Its origins are in livestock, food, contests, and carnival rides–and its heartbeat remains as such.
But like many other events/organizations originated long ago (the State Fair goes back to before we even had a state, in what was known in the mid-1850s as the “Territorial Fair”), the Minnesota State Fair has evolved and grown to the demands of a modern audience–as well as including that which exhibitors would like to show people.
People are selling widgets, political parties/candidates are outreaching, radio and TV stations make the fairgrounds their home for the 12 days of the event.
There are museums and exhibits for woodworking, new technology, exotic animals.
There’s a daily parade, games and rides galore, and entertainment from sunrise to sunset.
I’m forgetting a bunch of other stuff, I’m sure. Oh, the food. Yeah, perhaps the grease and sweets are the strongest (and sometimes strangest) attraction to the people here–a time where they give themselves permission to buy mouthfuls of unorthodox and delicious delicacies.
The Minnesota State Fair is by many measures the best state fair in the country.
I went for just one day. Labor Day. So I missed a lot, but I also saw a lot.
It started with a 20 minute bus ride (parking can be challenging) from downtown Minneapolis to the fairgrounds in St. Paul. On the way, I unexpectedly discovered what would be a destination for me at the fair. Then again, the fair is known to surprise you.
A thin, pale young woman in glasses sat next to me on the bus. We got to talking.
“What brings you to the fair?” I asked.
“I volunteer,” she explained, “at a printing museum.”
She would tell me that they have some of the oldest functioning equipment around–as well as some old-timers staffing the place that knew how to use these machines. I wasn’t quite sure to expect from that, but I said I’d check it out.
“Where’s it at?”
“In the 4-H Building,” she said.
Upon arrival, the man at the ticket counter ripped my complimentary admission in half and handed me my stub. I had gotten the ticket from the school at which I work, because today they were participating in the first ever Hmong MN Day at the State Fair.
My school–a K-8 charter school catering to the Hmong community–boasts an impressive dance team which would open up the day of performances at the Carousel Park Stage. So my first order of business at the fair was work–fun work–photographing my school’s involvement.
First they posed, then they practiced.
Then it was showtime.
The audience overflowed the benches, as many members of the state’s proud 75,000 Hmong population came to honor this first Hmong MN Day at the State Fair.
They came to see more than just this dance team.
Finally, Hmong veterans from the US-backed, clandestine “Secret War” took the stage to be honored.
One could write a whole post on just the Hmong MN Day, but I had to get out to see more.
My one planned destination was the 4-H Building, the B to my point A, which offered a direction to go and a whole lot of sights in between.
I after several minutes, I approached and entered the 4-H Building. Various contests were held inside.
I didn’t see the historic printing museum. But I did see the futuristic virtual reality exhibit right in the middle of the building.
Watching someone with those super thick goggles and a smile on their face, it’s like you’re watching someone on drugs. What’s this crazy person so inexplicably happy about?
Well, virtual reality is pretty sweet, and I’ve heard a few things about this company Oculus Rift. Two of their headsets were there for the trying, so I lined up and got ready to look like a crazy person myself.
The guy there managing the exhibit didn’t help by messing with the participants. Immersed in a virtual reality underwater scene, he’d tell them they could swim. And trying something so novel, you’re up for believing anything. “If they can put me in an underwater scene, why can’t they let me swim? They can do all sorts of cool things these days!”
So the participant already looking odd with those thick goggles starts to “swim” while the guy chuckled at the gullible folks.
When it was my turn, I knew better than to swim, but I was yet lost within this new world.
It was an underwater scene that looked like a video game. Colorful seaweed, rocks and sand just below me, and fish swimming about. The screen I stared into was just a smartphone attached within the goggles. Smart indeed, its motion sensors picked up my slightest head movements to adjust my screen’s images accordingly and give the illusion that I was truly in this underwater world.
Interestingly, I looked down and saw no fake, computerized feet. It was like I had no body. I was a ghost.
To the outside world, I was hallucinating.
Eventually, I took the goggles off and asked a 4-H volunteer if the printing museum was near. It was. Just around the corner, he said, in an adjacent space with its own entrance. Within was the old printing machinery, and from traveling to another world with virtual reality, I traveled back in time to the days of analog printing…which I’ll share about Sunday morning.