Reflecting on The Great Allentown Fair: A nostalgic romp? Or a relic of a crueler past?

The event hit the fairgrounds last weekend and has seen some backlash from the student body.

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Photo by Katie Conlon '24

Every year around the first week of classes at Muhlenberg College, The Great Allentown Fair holds a 5-day festival filled to the brim with classic fair activities. The last time I had been to the fair was in preschool, so I decided to give it a visit to see if it was really as “great” as the name suggested. 

The fair has a storied history, spanning over a century. “In its 171-year history, it has weathered pandemics and epidemics, world wars and the Great Depression. The fair has kept its agricultural roots while trying [to] walk a fine [line] by keeping what a traditional fair should look like while keeping up with the latest interests and trends,” said the fair’s marketing and entertainment manager Jessica Ciecwisz. 

This year, the fair lasted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 4. The event boasted several major recording artists for its “Grandstand Shows” including Keith Urban, Yung Gravy, Nelly, Styx/REO Speedwagon and Tyler Hubbard. I did not attend these events but did overhear Nelly performing from a mile away, so the sound system must have been top-notch.

The fair is truly an amalgamation of the most random vendors. You can purchase a hot tub, fireplace, beauty products or toys all within mere feet of each other. Massages were even available on-sight for fair-goers. A group of acrobats were doing flips on trampolines next to a massive building filled to the brim with the winners of the many contests held at the fair. Lining the shelves were plates of produce, baked goods and even pickled vegetables with ribbons indicating how they placed. Aside from the intimidating carnival rides that looked nauseating, the fair’s primary attractions were the food and the livestock show. 

“The allentown fair always seems magical. I feel like living in the ‘muhlenbubble’ forces me away from allentown but events like the fair really show me the amazing diversity that the city has to offer.”

Shobha Pai ’24

Underneath a large white tent were several farm animals on display including calves, rabbits and pigs. Some Muhlenberg students were alarmed to see the conditions that the animals were being subjected to. Rebekah Ayre ‘24 expressed this, saying, “I was not a fan of how the animals were tied up and confined. Some of them looked really skinny and uncomfortable, which made it hard to enjoy seeing them.” While the animals were adorable, seeing a calf that was less than a month old being confined to a wooden fence did not sit well with me, personally. 

The food options were plentiful, with choices spanning many different cuisines. Classic fried fair food, gyros, barbeque and pizza were all up for grabs. I opted for a cone of mint chocolate chip ice cream which hit the spot but wasn’t anything to write home about. Catherine Debah ‘24 commented on her experience with the fair’s food offerings saying, “I think the food options at the fair were pretty great! I’ve been going there for about three years now so I have a few regular spots I go to but I like to try out a few new ones every year. This year I tried out Kou’s Kitchen for the first time, they served West African cuisine and they were family owned. I stayed and talked with them a bit and they were super nice!”

Shobha Pai ‘24 shared how the fair allows her to feel more involved in the Allentown community, “The Allentown Fair always seems magical. I feel like living in the ‘Muhlenbubble’ forces me away from Allentown but events like the fair really show me the amazing diversity that the city has to offer. My favorite thing was the pig race I saw.” Shobha Pai ‘24

Overall, the fair provided the Muhlenberg student body with a distraction before classes kicked into full force. Despite its entertaining displays and attractions, the fair presents ethical dilemmas to those who take issue with putting animals on view for the purpose of amusement. One can hope that the Great Allentown Fair can maintain its commitment to its “agricultural roots” while sacrificing the livestock show or at least making the conditions more hospitable for the creatures inhabiting this exhibition. 

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Katie is a Media & Communication and Political Science double major in the class of 2024. When she's not working on the paper you can find her blasting Taylor Swift, reading Jane Austen, or crying over Little Women (2019).

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