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September 17, 1861: Sacramento

September 19, 2011
California State Fair 2009

California State Fair 2009; by Bob n Renee, on Flickr

[W]hen I got up [this] morning we were lying quietly at the wharf of that new city, the capital of the state, the “Albany” of California.

The State Fair is being held here. The noise and bustle distracts me. I feel nervous and excited and long for the camp again, with its clear air, calm still nights, simple life, and its loneliness, rather than this bustle and crowd. I took cold when in San Francisco ten days ago, and again now—had I my blankets here I would be tempted to sleep out on the fairground.

The Fair is like other fairs—hundreds of big cattle, horses, etc. (the horses the finest)—many more Durhams than I expected to see, few Devons (in fact, none at all), some few sheep, fewer hogs, some mules and jacks. The grounds are fine, over twenty acres enclosed with a high brick wall with ten entrances, a fine track, etc. The stalls for cattle are finely arranged around the outside, and a promenade is to be built on the flat roofs of the stalls. There is a large stand for two thousand spectators, and a fine track. The races were received with California gusto, where horsemanship is such an accomplishment.


Sacramento River near Old Town; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Indoors the Fair was more peculiar—no flowers at all, but fine fruits. These latter were more remarkable for size than any other characteristic. It is too late for the best plums and peaches. I will give you some items of pears and apples. Numbers of apples which I measured were over 15 inches in circumference—one 16 1/2 inches! Three pears on one plate, I measured, both around them lengthwise and around the largest part crosswise, and their measurements in circumference were 17 inches by 14, 16 1/2 by 14 7/8, and 18 7/8 by 14 3/4 inches, respectively, the three weighing 6 1/2 pounds! Numbers of pears were seen measuring over fifteen inches around, and proportionately larger if measured around from stem to blossom end. In two instances of three pears on one stem, each cluster weighed together over five pounds. There were grapes of four-, five-, six-, and even seven-pound clusters! Yet, I must say candidly that I think the quality of all the fruit, except pears, to be inferior to the same kinds in the eastern states. Pears grow peculiarly well here.

The park is about a mile outside of the city, the pavilion for indoor show is in the city and was built earlier. The park was only fitted up this summer. The pavilion is an enormous brick building, has cost already over $30,000, and it will take $10,000 more to complete it according to the plan. It is lit by gas, and the greatest crowds are there in the evening, when the beauty and fashion of the city are on hand….

A noticeable feature of the Fair was the gambling. Besides the usual sideshows of live snakes, big cows, fat hogs, fat women, etc., there were hundreds of fan, monte, and other gaming tables, each with their piles of silver and gold, often to the value of hundreds and even thousands of dollars, in full blast, with the crowds around. Music, females singing or dealing cards to draw the custom, liquor, noise, swearing, etc., were the accompaniments. Yet the whole Fair was orderly. I never saw a Fair in the East where the crowds were more orderly or so well dressed as at this.

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