On September 12th 1905, the Ka-noo-no Karnival debuted in Syracuse. The eleven highly successful Ka-Noo-No Karnivals, held between 1905 and 1917, are an important part of our history, especially with regard to the New York State Fair. Until 1889, the State Fair was mobile, traveling from city to city across the State. In 1887, the city of Syracuse (who played host in 1841, 1849, and 1858) offered 100 acres to serve as the permanent home. In 1889 the Fair came to Syracuse to stay, or so it seemed. By 1903, it was obvious that the Fair was not doing well. The State Fair Commission considered moving the Fair to another city as many had expressed an interest in hosting it. What happened next is an amazing example of community collaboration and cooperation that made Syracuse a destination, brought national attention to the city, cemented the relationship with the State Fair, and threw one heck of a week-long party.
In 1903, the Fair was a daytime-only event and the predominant mode of transportation was horse and buggy, so it was a major effort to travel all the way to Syracuse just for the Fair. It became obvious that there needed to be more incentive for non-locals to make the long trip. Spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce, the community’s leaders determined that evening entertainments might draw people to Syracuse and keep them here to go to the Fair the next day. They proposed three evenings of entertainment for 1904 and the Fair that year, for the first time, turned a profit.
The Chamber expanded the program to all five nights of the Fair. An organizing committee determined that a New Orleans Mardis Gras type carnival would be best. A general Native American theme was chosen to pay tribute to the first inhabitants of New York State. Dr. William Beauchamp, president of the OHA, suggested the Native name “Ka-Noo-No”, meaning the territory within the State of New York and, thus, the Ka-Noo-No Karnival was born.
Each year had a theme component, along with the regular floats and parades for the fire department, military & fraternal organizations, automobiles, commercial organizations, neighborhoods, and children. The theme floats, sponsored by the Karnival Krewe , were designed by Toomey & Volland, designers of the Mardis Gras floats. The rented costumes, were lavish and exquisitely detailed. For the first time the city was lit by strand lighting illuminating the extensive parade route throughout the city for the nearly 100,000 people who lined it nightly.
There was no Karnival in 1913 and 1914, when the State Fair began to offer evening entertainment. They weren’t very successful at first, so the Karnival ramped up again from 1915-1917. By then, the State Fair was doing well, and automobiles allowed people to come for the Fair and the evening show and still get home to sleep in their own beds.
The Krewe had achieved its goal and the New York State Fair was firmly established in Syracuse.