A thrilling new ride and many familiar favorites start running today as the 147th SEMO District Fair gets underway
By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian
It's 135 feet tall, requires a crane to assemble and those who attempt to conquer it will endure 4.5 g's and speeds of up to 60 mph as part of a two-second free fall that could transform stomach contents into airborne projectiles.
Forget intimidating. The Mega Drop is downright horrifying.
Yet promoters of the SEMO District Fair, which kicks off today at noon, insist the fair's newest carnival ride will attract long lines of thrill-seekers who will love it and ride it again and again.
"It was the No. 1 ride at the Illinois State Fair," said Kevin McGinn, who works for Astro Amusement, which provides and assembles the 24 rides that will be featured at the eight-day fair. "We had lines of people and were seeing 450 people in an hour."
The ride requires getting locked into a metal seat, legs dangling, being raised to the top of the tower-esque ride and then dropped. McGinn and others worked on putting the ride together Friday at Arena Park.
McGinn said the ride is not actually a drop and is propelled through high-powered magnets that control the fall.
"It's all safe, but that doesn't mean it doesn't scare people," he said.
Another worker -- Robert Bucher -- agreed.
"When they get in, you see fear on their faces," Bucher said. "And when they release the cars from 135 feet up, you can hear what they're screaming. But you couldn't print it in the paper."
Touches of familiarity
For the faint of heart, the familiar rides are back this year too: The merry-go-round, the Himalaya, the Ring of Fire, Tilt-A-Whirl, Cliff Hanger. There will also be food, from corn dogs and cotton candy to the increasingly popular fried candy bars.
"Yes, there will be fried candy bars," said Pete Poe, publicity coordinator for the fair association. "People keep asking that, and we'll have them."
Poe said they are expecting to top 100,000 in attendance this year, the 147th annual event. It runs through Sept. 14. In addition to the new rides and tasty treats, Poe said other new features will debut at this year's fair.
At the corner of Jaycee Drive and Expo Way, there's the new memorial for veterans -- a landscaped area with three flags: the Missouri state flag, the U.S. flag and the fair flag. There's also the Southeast Missouri District Fair Foundation's Walk of Friends, which is a brick walkway with names of donors. They have also placed 50 flags around the park, a show of patriotism after the Sept. 11, which took place during the fair last year.
A 15-by-30 foot flag will also be displayed atop a 200 feet crane near the grandstand behind the Arena Building.
"This is all stuff we're doing to keep the fair talked about the whole year and not just one week," Poe said. "Sept. 11 hurt us a little bit last year, but that was last year and this is this year."
On Friday, the park was full of people getting ready. Joe McFadden and his wife were setting up Potpourri and More, a stand that sells figurines and other collectibles. McFadden, who lives in south Texas, travels around with the fair to its various destinations.
"We love what we do," he said while unboxing the figurines. "We get to meet a lot of wonderful, nice people. That's one of the great things about this."
Monica Norton was wiping down the window of the hot-dog stand where she works.
"We'll sell several hundred of these a night," said the Illinois woman. "We've been getting ready all day. We'll be ready when the gates open."
Poe said he is especially proud that the fair has maintained its family-friendly image.
"We really do want this to be an event that the whole family can come out and enjoy together," he said. "That's what coming to the fair is all about."
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