Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
For five generations, a family from Fairfield has celebrated the Iowa State Fair in its entirety, camping out on the grounds for the week.
Crystal Hammes said the tradition started with her great-grandparents many years ago.
“My great-grandparents, Hazel and Earl Filson, started going up in the ‘40s,” she said. “That was what my grandma thought, but we couldn’t pinpoint an actual date. That’s why we started saying it was since 1951, because that’s when my grandma and grandpa took over and started going.”
While it’s remarkably different from the experience of most fairgoers, Hammes said it improved the experience.
“That’s the best part of the fair, we think,” she said. “We can go and come as we please, we don’t have to see everything in one day … it gives you the ability to not get worn out and just enjoy yourself.”
Hammes said that the tradition had not yet scared off any new members of the family as it has grown.
“All of us cousins have gotten really lucky,” she said. “Our spouses have ended up sharing a love of the fair with us, so it’s been really fun. Most of our kids are super excited about the state fair, they talk about it all year-round, it’s one of their favorite times of the year and the twinkle in their eyes when something is mentioned about the Iowa State Fair says it all.”
One hard-earned part of their yearly tradition is the camping spot reserved by the family. Permanent camping spaces are rarely turned over, sometimes even passed down through wills. Hammes said the wait time for a new spot was currently around 14 years, according to the family’s yearly renewal documents.
In its five generations camping at the fair, Hammes’ family has locked down three adjacent camping spots, centered on the one reserved by her great-grandparents sometime in the ‘40s.
“We kind of have a triangle spot where we have three campers,” she said. “The middle part of our area is picnic tables and lawn chairs.”
A lot has changed over the years. Hammes said her great-grandparents started with a pop-up tent and a bar of soap nailed to a post. The family has since upgraded to fifth wheel campers, complete with heated water and air conditioning. Some traditions, however, have lived on.
“When us kids started going up with Grandma and Grandpa, it seemed like the only snack that we would get is popcorn and apples,” she said. “Now we always try to have at least one night of the fair that we’re all together for a snack that’s sliced-up apples and popcorn … it’s just a way to remember them and hold on to the tradition that we love.”