SPRINGFIELD – Heavy rains drowned out a parade Thursday kicking off the Illinois State Fair, a 10-day celebration of agriculture that includes a mammoth 500-pound butter cow sculpture, concerts and various fried delicacies on a stick.
Citing potential flash flooding that could occur during the time of the parade, the Illinois Department of Agriculture moved late in the afternoon to call off the 6 p.m. event scheduled to wind through Springfield and end at the fairground's grandstand.
Officials said fairgrounds would remain open that evening for Preview Day, where admission is free and carnival rides feature discounted prices.
Scheduled to participate in the march were a number of candidates seeking election throughout the state, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. Kevin McKee, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team, was the featured marshal.
Agriculture officials didn't immediately have information on when the last time the parade's opening fair had been canceled.
Spokesman Dave Blanchette, after stating the governor's disappointment, quipped that Quinn feared "neither rain nor opposition" – a reference to his opponent for re-election. The governor will formally open the parade with a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning.
Earlier Thursday, the popular butter cow sculpture – an unofficial mascot of the fair since the 1920s – was unveiled at the Dairy Building on the fairgrounds. The 500-pound bovine is made of unsalted butter and built from scratch. This year's creation depicts a tethered cow being milked by a boy who is waving to a woman.
The fair, now in its 162nd year, formally opens Friday morning with Quinn conducting a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9:30 a.m. On Friday and Saturday, the popular television talent-search program "American Idol" will hold auditions.
This year's fair features a "Golden Abe" awards program for food vendors, to encourage new and creative delights from the fried-on-a-stick crowd. Recent appearances have included fried Oreos, candy bars and a parfait made of mashed potatoes, meat and topped with a cherry tomato.
The theme for the fair, which runs through Aug. 17, is "Making Memories." Old favorites such as Conservation World are back, and Happy Hollow features popular tropical bird shows and the "Swampmaster Gator Show." The popular CrossFit "Battle for the Hill" returns for a second year.
Grandstand acts include Robin Thicke, Jake Owen, Pitbull, Steely Dan, Boston and Hunter Hays.