Saturday, September 5, 2009

Minnesota State Fair

Two of the Fair's classic attractions, the Giant Slide and the Space Tower as seen from the Grandstand ramp.

This wooden 'flower train' is in front of the Heritage Square entrance to the grounds. Heritage Square's nostalgia seems to be spilling out of it's borders.

Fair ground. The typical filthy ground people at the fair walk on all day. Most grass is dead, and some areas are worn down to dirt and dust.

This is a vintage seed bag from a display in the Agriculture/Horticulture building.

Looking down Liggett Ave. toward the barns. Crowds can be up to 200,000 on a record day!

Creature illustrating an old circus car, Heritage Square.

Inside the small and dingy transportation and racing museum for the fair at Heritage Square. There was a large display of primitive paintings featuring transportation devices of fairs past. I was drawn to the dirigible!

Wagons made of steel. I once owned an album named that. This photo features an old pioneer wagon in Heritage Square with its modern equivalent in the nearby parking lot.

This wall is near the entrance on Liggett ave. It is a WPA project made from local limestone that is rarely used as a masonry material today.

Jacuzzi Falls. This is one of many Jacuzzi stands at the fair. This one is in the Grandstand (which has merchandise in its bowels). A cheesy wonderland!

A random CBS eye logo painted on the floor of the Grandstand. It still functions as seating for pay concerts and events at the fair. I know it only as a strange mercantile.

An oldies band playing, as seen from the Grandstand ramp. Note the skyride to the upper right. Oddly enough, as I shot this photo there was a drum solo.

Spin art stand. It is a relatively cheap aesthetic pleasure (3$ or 2 for 5$). Recently Frisbees were added.

Local anchor Amellia Santinello is depicted on this mural at the WCCO TV building.

A candid back-side shot of one of the famous french fry stands at the fair. Those sacks at the left are potatoes.

Looking down my favorite fair alley toward the Space Tower.

My favorite ride at the fair is Ye Old Mill, a boat ride through a pitch black tunnel with occasional dioramas. It was built in 1913. This wheel powers the whole ride.

A view of the meticulously organized Republican Party building. Note the odd red vests of the volunteers---Wal-Martian?

Located on a secluded alley (relatively speaking) near the Horse barns, Steichen's is an old fashioned convenience store that caters to fair workers and participators, not fair goers. It looks so old I felt like the food would all be spoiled. That stuffed animal is a mangy version of 'Fairchild' the gopher, the fair mascot.

The front of Steichen's store. Note the great old-fashioned signage.

Fish in the DNR pond. This pond displays Minnesota's native fish.

Another view of the DNR pond. The water is 4 feet deep.

This is a street scene on Liggett ave. looking down the alley that Steichen's is located in. At the end is a Barn.

The derelict Frog pond--A forgotten project that I have a soft spot for.

This animitroic feller is the mascot for Quality Bag's stand in the Coliseum (or Hippodrome as I call it).

Cattle entering the Hippodrome from the cattle barn way. Yes, this is bad photography, but is captures the excitement of the animals and people as their paths cross on the Hippodrome walkway.

Cattle waiting judging, midway between the cattle barn and Hippodrome. This picture reminds me of a Rembrandt scene.

In an alley, behind an unfriendly fence lies this private parkland with the serpentine shape of Ye Old Mill. Note the extra boat.

A 'Snozzle' firetruck with the DES Dinning Hall in the background. For the faint of stomach there are several church-style dinning halls at the fair.

Here you can watch your corndog fry in lava hot oil.

At the dog building live surgeries are preformed throughout the day.

Live demos of products are in many buildings at the fair. This is one of at least three Sham Wow! stands.

A display of arts and crafts at the educational building. As a child my dream was to have work displayed here.

A giant cigarette butt outside of the health building. One year they made paper 'butt out' hats available featuring a large cigarette butt above the forehead.

A rare lone eater inside the beer garden building.

The Minnesota State Fair is a tradition in my family, like it is for many others. It is all about fun, but mostly what the fair consists of is walking around as a family through shuffling crowds looking at food stands and schlocky merchandise. Over many years there is a lot of change at the fair, but from year to year or even five years to five years things are the same down to the last inch. Many merchandise stands have been in the same location for over 20 years (and it seems like they never leave the fairgrounds, just sitting there year round). Things that were novel in the late 70's or 80's thrive--spin art, personality analysis 'computers', computer portrait art (dot matrix!) airbrush art. A stand or booth changing locations can get quite disconcerting!

With all this baseless repetition, the fair can seem like a forced march through a collective memory. My family has to look at a day's worth of certain things, just because. There is no logic to most of is. The stands seem random, because almost any stand could turn a profit at the fair, but many are not particularly swell ideas. Here is capitalism mixed with monarchism on display--if you get a stand into the fair, your family gets grandfathered into a profitable buisness, almost regardless of what you sell. It can be a very odd and trying sensation at times to walk through this same landscape of shilling over and over.

It certainly seems like America incarnate and in microcosim. But there is one big difference I notice between the real America and fair America. Tradition, no matter how cheesey or empty-headed is valued greatly at the fair. The real America is always on to the next thing, racing to erase evidence of a potentially embarassing past. Nostalgia is ok, but chest-beating patriotism that is part of America doesn't rely on pride in the past, excepting milestones. But at the fair, even a change of venue or a disappearing stand is a slight outrage. Nostagia is everywhere--of all kinds, from all eras of Minnesota. A whole section of the fair is called Heritage Square and has a pioneer/historical theme. It features an creepily old-fashioned (and simply old) State Fair museum housed in a train car.

All that is old fashioned Minnesota is celebrated at the fair. Pioneers, family farms, unique Minnesota products (and totally non-unique ones), free-moving livestock, old cars, old buildings old benches, old rides (Ye Ole Mill was built in 1913)--things done right, done the old-fashioned way. Tradition is paramount. Here history isn't relegated to empty county history museums, it is a living, valued aspect of the fair itself. Because the fair is all about Minnesota pride, in a way people at the fair are collectively saying, 'the past is great and our history matters,' as they stuff their faces.

This photo essay is not a planned hunt for certain sites. It features things I snapped a shot of as I randomly wandered around a landscape of American exess, burned into my memory. This hardly represnts a comprehensive cross-section of the fair, but rather is colored by my family's own history and tendencies and what I spotaneously came across and enjoyed at the moment.