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Statehood Festivals

In 1913 the Legislature called for creation of a New Mexico State Fair, with land to be provided by the state. But funding didn’t come through. The fair continued in Old Town until 1916, when it succumbed to financial pressures brought on by the Legislature’s refusal to support the fair coupled with the onset of World War I.

Without a fair to draw visitors, the enterprising D.K.B. Sellers in 1917 organized a four-day patriotic show with 3,000 cowboys and soldiers performing military drills.

Labor Day in those days was the occasion for a parade, usually with marching railroad employees. In 1917 the parade also featured the First New Mexico Infantry, which was based in Albuquerque, before the men went to France for World War I.

In the 1920s Albuquerque boosters created The First American Pageant, a four-day event with parades, concerts, dances, arts and crafts, races and night dramas performed before a papier mache pueblo created at present-day Wyoming and Central. Performers included Jules Verne Allen, the Singing Cowboy, and Haske Naswood, the Navajo baritone. Organizers were Arthur Praeger, president of the Gas and Electric Co.; insurance executive Clinton P. Anderson; car dealer Clyde Oden; merchant Sol Benjamin; and advertising executive Ward Hicks.

In 1929 Mexican nationals who had come north to work for the railroad began celebrating the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their South Broadway neighborhoods. The Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared on a hill outside Mexico City in the early 16th century. Her image appears often in religious folk art in both Mexico and New Mexico. Every year since, the South Broadway area has celebrated the event.

In 1935 businessmen proposed a three-day Golden Jubilee to celebrate the city’s 50 years as an incorporated city. They called it the “Biggest Birthday Party in the History of New Mexico.” It featured parades, pageants, races, regattas, fiddlers and fireworks. Its goal was to “end the Depression blues and turn Albuquerqueans’ thoughts to the future.”

That year contractor Frank Shufflebarger and Chamber of Commerce President Oscar M. Love decided to revive the fair, but it took them another year before they could get a $5,000 bank loan, which the state matched. They bought a 216-acre tract on the East Mesa. Gov. Clyde Tingley garnered $215,000 in federal Works Progress Administration funding for construction, which would grow to a half million. And he appointed in 1936 the first State Fair Commission, which hired Leon Harms as the first fair manager. In 1938 the New Mexico State Fair reopened at the newly completed State Fairgrounds, which included a racetrack. New Mexico was then the only state with pari-mutuel racing.

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