Eighty-six years ago, a main attraction at the first Big Glen Burnie Carnival was an automobile ride for 10 cents. Some carnivalgoers scoffed at the notion that a novelty ride would become a hit.
Today, the chance to win a new car by purchasing a $1 raffle ticket is one of the carnival's most popular events, with few scoffing and many buying.
The Big Glen Burnie Carnival, a summertime tradition since 1908, opens its midway of more than 20 rides, games and food today at 7 p.m.
The carnival runs through Aug. 6 on the Glen Burnie Improvement Association grounds on Crain Highway at Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard.
A group of town fathers held the first carnival to raise money for downtown sidewalks, to keep pedestrians from having to crunch down dusty streets paved with oyster shells.
Proceeds from the carnival now benefit the improvement association and its civic activities, including sidewalk improvements, health and safety fairs and summer concerts. Donations are made to organizations such as hospitals, youth organizations, the local volunteer fire company and programs to feed the needy.
Some of the money is used for upkeep of the association's grounds and hall, which are offered free for community use.
The carnival "means a lot to the community because we return so much back to them," said Joseph Corcoran, a board member of the improvement association who will help with cooking and serving the food.
Profits from the carnival are the backbone of the association's annual budget; the rest comes from investments. Last summer, the association raised $91,000, about $30,000 less than expected. Rainy weather kept the usual crowds away, forcing an early closing on its second Friday night, historically the most profitable.
The dip in profits was felt because the community association's budget cannot exceed its income.
"We had to cut the budget last year because of that, and we don't want to have to do that again, because we feel all the money we put into the community is needed," said Donald Gibson, carnival chairman and an officer in the improvement association. He said rates of return on investments have been low because of the economy.
This year's attention-getter -- a red, fully loaded 1994 Plymouth Neon -- is scheduled to arrive today. The carnival pays all title, tax and license fees so that the winner can immediately drive the car home.
Adults aren't the only ones who will have a chance to win new wheels. Cars for children, powered by 12-volt batteries, will be raffled off each night of the carnival for $1.
The Glen Burnie Volunteer Fire Department will be raffling off a 15-foot Corsair boat with a 48-horsepower Johnson motor and trailer.
Carnivalgoers will still find food cheap. A hot dog goes for 50 cents, cheeseburgers are $1, Maryland crab cakes are $1.25, and small sodas go for 25 cents.
Admission to the carnival is free, as is nearby parking. For a $7 ticket, carnivalgoers can board rides all night, or they can buy individual ride tickets for $1. The carnival will open at 5 p.m. Saturdays.
But just as it was in 1908, the carnival is closed on Sundays.
For the fourth year, 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday is being set aside as free carnival time for physically and mentally disabled people and their families.
It takes about 1,000 volunteers to make the eight-day event run smoothly, organizers say.
"We perceive this going on forever because the reward to the workers is as great as for the child who comes here," said Mr. Gibson.