A Day at the Fair

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

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The surname is Atkins, but forget it. This is the Pickle Family. Mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts. They come to the fair every year to proclaim their passion for pickles. "We've done it for four years. It's our tradition," says Sandy Atkins, from Woodbury. "I told my daughter that she would lose all her dignity today. She had to stand on a bench and say, 'I love pickles!' It was her initiation. She chased the Gedney pickle down in the parade today, because we have dares for each other. She had to kiss him."

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

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Mötley Crüe is at the bandstand tonight. So what else can a marriage-and-family therapist do but bring his six-year-old son to his first concert? "Griffin's heard worse on TV and the playground," says Russell Orr. "He saw Tommy Lee on Tommy Lee Goes to College. I like his music, but I don't like the fact that he beat his wife twice."

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

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The cinder block walls of the fair's oldest (and oddest) attraction, Ye Old Mill, holds 92 years' worth of lovers' secrets, not to mention a near-century-long accumulation of mold and now-fossilized mini-donuts. With blink-and-you-miss-it lit-up dioramas featuring Bambi, the Three Little Pigs, and a randomly placed one-dimensional wood milk carton, the mostly pitch-black faux-river ride is a time-warp make-out tunnel where fairgoers can go for a little Old English and old-school escapism.

Ye Old Mill virgin voyagers Nadia and Anthony, a thirtysomething couple from Lino Lakes who only want to be known on a first-name basis, are left dumbfounded after their premier ride on one of the Mill's little red wooden boats. "Umm, I guess I liked it," Nadia offers, laughing. Anthony, a muscular guy in a pink polo shirt, shakes his head and lights up a cigarette. "Man," is all he can muster.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

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Mötley who? Thirteen-year-old Sean Robb of St. Louis Park, 14-year-old Anthony Johnson of St. Paul, and 14-year-old Brandon Running of St. Louis Park (pictured left to right) show their allegiance to the true masters of rock, Metallica, Guns 'N Roses, and Pink Floyd, while checking out the BMX bikers at the 3rd Lair skate/bike ramp at the Teen Fair. Apparently the BMX-ers didn't rock that hard: The teens watched the bikers sail and flip in the air for a few silent minutes before shrugging and wandering toward the smoking and sputtering tractors.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

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"Omygod! Look, a gorilla! Look at the size of that gorilla!" a woman screams. A number of fairgoers whip their heads around to see not a real-live jungle beast, but a teenager with a giant stuffed monkey on his back. "I thought for a second someone had a real gorilla," another woman confesses, laughing. This reporter bites her tongue and doesn't admit that at her first fair, she went blindly toward the "Tiger Lot," a parking lot, in search of Minnesota-bred Bengal tigers.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

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Jimmy Steichen's first memories of the fair go back to when he was eight years old, cleaning out the innards of freshly slaughtered chickens with his bare hands for his grandfather's general store. Ted Steichen opened the store in 1933, just south of the Midway in a warehouse that was, for a time, used to build airplane propellers during World Ward II. "There was a commissary building," Jimmy, now 43, recalls, "and we used to provide everything for them." For a while Jimmy's father, Ted Jr., took over the store, and then Jimmy started running things in 1978. The fair has changed considerably, but little has changed at Steichen's. For years, the fair's only remaining general store provided all sorts of sundries for the carnies that worked the midway for Royal American, the local company that ran the Midway rides and game booths up until a decade ago. "Those people became some of my best friends," Jimmy Steichen says, adding that they usually purchased pickled pig's feet by the pound-full. "They were the best people."

Steichen has added a sandwich deli to keep up with a slightly less resourceful clientele--the fresh chickens are gone--but for the most part, the inventory remains the same. Baby bottles, muscle rub, shampoo, combs, Barbasol, Brylcreem, water balloons, and who-knows-what-other necessities are all behind the counter somewhere. "Someone came in here just yesterday looking for black shoelaces for black dress shoes, and I looked behind the counter and we had a pair," Steichen says with no small amount of marvel. "I figure they had been here for 40 years."

Text by G.R. Anderson Jr. + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

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