After 42 years on the job at the South Carolina State Fair, John LaSchuma has seen a lot of really big changes.
“When we started out, it was mainly dirt and sawdust on the midway and now just about everything is paved. So much of the water and electricity and the systems like that that you take for granted have really been developed and upgraded,” he says.
He's worked almost entirely at different gates throughout his time at the fair, and even those have changed tremendously.
“The efforts that the South Carolina State Fair has gone to ensure public safety at the fairgrounds, I think that needs to be noted,” he says. “The metal detectors. The fact that after 6 o'clock, any patron under 16 years old and not escorted by an adult is not allowed in. It's not a matter of us just throwing the gates open. We're trying to protect everybody here.”
He works only the 12 days the fair is open. Even that has changed; it used to be 10 days.
So what keeps him coming back after more than four decades?
“The whole idea of 42 years of people-watching and seeing all the different things that you happen to see. That you know when you come back to the fair this year, before it's over, you're going to see something that you've never seen before,” he says.
He says one of the funniest memories is the year that a young couple got married on the Ferris wheel, not because of the unusual wedding but what happened later. “The couple that had gotten married, halfway through the fair they split up,” he explains. The bride went to Jaco's, which is right across the street from the fairgrounds, and was with another man. The groom then went there and told his wife he couldn't live without her and said he would kill himself.
Fair workers then heard tires screeching and saw a car stopping because someone was lying in the middle of the road. LaSchuma says after the groom had told his bride he was going to kill himself, “she said, 'Well, if you're gonna do it, do it where we can all see it.' And they all walked out on the balcony to watch him lay out in the road and get run over. But he couldn't do it. He'd always raise his hand before somebody got there.” That's when LaSchuma and the other fair workers had heard the commotion in the street. “We finally got him out of the road, though.”