I t’s about going back. You can sense, in the Washington State Fair’s present incarnations, its first: 1900, some farmers and businessmen putting together a small festival in the Puyallup Valley, setting up a tent, tying horses and cows to fence posts. Or its 1920s incarnations (see below), when plenty of concession stands and the steam-powered carousel arrived. The fair intended to return September 4–27 to celebrate its 120th anniversary. Instead, like nearly every other major event this summer, it's been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But you can still go back. Because heading to what most locals still call the Puyallup Fair means locating a past, collective or individual, in the present—finding yourself in a thing that feels comfortingly changeless. Last September, photographer Chona Kasinger caught it all, the full steadfast sensory hit. The cocky lean of the kid ruling over a game booth, his kingdom of stuffed pink pigs. The tumid pumpkins and pale scones. The animals: cows groomed to win ribbons, sheep pounding through mud, turkeys butchered and grilled to medieval decadence. The nauseating color palette of the nauseating Zipper. And, of course, Sir Mix-a-Lot. A fixture who reminds us that, when we go back, we may just find we got back too. 

Ferris wheels and crowds at the Western Washington Fair, Puyallup , ca. 1924

Image: MOHAI

By 2011 the fair had sold 100 million of its very famous raspberry jam–filled scones. They should be eaten in the morning, while walking around with a cup of questionable coffee. 

 
 

This junior, woolly version of bull riding goes on every day, and if you want to toss your child in the ring it only costs $15. It is listed as “kid-friendly.”

 

The fair offers a surprisingly decent, and wildly eclectic, range of outdoor shows. This year Ice Cube, Macklemore, and Carrie Underwood were scheduled. Last year, Ciara and Sir Mix-a-Lot held it down.

At a fair where other famous foods include many variations of deep-fried dough covered in sugar, disturbingly large hamburgers, and a 6 oz piece of bacon on a stick, some Russian pastries folded after hours almost qualify as healthy—and definitely as soulful.