Cameo: Bob Shirley

We talk to the longtime Maryland State Fair employee, who's been there for more than 70 years.

Jordan Stovka - August 2017

Cameo: Bob Shirley

We talk to the longtime Maryland State Fair employee, who's been there for more than 70 years.

Jordan Stovka - August 2017

-David Colwell

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

When did you start working at the Maryland State Fair? My first year was 1946. I was 11 and [hired to be] the office boy in the draft horse department. Every morning when I got to the fair grounds, I swept out the office and passed out the numbers to the exhibitors. In those days, they had a fair catalogue, which listed every exhibitor and every animal in every class. They cost 25 cents. When we had time in between other duties, we could sell programs, and when you sold a program, you got to keep a nickel of it, so, we were rich! I’ve worked at the state fair ever since. 

How did you first get involved? My family bred Clydesdale horses, and before World War II, many of our animals were shown under Shirley & Son, which was my grandfather and father. I guess it’s in my blood, but I’ve been lucky enough to meet and get to know a lot of wonderful people—and a lot of awful good horses and ponies. 


⇓ Article continues below ⇓

You’re known as one of the “voices” of the fair, having been a horse show announcer for many years. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over time?
Oh boy. [Laughs.] The spectators. In the ’40s and ’50s, it was largely a rural, agricultural audience. People were coming to the fair to see what the grand champion cow looked like so they could go home and compare it with their cattle, or they were coming to the draft horse show to look at the Percheron stallions to decide who they might want to breed their mares with. The vast majority of attendees are now suburban or even urban people, and they’re coming out for some of the other exciting things at the fair like the carnival.

There was always a good-sized midway, too, probably not as big as it is today, but to a young fella like me, I thought it was pretty exciting. Many food stands were run by local churches. The food was nothing we would consider gourmet. There were no crab cakes or crab soup—just good food that we farm kids were used to, like roast beef sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad and coleslaw. They would actually serve dinners with homegrown vegetables. That’s the way it was back then. 

What makes the fair so significant today?
It’s keeping people aware of how important agriculture is to the state, and to the world. When you sit down to eat three times a day, you should be thinking about the farmer because that’s where your food is coming from. We do tend to lose track of that in today’s world. Some people think they make the food at the supermarket. Certainly the most important thing the state fair does is educate people on where their food comes from. 




You May Also Like


Arts & Culture

The Book Thing Bounces Back

A Baltimore literary institution gets reborn, thanks to the community.

The Chatter

Bike Share Temporarily Shut Down

Theft, vandalism and maintenance issues force retooling on cusp of one-year anniversary of city program.

The Chatter

Q&A with Astronaut Terry Virts

Virts's new book of showcases images and stories from his NASA career and Columbia childhood.


The Chatter

City Paper Photographer Documents “Last Days in Paper City”

Joe Giordano chronicles City Paper’s final days in Instagram series.

Arts District

Discover Architectural Hidden Gems with Doors Open Baltimore

Residents can tour more than 50 of the city’s historical structures.


-David Colwell

Connect With Us

Most Read


Photographer Steve Parke Talks About Chronicling Prince
The Baltimore artist captures The Purple One in new book.

Our Picks for the Best Fall Arts Events
The fall creative calendar is bursting with concerts, exhibits, and theatrical happenings.

110 Years of Covering Baltimore
We celebrate a milestone and reflect on longevity.

Small Print
Local brand Worthy Threads puts the cool back in kids clothing.

Bold Palette
We gathered artworks from local Baltimore artists and paired them with fall looks.