I arrived to photograph my school’s involvement with a Hmong cultural event.
I stayed to see all the other spectacles at the Minnesota State Fair.
By 1:00, I had seen the fried fruit, the radio station “reporting live from the fairgrounds,” the United States Marines offering free pull-up tests (Free?! What a deal!), and of course, all the dancing, artwork, and egg rolls from Carousel Park, where Hmong MN Day at the Minnesota State Fair took place. I shared all this on Thursday’s post (the first half of this State Fair series) and wrapped it up with a look into the future…by putting on some goggles and going underwater. This was my experience with the State Fair’s virtual reality exhibit.
Once done marveling at the latest technology, I went looking for a little museum that offered a blast from the past–or rather, an imprint of it.
I hadn’t even gotten to the Minnesota State Fair when I learned of this attraction. A young woman with light complexion, thick glasses, and hair pulled back sat next to me on the city bus. She reminded me of the stereotypical school librarian if not for her casual dress.
Fittingly, she told me about the Minnesota Newspaper Museum where she volunteered, a one-room showing at the Fair that featured printing machines from before the days of photocopying, from when men wore fedoras, when the ingenuity of the analog gear, lever, spring, and piston animated huge machines of metal to roll out reams of newspapers announcing the assassination of William McKinley, the Stock Market Crash, and Germany’s invasion of Poland.
This museum revealed a drastically different era of newspapers and bookmaking, the craft of the printed word, of getting the word out. And it was right around the corner from those virtual reality headsets.
I entered to see the back of the wide room taken up by those huge Dr. Seuss/Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. Black and mighty, they clinked, clanked, and rolled out the news of the day with volunteers in blue aprons tending to them–including the young woman who introduced me to this attraction.
As she and the others worked and answered questions for us visitors, I looked at the what lay between us and the machines: displays of movable type, the lead-based “stamps” of words laid out in the mirror-image of a newspaper page.
The above “stamp” prints out the below page:
After examining this for a second, it dawned on me that newspapers aren’t books. By that I mean you didn’t just make a set of page stamps and use them indefinitely as you would have for a Dickens novel. Newspapers–the big ones at least–are printed daily. So the arranged words had to be remade everyday. And when I say “remade,” I don’t just mean rearranged. I mean they literally recreated each column line stamp with the recycled lead.
The machine they used to make these lead stamps was the machine shown at the top of the photos above. On it, the worker would type out the words on the machine’s keyboard:
And the machine would spit out a stamp that was about the size of a thick, half-sized credit card. Line dozens and dozens of these up, and you have the mold (three pictures above) from which to rub ink onto a blank page. Another machine rolls and stamps these blank sheets–the second machine shown above.
Finally, take those pages and put them into a folding machine–the third machine–and we have ourselves a newspaper.
Digital creation and photocopying sure makes things easier, cheaper, and cleaner. But such a drastic change in how a job gets done necessitates the replacement of an old, also beautiful, culture.
I appreciated the effort it took to spread the word in the decades past.
Here’s some footage of the machines in action:
After the Newspaper Museum, it was back to the usual at the State Fair.
First, a wild side:
Then some fun-n-games:
Finally, we had more food:
The cookies above have got to be the most popular food at the fair. People didn’t just stand in line; they stood in a calm, seemingly-unmovable mass that must have had some waiting for an hour or more.
This counter-culture restaurant had plenty of room, however:
At 2pm, there was the daily parade, featuring my school’s dance team as well as many other participants.
By this late afternoon Labor Day, I took one last walk through the fair. Making my way through the heart of the fairgrounds, I just had to stop and marvel at the amount of people.
They call it the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”
I recommend you come see it yourself someday. It boasts the best aspects of Minnesota that can fit into a 30 acre plot.
Perhaps you’ll like to avoid the weekend and holiday crowds, however.