SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When tens of thousands of people stream through the New York State Fair every single day, some are bound to lose each other.
Frankly, some seem to do it on purpose.
Nearly everyone has a cell phone in 2015, so staffers at the fair’s Lost Persons facility have noticed fewer people actually require their help in recent years. When supervisor John Lischak started working at Lost Persons 12 years ago, about 50 people would get lost each day. Now, about five or 10 people do.
Police bring lost people to the Lost Persons trailer, which is slightly hidden at the front left corner of Chevy Court, behind the fair’s merchandise tent and Y94 booth.
Staffers also know there’s a certain seasonality to Lost Persons services at the fair.
Mornings are often slow, but Kay White knows to watch for an influx of lost kids during the late afternoon and early evening. This tends to happen around the start of concerts at Chevy Court or the grandstand.
“There are certain concerts where kids are suddenly gone, then they get found right after the concert, it’s true,” said White, a Lost Persons associate for 10 years. “You kind of assess what’s happening.”
While a child is waiting at Lost Persons, staffers keep them occupied with toys or drinks. Sometimes fair performers like the Living Floral Trees drop by to take photos with the kids, if they get antsy.
Staffers do their best to distract the children from the waiting. There are cots in the trailer if kids want to nap. In some (rare) cases, children will be left for six or seven hours, so Lischak will go next door and buy them a hamburger.
“We talk to them, try to comfort them,” he said. “It’s babysitting. We try to give them confidence someone will show up for them soon. A lot of them are usually emotional or upset. The people here are very well-qualified to deal with that.”
White was a social worker at Child Protective Services for 33 years and Lou Pascarella previously worked as a teacher and coach, before becoming an inspector for the City of Syracuse. Lischak was a lawyer for 35 years and a judge for 20 years.
They’ve also dealt with parents who lose their young teenagers mid-afternoon, who coincidentally find them after concerts end. One mother lost her 14-year-old son at about 1 p.m. and still couldn’t find him after dark.
“She was in a panic, crying and so emotional,” White said. “It was the night Jason Derulo was performing, and I said, ‘I bet you may find him after that concert.’ Sure enough, about quarter after nine, she called and said, ‘I found him in Chevy Court!’ Hmm, imagine that.”
How to avoid losing your party at NYS Fair
1. Parents, arrange a set time and location to meet, if separated.
“They really need to have a discussion before they come,” White said. “Periodically, touch base with your group.”
2. Tell the Lost Persons office if you reunite with someone you reported lost, so troopers know to stop looking.
“In 12 years or more of doing this, I don’t think there’s more than one or two we haven’t accounted for,” Lischak said.
Sometimes people just wander off the grounds. One man last year lost his party and just took a bus home.
“The troopers went crazy looking for that guy,” laughed Lou Pascarella, a Lost Persons associate for eight years. “We were calling his house, and he picked up. He said, ‘I got tired of waiting.’ He wasn’t concerned at all.”
3. Use the lost kid tags.
The bright orange lost kid tags are big help, which parents fill out and attach to their child. The fair started using the tags 12 years ago, but only recently has a staffed table been moved to the entry gates for people to use as soon as they come in.
“If you leave it up to people, they won’t go out of their way to get a tag,” White said.
4. When in doubt, ask police for help
Lischak says they probably have more lost adults than children each year.
“A lot of them are mentally challenged folks, or have disabilities,” he said. “Many go right to state police.”
State police are in constant communication with Lost Persons staffers, who keep a log of everyone lost at the fairgrounds. They write down the missing person’s race, build, hair color, clothing and other identifying characteristics, so police can search for them.
NYS Fair spokesperson Dave Bullard says 225 state police officials work at the fair.
“They find them quickly,” Pascarella said. “They’re terrific at finding people.”