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29 things I learned from my (second) trip to the State Fair

Minnesota State Fair entrance
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

A few years ago, not long after arriving in Minnesota, I went to the Minnesota State Fair, mostly to see what all the fuss was about. Whether I’d been to “The Fair” was usually the second question asked by natives, right after they asked where I went to high school.

My verdict?

It was … fine.

It was like other state fairs. Only bigger. And with more chocolate chip cookies smeared onto the pavement.

But I learned that there are three things about which you should never challenge Minnesotans: 1. That skyways are fabulous and necessary; 2. That Minnesota is better than other states because of voter turnout; and 3. That the Minnesota State Fair is like a religious experience, except with chocolate chip cookies.

Trying to convince Minnesotans otherwise is like trying to teach a pig to sing, which as it turns out is the opening act for ZZ Top on Monday.

Mostly for fun — but also to find all the politicians and state agency press aides who haven’t been returning my phone calls — I returned to the fair this week to see what has changed — and whether it might have grown on me in the intervening years.

So now, after 15,000 steps and half a tube of sunscreen, I can reveal the 29 things I learned, relearned and unlearned from another sojourn through the Minnesota State Fairgrounds:

1. Not that much has changed in four years. True, there are a few new buildings and some new foods — the source of obsessive coverage every year — but the Great Minnesota Get Together is mostly the same get together because that’s how people like it. And despite the introduction of Deep Fried Dilly Dogs and Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites, most people eat pronto pups, turkey sandwiches and stuff on sticks.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
2. There is a food item called Tino’s Dough Balls.

3. The Elephant Ears are homemade, so none of those mass-produced elephant ears here.

4. It was 9:20 a.m. when I passed a booth selling Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer. It wasn’t the hour that caused me to decline.

5. If you get here early enough, you only have to wait about 15 minutes to see the seed art/crop art, which is brought to you by Bremer Bank. (The seed art has a corporate sponsor, yeah.)

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
6. Despite its shortness, the seed art line still moved pretty slowly. Minnesotans take their time when it comes to seed art.

7. From a distance, Rosie O’Donnell in seed art kinda looks like Amy Klobuchar in seed art.


MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
8. Bob Hope?

9. It was part of seed-art queen Lillian Colton’s collection but I wonder how many people recognize the subject of her rendition of Dan Rather. If it is a lot, it suggests the demographic for seed art is about the same as that for Parade Magazine.


MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

10. I took a picture of a woman taking a picture of a woman taking a picture of seed art. And yes, that is Lin-Manuel Miranda.

11. Please read nothing into my placing this item next, but AARP appears to have been captured by the baby boomers with their “Rock Vote Win” booth theme.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
12. I understand that putting wooden sticks into food items makes them easier to eat while walking around. Perfectly logical. But what is the breaking point for extending the wordplay to non-food items? “Summit on a stick?” “Math on a stick?” We get it, lots of sticks here.

13. I didn’t find the place where they let people race vegetables this time. It doesn’t mean it isn’t still at the fairgrounds somewhere, but I prefer to think that people finally realized what horrors occur when those vegetables grow too old to race anymore.

14. Politicians and elected officials appear to love the fair as much as everyone else, proving that they’re just regular peo… oh, who are we kidding, they are not regular people. It takes a certain genetic mutation to put oneself out in a very vulnerable public space time after time, begging for validation from people you don’t know, almost like they’re TV news anchors. But the fair at least gives them the opportunity to act like regular people, to dress down and eat stuff that is very bad for them.

15. That said, regular people don’t go from eating fair food from a Mexican stand to being asked on WCCO radio about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s romantic life — as Attorney General Keith Ellison did.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
16. Has any Minnesota election ever hinged on which candidate made more appearances at the fair?

17. You might now know that the Minnesota State Fair has a mascot that is apparently supposed to be a gopher but is probably a ground squirrel. You also might not know that this mascot has a name, which is Fairchild. You definitely didn’t know that he is the inspiration for U.S. Women’s Soccer Team captain Megan Rapinoe’s post-goal celebration.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan, REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
18. I had a Swedish Egg Coffee last time but didn’t this time. Swedish Egg Coffee is a lot like regular coffee except that it is lava hot.

19. Do any other mayors in America have a bigger bromance than that of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey? They were on MPR together; they made Angela Davis seem like a third wheel.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
20. I’m still not sure whether to eat before visiting the Miracle of Birth exhibit or after visiting the Miracle of Birth Center.

