Mickey Mouse and Goofy of Disney World were there. So were the District's Young Citizens of America and Grand Chili guru Sheldon Wimpfen of Luray, Va., who sweat with the best of them in judging chili entries in the Great Virginia Championship Cook-off.
They were among the more than 90,000 people who converged on the campus of George Mason University last weekend to sample Fairfax County's history, commerce, food, crafts and entertainment at the Fifth Annual Fairfax Fair.
At Saturday's opening ceremony, the 14th Lord Fairfax, whose ancestors once owned the land that is now Fairfax County, said, "What was once ours is now yours and you're extremely lucky." There weren't many fair goers who disagreed with him.
Gregory McNamara, 7, and his father, Joe, of Vienna said they came to the fair because they enjoyed last year's so much. Gregory played a cup and ball game with a member of the First Virginia Regiment of the Fairfax County Militia.
On weekends and special occasions, this nonprofit group promotes education about the 18th century through living history. Its members dress in uniforms modeled after those worn by Continental Army soldiers during the Revolutionary War and in civilian garb like that worn by the militia, a group of men ranging from ages 16 to 60 who were called upon to defend the county and colony.
The current regiment and militia set up camp, cook and reenact battles with other historic groups in places such as Williamsburg and Yorktown. Miriam Clark, a longtime member of the group, said the regiment practices militia drills regularly.
"It was especially important to the militia to be able to protect their farm and land," she said. "They would be paid three shillings a day to drill. Women would also come out with their husbands to make it a social event and have the opportunity to trade."
The aroma of food wafted across the fairgrounds. Brad Fordham and teammates David Schupmann, Marty Raffol and Steven Johnson took a break from playing in a softball tournament to attend the fair. "We love it," said Raffol. "We came to eat, scout out restaurants and look at all the ladies."
Along with the usual fare of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy were ethnic dishes like shish kebab, flan tarts and pasta salad. But the favorite dish of the fair was homemade chili.
Serious chili cooks slaved over their pots in the 90 degree heat to perfect entries in the Great Virginia Championship Cook-off, sponsored by the Clifton Gentlemen's Club to benefit the George Mason University Scholarship Fund. Restaurant cooks as well as amateurs entered cups full of chili in the preliminary and final rounds of the cook-off.
Judging chairman Lee Ruck carefully briefed judges to rate chili on aroma, color, consistency, taste and aftertaste. "The spices should be blended," he bellowed to three long tables of judges and cooks. "And just because it's hot doesn't mean it's good," he added.
Cook Rick Scott of Charlotte, N.C., was overheard muttering, "Anybody who uses rosemary in their chili should be shot."
The most colorful chili booths were those of the Death Row Gang, who set up a booth modeled after a state penitentiary, and the Hazel Bazel Knock-out Tropical Chili booth, which had a South Seas motif complete with sailboat, palm fronds and grass-skirted and lei-wearing cooks, who entertained passersby with a limbo dance performed to an infectious reggae beat.
Sunday was reserved for the Great Virginia Barbecue Cook-off.
Other attractions were band performances, contests for lemon rolling and jalapeno eating, carnival rides, livestock areas, a large craft area with exhibits by local craftspeople, a health fair, trade fair expo and outdoor commercial exhibits with more than 60 exhibitors, military recruiting booths, and race cars and antique cars on display.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic of all fair goers were the children and chili cooks, who hooted and hollered to bluegrass and country western music as the sun went down on the campus.