The Danbury Fair Racearena 1981
After two weeks, mystery still surrounds death of Wheeler

Danbury Fair - In Connecticut: A Fair WENT Dark

Forward by Bob Barney: For  hundreds of thousands that grew up in western Connecticut for almost 100-years, The Danbury Fair and Racearena wa unlike any other event!  Some memories for some of our readers who remember....


From TIME (1981):

Smack in the center of the red-and-white-striped big top, Arlene Yaple, 63, surveys her domain: prize pumpkins, homemade brownies, dried cornstalks, okra and an American flag crafted of apples and grapes. Square dancers do-si-do to the bidding of a caller on a stage near by, while curious passers-by gape at a 325-lb. squash lying near Yaple's feet. Above the huge oval ring where the plump, gray-haired woman is sitting hangs a carefully lettered wooden sign that reads, "Arlene Yaple: for 35 years superintendent of Granges and Big Top displays. Danbury Fair thanks you for the great job you have done."

It is Columbus Day, usually a time to honor man's thirst for discovery. But in Danbury this year, it is a time for nostalgia and reflection. Tonight the big top is closing down for good. "We always say see you next year," Yaple muses. "This year, we aren't saying anything. We're all disappearing in the darkness."

Everyone knew it was inevitable.

Started in 1869, the Danbury State Fair had become an anachronism. It celebrated the farm at a time when farms hereabouts can be counted on two hands. But how people loved it: hundreds of thousands streamed through its gates every year to gawk at the livestock, ride the Ferris wheel and gorge on Italian submarine sandwiches and homemade pies. Finally, this stubborn outpost of rural sentiment could hold out no longer.

Sandwiched between Interstate 84 and Route 7, the lifelines of Connecticut's suburban sprawl, the 142-acre fairground was gobbled up by Wilmorite Inc., a Rochester, N.Y. , development firm. Wilmorite plans to construct one of New England's largest shopping malls, with more than a million square feet of commercial space. It will be called the Danbury Fair Mall, and the developers anticipate that it will draw nearly 35,000 customers a day, generate between $200 million and $300 million in sales annually, and stand in blacktop splendor as a testimonial to the properous future of Danbury (pop. 60,470).

"If this is what they call progress, fine", wearily says Leroy E. Paltrowitz, 75, who has been the fair's public relations director for the past 40 years. He pulls at his battered fedora, then adds, voice breaking: "But after 112 years, this is a sad ending to a remarkable and beautiful existence. I just hate to see it go."

Like Paltrowitz, most Danburyites are of two minds about the shopping center. Says Mayor James E. Dyer, 35: "As a citizen, I don't like it. But as mayor, I believe the mall offers some tremendous economic gains for Danbury."