21. So you put a stick in a sausage and stuff that sausage inside a hollowed out dill pickle and then you bread the whole thing and deep fry it. And then you eat it.

22. A woman asked the guy who owns the Deep Fried Dilly Dog stand to be honest with her: “Is the Deep Fried Dilly Dog nasty?” “No,” he answered, and then offered to let her smell his breath for proof. This is the kind of marketing you get nowhere else.

23. Speaking of marketing, the Giant Slide is an empire built on brilliant marketing. Had it just been called the Big Slide or the Pretty Tall Slide I think it would have been shut down a long time ago.

24. Carter and Frey made news at the fair by announcing they were signing a joint declaration honoring the Giant Slide on its 50th anniversary. Had Carter not corrected Frey when he called it the Big Slide the declaration might not have been valid.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
25. Frey and Carter said they were going to go down the Giant Slide together. That should go without saying.

26. I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human thoughts and feelings to animals, but I do wonder if they think it’s weird to walk down the streets at the fair and see all the food stands selling beef and pork. Maybe they feel pride.

27. The last time I was in the Poultry Barn was during the bird flu epidemic and there were only photos of the winners inside cages. This year was better. And louder.

28. I just can’t get enough of sheep in robes with holes for their eyes and ears. It never gets old (unlike the on-a-stick schtick.)

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
29. They still carve likenesses of people and princesses out of butter while other people watch.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Steve Timmer on 08/30/2019 - 10:55 am.

    A few new foods every year is all the incrementalism we can handle.

  2. Submitted by Alan Muller on 08/30/2019 - 11:45 am.

    On the “not returning my calls” comments, it has seemed to me that Minnesota pols are less likely to return calls than I’ve experienced elsewhere. Maybe this ties into a sense of entitlement?

  3. Submitted by Tom Crain on 08/30/2019 - 12:04 pm.

    I enjoyed this article Thank you Mr Callaghan

  4. Submitted by Kelly Guncheon on 08/30/2019 - 12:08 pm.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this and wish there were more.

  5. Submitted by Don Lee on 08/30/2019 - 02:22 pm.

    The state fair is a fine, albeit expensive and overcrowded, event. It’s the relentless hype I can’t stand: empty calories spilling out from the fairgrounds, bloating “news” coverage in the papers, TV and radio.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/30/2019 - 03:37 pm.

    News flash: Pretty well all chocolate chip cookies taste good when they are still warm from the oven.

    There are two ground squirrel mascots, Faribourne (sp?) and Fairchild.

    Minnesotans take on a boastful tone when talking about fair attendance. I wonder if people in other states just have more and better entertainment options.

    The local media seem to have no idea that most of us avoid the fair, and feel that wall to wall coverage every year is a turn off. Literally.

    • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 09/03/2019 - 09:55 am.

      As opposed to the people who don’t like something feeling the need to loudly announce it to anyone withing range, I’ll take the fair coverage.

  7. Submitted by Linda Hildebrant on 08/30/2019 - 04:16 pm.

    Embarrassed to admit, I got a little defensive about the three things never to challenge Minnesotan’s on — because well, we DO have the best voter turnout!! The rest was pretty funny and I laughed out loud at a couple… the smell my breath pitch and the Giant Slide with Frey and Carter sliding down together. I do have one question for you Mr. Callaghan, did you even try the GIANT slide? — because it’s not JUST the naming gimmick, it’s really FUN (more than any slide in any other state, I’m sure : )

  8. Submitted by Elaine Savick on 08/31/2019 - 08:07 am.

    As a transplant to MN, I have never understood the nearly religious mania surrounding the State Fair.
    Tried it a few times years ago, have not had any desire to repeat the experience.
    Its great to have at least one non-gushing fair story after this week plus of non-stop State Fair overload.

  9. Submitted by Chris Harkness on 09/03/2019 - 11:29 am.

    Veggie car racing was in the eco building just to the right of the front door. Spent 20 minutes there with my 2 1/2 year-old granddaughter. Great read, thank you!

  10. Submitted by Bill Davnie on 09/03/2019 - 08:58 pm.

    Delightful read; and as noted already, veggie racing is still there. Which confirms your point that little changes at the Fair because — well, I guess we like it that way.

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