There are fireworks at the conclusion of every grandstand show during the 2004 Iowa State Fair, but Kathie Swift, a spokeswoman for the Fair, says some fireworks displays at Fairs of the past were more extravagant. The “huge” fireworks displays of past years would illustrate themes, like the fall of Pompeii. Beauty contests were popular in years past, too, and one featured Hollywood starlet Susan Hayward judging a contest to find the state’s most beautiful redheaded woman. Swift says the fair had a “beautiful baby” contest, though the polio outbreak of the 1950s put an end to that. One of the biggest hits was an exhibit of animals pickled in alcohol, and a long time ago “female equestrianism” amazed people who weren’t sure women should be riding horseback. The fair’s also been a mirror of daily life in Iowa, and Swift says people came to show off what they did at work and at home. They might judge the best butter, homemade soap, fruit dishes or fresh fruits, and even varities of prepared items like walnut ketchup. This year’s fair features historic photos blown up to giant size, in the windows of the fairground’s major buildings.
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