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Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v08n16)
Right in my Own Backyard - Our Blue Ribbon Fair - by Brandt Carter
posted: Aug. 05, 2011

Right in my Own Backyard header

Our Blue Ribbon Fair
Being a contestant in the Indiana State Fair is an experience I'll never forget. To begin with, participation heightens the sense of connection with the Fair. Then the chance to compete with other pie bakers, vegetable growers, artists, and all kinds of other entrants is a great way to see how your best stacks up. Winning ribbons is thrilling! Although grand champion ribbons are bedecked with a rosette of purple, yellow, white or pink, it is the humble blue ribbon that speaks to me. The blue ribbon signifies first place in a category.
Do you know the origins of this sign of excellence? Centuries ago, the Cordon Bleu was the blue ribbon worn by an order of knights. Additionally, the Blue Riband (or in the U.S., blue ribbon) was a prize awarded for the fastest passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean. There is a reference to a blue ribbon of science awarded as early as 1844, and blue ribbons were the highest honors in classical education. We can trace other references to blue ribbons. In 1882 Pabst Blue Ribbon tied a blue silk ribbon around its "Select" beer.
Blue ribbons came to designate first place for athletic events and also found their way into county and state fairs. As a symbol of top quality, "blue ribbon" became an adjective: blue ribbon panel, blue ribbon school, and blue ribbon gala. From ice cream and barbecues to restaurants and bakeries, products and services took this icon as their brand. Did you know the blogger who has chatted about Butler basketball goes by "Blue Ribbon Insider?"
With just the use of a color and a ribbon, we know the blue ribbon denotes something of high quality. We have 4-H and county and state fairs to thank for really popularizing blue ribbons. Did you know the Indiana State Fair is the sixth oldest fair in the nation? Our first fair took place on the site of the present-day Military Park in the fall of 1852. It was so successful that the Fair Board of Agriculture moved it to other locations in Indiana including New Albany, Fort Wayne, and Madison. Sharing in the wealth didn't work. The most successful fairs were in Indianapolis, so in the early 1860s the Board purchased 36 acres north of the city. This spot was known as Camp Morton and was used only once before being turned into grounds for a recruiting camp and then for a prison camp for the Civil War.
By 1891 the Indiana State Fair needed more space for exhibitors and visitors. The Board purchased 86 acres and leased 124 additional acres for the present site of the Indiana State Fair. Additions included a one-mile race track with grandstand and women's, horticulture, and agriculture buildings. The first State Fair on these grounds was in September 1892. In the early 1920s the grounds expanded again, with the addition of the Exposition Hall, Home and Family Arts, and Agriculture-Horticulture Buildings plus the Horse, Cattle, and Swine Barns. It was not until 1939 when the WPA was active that the current Coliseum was built.
So it's State Fair time again. Fun, education, competition, food, and ribbons are all to be had at 38th and Fall Creek. Look for the blue and all other ribbons that honor the best among those who compete. See you at the 155th Indiana State Fair!

Brandt Carter, artist, herbalist, and naturalist, owns Backyard Birds at 2374 E. 54th Street. Visit her web site Email your bird questions to
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