During my short time at Springfield College, there has always been a buzz around this time of the year about this huge event called The Big E. When I asked, “What is The Big E?” all I got were shocked looks and questions such as “You’ve never been?” and “You don’t know what it is?”
At first, it seemed like any old fair to me, but if any established citizen of Western Mass. or even New England heard me say that, I am sure they would be insulted. That is because The Big E is not just a fair; it is much more than that.
First, the name “Big E” is really just a nickname. Its birth name actually is the Eastern States Expedition, named in the fall of 1916 by Joshua L. Brooks.
The original purpose for the Eastern States Expedition was to promote agriculture and farming to young people so that the farming culture of New England would strengthen. Over time, that mission has stayed true, but evolved into something special for the region of New England.
“[The Big E] really speaks to the history of New England and it creates a lot of experiences for people to appreciate the original farming culture,” said Springfield College Director of YMCA Relations Harry Rock.
The Big E is exceptionally unique compared to most any other fair in the sense that it is a regional fair, not a state or county fair. The Big E boasts representation of six different states.
Rock continued to say that the Big E is “a diverse experience because there are cultural, historical, and educational influences all in one trip.” Each of these components adds to the uniqueness of the fair for different reasons.
Culturally, the streets are lined with vendors that represent New England. The Avenue of States is the most popular attraction because there is a replica of each state capitol and inside holds a “taste of each state,” as Rock would say. Then, in the Avenue of States, you can take a step back in time and witness what colonial New England was like by seeing the trades that were performed. These influences bring together a large following, not just from people of New England.
Springfield sophomore John Grimaldi, visited The Big E on opening night. He joked that he saw “a few Alaska license plates in the parking lot,” speaking to the fact that even people on the other side of the country know about the event.
Essentially, what makes the Big E so special is that it is just simply a fun place to be.
“There is something for everyone there,” Rock said. “Anything and everything.”
He is not kidding, either. You can find a fried Snickers bar or delicate cuisine from one of the six New England states. You can do anything from ride an elephant to seeing the world’s smallest horse. You can do go on carnival rides and see the most elegant of horses compete.
That variety is what sophomore and West Springfield native Andrew McNulty appreciates.
“Growing up in the city where the Big E is is great because every year I got free tickets, so I’ve been going ever since I was young. The variety there is really special,” McNulty said. “There is so much to experience like food, concerts, vendors that it makes it exciting for anybody.”
That excitement is what makes the Big E so personal. They offer and encourage local cities to be a part of the action with their daily parades. Rock has had the opportunity to walk in the Springfield parade for the past five years with Springfield College’s YMCA Club and he called it “a social event that we are proud about because it gives a flavor of the community that Springfield College is so proud to be apart of.”
These parades, as well as the event itself, promote pride and enthusiasm in the region that is contagious in many ways.
So, now I understand the shocked looks I received over the past several months. It is because The Big E is not just a “fair.” It is not just a weekend event. It is a seventeen-day extravaganza where people flock from all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the region of New England, and the country.
The Big E is where you can learn about history in an interactive and fun way. It is where you can stuff your face with delicious dishes. It is where you can experience a region and get a taste of what is so special about New England. The Big E is, in fact, a big deal.