state was doing anything like this and suggested something shorter.

So the event became known as just the Florida State Fair.

It's a memorable, catchy name, but it was just a nickname. The Florida State Fair didn't officially become the "Florida State Fair" until 1975 -- 60 years after the name caught on.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

The 2012 Florida State Fair opens its 12-day run Thursday, February 9th at 9 a.m. and goes until 11 p.m.

The Morning Show on 10 News will be live at fair opening day all morning long, giving you an inside look at all of the fun and food you can gobble up.

If you want to go to the state fair for free, click here to enter the 10 News ticket drawing. Ten random winners will be selected.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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