Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Our State Fair Is a Great State Fair

By Judith

In Minnesota, 'tis the season - for the Great Minnesota Get-Together known as the Minnesota State Fair. Not just a regional county fair, but a fair for all the state. Back in 1858 when Minnesota was admitted into the Union, the fair was already four years old, having been a territorial fair up till then. Once Minnesota became a state, the fair continued, although it was a movable feast until it landed in its current location in Saint Paul in 1885.

The third largest fair in the country, our fair has grown and changed - and stayed the same. Perhaps the most exciting thing about going to the fair each year is the anticipation of how everything will be exactly as it was the year before. Oh, there may be a new food, the racetrack at the Grandstand may be gone, but the changes are, for the most part, slow and gradual, like the subtle changes to the landscape surrounding its neighbor the Mississippi River. Anything else would put people off. They want to remember the fair the way they first found it when they were kids.

At the fair, there's something for everyone. For very small children there are rides that barely get off the ground but are exciting anyway. For teens there's a basketball challenge and a skateboard demonstration park. For those who appreciate arts and crafts, there's the Creative Activities or Fine Arts building. For the world traveler, there's the International Bazaar. For the farmer, or anyone who appreciates the rural life, there are not only horse, swine, poultry and sheep barns, but Machinery Hill. Once a display of the latest tractors or combines, it now also includes the best of suburban lawn riding mowers.

And for everyone, there's food. Not just food, but food on a stick. Hot dogs, pork chops, pickles, twinkies, deep-fried candy bars and mac & cheese. All on a stick. For the less adventurous, there are also bright yellow ears of corn dripping butter, a crisp, juicy apple or all the milk you can drink for a dollar.

From the Midway to the Space Needle, from the Coliseum to the Grandstand, the Minnesota State fair has something to delight and satisfy all goers. See the hucksters in the Merchandise Mart selling a knife that will cut your wood and your tomatoes. Or how about that floor mop that will sweep and wash. Ride the gondolas and see the fairgrounds from atop the trees. Visit the television or radio station booths and get an autograph from your favorite news anchor. Visit the booths of your favorite politicians and give them a piece of your mind. On Sundays visit the Chapel. Stop in at the newspaper office and watch how old printing presses were set up and run. And before you leave, use the sample newspaper to fold into a "press-boy" cap.

There's so much more that it's impossible to list it all (but you can see a bit more here). We can easily spend twelve hours there on the first Saturday and at the end of the day make a list of all the things we didn't see that we'll catch on the next weekend. And going twice means we can have another helping of cheese curds. Trust me, tastes much better than it sounds. Twelve days of fun and excitement, culminating on Labor Day, signals the end of summer, the beginning of autumn and the feasts and celebrations of harvest before the long, cold winter of the Northern Plains.

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