A Day at the Fair

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Hilary Graff waits with her shorthorn steer, Gusthoff, to enter the Coliseum for judging. "Gus Gus," for short, says the 19-year-old Sanborn resident. "A lot of people don't name them, but I do. It's more personal. I just come up with different names every year. He was born the first of March last year. He weighs 1,480 pounds. He's ready for market." Graff will likely make herself scarce when it's time for Gus Gus to be shipped off to the meatpacking plant. "I'm usually not there, because it's sad," she says. Graff has competed in 4H events at the fair for 15 straight years. Owing to age restrictions, this will be her final cattle competition. Gus Gus and Graff win a third-place ribbon.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Tony Nelson

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It hasn't taken 16-year-old Dillion Gehrig, of Andover, long to learn that a lot of people are ignorant about rabbits. "It's a silver fox," he says, then sees he has to clarify. "That's the breed." "You pet it this way," he adds, gathering the bunny against his "Wanted: Farmer's Daughter" T-shirt and running his hand against the grain of the fur. What's his name?

"Her name," he quickly corrects. "I don't name my food." So will you eat her, then?

He smiles, braces flashing. "I don't know. It depends on how I do in the competition tomorrow."

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

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The oversized animals in colorful costumes who entertain crowds outside the Grandstand seem cute and playful enough, but they can turn vicious without warning. They're called kids; the fairgrounds are infested with the rabid critters, and Julie Magnuson's job is to keep them from terrorizing their natural prey: the fair's gopher mascot. Actually, "Mascot Security" (as her T-shirt reads), is a pretty relaxed gig, explains Magnuson, compared to, you know, regular security, where the 24-year-old St. Paul woman usually works. Not that the mascot beat is entirely without incident--"There are teenagers that try to pull his tail off, of course," she notes. Meanwhile, her charge--in green-and-white pinstripes, black bow tie, and a boater--scampers mutely across the pavilion, trailed by the screams and flailing arms of the young predators closing in for the kill.

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Bill Kelley

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Every third person at the fair seems to be wearing a gaudily plumed hat similar to that modeled here by Jessie Kaiser. Yet the Midway booths where these articles could be won are almost always eerily devoid of contestants. A mystery worth continued scrutiny...

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Nathan Grumdahl

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The most touching postmortem salute to a beloved news anchor isn't an empty spot-lit chair, a sentimental montage of "greatest moments," or a tearful co-anchor signoff. No, this year's affectionate crop-art portrait of Peter Jennings easily trumps more predictable tributes. Jennings looks appropriately regal despite the unconventional medium--some celebrities, like John Denver, don't translate to seed form nearly as attractively. To paraphrase the Byrds (and the Bible), there is a time to reap, a time to sow, and a time to glue chaff to canvas. We salute you, Seedy Pete.

Text by Diablo Cody + Photo by Diana Watters

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Paula Denn swirls a couple of hundred bags of cotton candy a day, poking tube after cardboard tube into the circular vat of wispy pink confection with a calm sense of purpose. Nearby, Joe McCurdy, who runs the booth, takes a short break. At 25, he's already a veteran, having first helped man his dad's cotton candy stand 10 years ago, returning every year since. Now he takes five vacation days from his job as press operator to sell his puffs of spun sugar, though the fair's changed a little for McCurdy over the years. "I used to like it," he jokes, adding an explanation for his currently pleasant disposition: "The first five or six days aren't so bad."

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Bill Kelley

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Wings don't work on people. But if you swaddle yourself in a bulky blue vest full of hooks and clasps, climb up on a platform rolled into the middle of a field, then lay yourself down beside your two best friends in a big sling hanging from a big crane, they'll crank you up 60, 70, 80 feet or so and let you go. And you fly, like a bullet at first, swooping up at the last second to clear the trees. That's moment one. Moment two is just before the pendulum shifts: Arms locked, screaming and smiling at the same time, you hover over the fair...

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

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Maybe it's the cheap gas-station sunglasses or her pinky-orange Tequila Sunrise skin, but the lady's not looking so good. On the edge of the video arcade, the fortune-teller machine sits mostly neglected--psychic abilities or not, she's no Lara Croft. "I think it's out of paper," Lauren Patrick says, dutifully inserting a few more quarters. But before the slips stopped dropping, she acquired a couple of glimpses into the future, one warning of newfound trouble with a dark-haired person. She opens her bag to find the exact message, revealing a laminated pass from her recent tour of the Capitol, signed by Norm Coleman.

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