“Sprawlingly expansive, acutely aromatic, exhaustively enjoyable…. An astonishing achievement in contemporary communal celebration.”
A New York Times Notable Fair!
“A heartbreaking work of staggering cheesiness; a tour-de-force tour of the vanishing American barnyard; a blister-sprouting, bunion-busting, slow-motion thrill ride through a phantasmagoria of middlebrow cultural clichÃ©s. A—”
“America’s most powerful fair to date: sears the mind, wrenches the heart, wrings out the kidneys, and stages a kick-ass fireworks show in the cramped quarters of your Scandinavian libido.”
“I liked the rides and the cookies, but the chickens were stinky and Daddy spent too much time in the beer garden. Also, we saw a lady dog get spaded so she wouldn’t have puppies.”
—Posted by Jessica, age 7, on Howwasthefair.com
“If, as a child, you are taken to the Minnesota State Fair by an adult, one who understands a thing or two about the creation of wonder, then you’ll never lose your sense of the fairgrounds as a place of mystical bounty. I was lucky enough to have a grandfather who loved the place. Even now, I like to get there before sunrise, to see the place create itself. I sit on a bench near the Grandstand and watch how the trees emerge from the sky, sense the barns and pavilions take on shape and substance all around me. From the southwest comes the spatter of water—some kid spraying down a Holstein, getting ready for the dairy judging. The light grows stronger. There are sparrows scavenging last night’s corncobs, and squirrels eating cheese curds, and seven-foot canna lilies as red as fresh blood, and you can smell onions and horses and hot sugar and fried dough. It’s kind of an Eden moment. Well, as close as I’ll ever get.”
—Posted by Bob, 66, on Godilovefairs.com
“omg dude u shd c th udders on ths babe!”
—Text message sent by Travis, 13, standing in the Cattle Barn, to Ben, 12, standing right beside him
“My first husband, Earl, always said he discovered me at the state fair. I was working in our church dining hall. I served him turkey and mashed potatoes for lunch, and later that evening we went for a ride at Ye Old Mill. He smelled of lemonade and cigarette smoke. He held my hand, and then as we went around a curve and the boat went bumping along the wall, he touched my face. It was a perfect moment. I think now maybe it was the best moment of my life. The muffled darkness, and the gentle forward push of the current, and his fingertips on my cheek. I was 17 years old.
“What’s that? No, when I say he touched my face, that’s not an evasion or a euphemism. If I’d said he touched my throat, that would have been a euphemism. We were raised to evade frankness. Kids now are raised to evade responsibility. Still and all, I have four children, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren who wouldn’t be walking this earth if it weren’t for the fair.”
—Marlys P., 84, quoted in The Great Minnesota Beget-Together, an as-yet-unpublished oral history of families that trace their origins to a chance meeting at the fairgrounds
“Some people will tell you it’s the same every year. Idiots. Buddhists say you can’t step in the same stream twice. It’s a similar deal with the fair. You dip your toe in, it’s going to come out with a different Tom Thumb mini doughnut on it every time. You may need to teach yourself to perceive the differences—there’s some moral and spiritual and intellectual discipline required. But the differences are vast. The same goes for cheese curds.”
—Anonymous posting on Crabbyphilosophymajors.com
“Dad! Look at all the penises!”
—Boy, about 3, in a men’s room with trough-style urinals
“Young skill-game operators are forever saying to me, ‘Hey, Quart, Minnesota’s a long way up there. Is it worth the trip?’ I always tell ’em, ‘Only if you want to make some real money. If you’ve got a case of milk bottles and a package of curtain rings, you’re in business in the ol’ Gopher State.’”
—Gerold “Quartermaster” Gladney, author of the “Plush Life” column in MBA Carny magazine
“When it comes to the fair, there are certain things people talk about year after year: the stick-centric cuisine, the dairy princesses sculpted in butter, the enormous hog, the Grandstand acts, the talent show, the wasps, the attendance, the way your perspiration makes minuscule airborne grease particles stick to your skin, the egregiously tiny outfit on that woman over there. I could talk about that stuff all day, too, but then I also think about the time, late one night on the Midway, when I saw a bunch of cops gathered around a souvenir stand. I thought there was trouble, but no, they were just having names engraved on their handcuffs. Or the evening I saw the developmentally disabled man at Ye Old Mill, all by himself in a boat, grinning, laughing, completely happy to be sailing alone into the tunnel of love. Or the night—it was Labor Day, the last night of the fair—when I took a late swing past the barns. Too late: All the animals were gone, back home or sold for slaughter. Except from the Horse Barn, cavernous and silent, little birds darting around in the ammonia-scented air up under the rafters. The Budweiser Clydesdales were still there, at least a dozen of them, weary, burnished and voluptuous, sleepily shifting on their tufted hooves, mulling the vicissitudes of show biz. The night can be so wonderfully poignant at the fair if you can avoid the drunks.”
—Your sensitive, bookish friend who can be a little over-the-top sometimes
“Damn, I’ll miss the fair this year.”
—My tombstone, someday MM
Contributing editor Jeff Johnson would like to dedicate this column to the memory of Carol Ratelle Leach.