National Geographic : 1954 Sep
309 Samuel W. Matthews, National Geographic Staff Curly and "Gardenia" Make a Hesitant Young Friend at California's State Fair Three tame skunks and a dozen costumes vary Henry Daily's clown act. He roams the fairgrounds with beribboned pets, paid only in the fun he gives children. Pinned to his tie is deputy sheriff's badge. stunts, stage and aerial acts, rodeos, and running horses. California's State Fair has an oval canal inside its mile race track for water skiing and speedboat races. Last year the Eastern States Exposition presented Army infantry attacks and an old-time firemen's muster with century-old man-powered pumpers. Auto-crashing "thrill shows" rank as one of the major drawing cards of most State fairs. Joie Chitwood's Tournament of Thrills, for example, has been so successful that dif ferent units perform simultaneously in vari ous parts of the country. But grandstands still grow quietest as drums roll and the high aerialists risk their lives. Standing in the sun, a girl in spangled tights balances at the very top of a slim 130-foot steel mast. Nothing is above her but blue sky, nothing below but the thin white pole and green sod. No intervening net spreads its reassuring web. She begins swaying slowly, only one foot braced in a steel stirrup. Farther and far ther, first to one side, then to the other, the supple mast bends. Faster and faster. Finally, crossing the sky like a giant metro nome, the girl swings through an arc as wide as a house. The sway pole ranks among the most dan gerous of all high acts. Rietta Grotefent, who won't go up in an airplane, is regarded by other aerialists as one of the most daring in her business. Hanging by one ankle from a guy wire, she comes back to earth, bathed in perspiration, by sliding 400 feet down across the race track. I stood watching her one day with Arthur F. Briese of Thearle-Duffield, a firm that pro duces some of the biggest fireworks displays in the United States. "You know how you can tell you're in Iowa?" he asked suddenly. "Look up at the grandstand. What color do you see?"