The State Fair of Texas is an event packed full of history, memories and meaning. It might be the only place where visitors can sample deep-fried seafood gumbo balls, a cookie butter ice cream sandwich made with deep-fried armadillo-shaped cookies, and brisket brittle all in one spot. It’s an amusement park, a concert venue and a shopping center.
The list could go on, but it could never be all-encompassing. Luckily, a couple of our East Dallas neighbors have done their part to help explain the annual event.
Allen Mondell and Cynthia Salzman Mondell are the co-founders of nonprofit Media Projects Inc. Since 1978, they have been producing and distributing documentary films covering a range of topics: history, mental health, women’s studies and more. In 2000, they released “A Fair To Remember,” which documents the story of the Texas state fair.
“We really wanted to do a film that said something about Dallas and epitomized what Dallas was about,” Cynthia says.
Since it started in 1886, the fair has become the largest of its kind in the U.S. The film features Elvis Presley, Harry Houdini and Franklin Roosevelt. It shows viewers how the fair was tied to everything from agriculture to racism and segregation, and how society evolved along with it. At the same event where the Ku Klux Klan once sponsored activities, the city is now offering free food for people who get their COVID-19 vaccines.
“I mean we’re talking about something that began in the 1880s. And here we are in 2021. And we really made an effort to show you the development and how things changed and were accepted or not accepted over all that time,” Allen says. “So to be able to have people look at the fair, they’ve been to the fair or they will go to the fair, but here’s the history of that fair — that was exciting. You don’t often have a chance to do that, to be able to go back to the 1880s and bring it back to the 2000s.”
The first time the Mondells went to the fair, they took their daughter. They loved meandering through the food building, tasting the unique offerings. Allen says they can’t wait to go back soon, and hopefully take their grandson, who’s about to turn 9.
“It’s been a lot of things to a lot of different people over the years,” Allen says. “And we love it. We really have enjoyed going.”
Allen says the whole process took about two years to complete. Information was gathered through oral histories, news sources and institutions such as the Dallas Public Library and the Dallas Historical Society.
The film, narrated by Barry Corbin, features music by Brave Combo and animation by Janimation. It was co-produced by Phil Allen. In 2008, the film was awarded the Lone Star Emmy for Best Texas Heritage Program/Special.
Though the film hasn’t been updated since it was made, the Mondells hope it’s just as powerful as when it was first released.
“To me, if people can watch the film and just share memories, that would be enough,” Cynthia says.
The state fair is returning Sept. 24 after being canceled last year because of the pandemic.
“We wanted to give Dallas some joy and some hope during this time,” Cynthia says.
“A Fair To Remember” is being rereleased on KERA at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 and 4 p.m. Oct. 3. BuzzBallz’s founder Merrilee Kick signed on to be a sponsor for the broadcast.