Going to the first day of the Minnesota State Fair is like sleeping on newly laundered sheets.
Everything’s pure, everything glistens.
The bathrooms and portable toilets sparkle. The streets are free of debris. Even in the animal barns, the smell of fresh wood chips holds its own against the odor of fresh cow.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together opened its gates Thursday on a cool, breezy day, and for many Minnesotans, the first day is the best day.
Eight members of the Marquardt clan showed up early, led by Dorothy “Granny” Marquardt, 86, of Vesta, Minn. She left home at 3:02 a.m. for the 140-mile trip and got to the gate at 5:58 for the 7 a.m. opening.
“I can’t wait. Everyone in Vesta knows I’m going to the State Fair on opening day,” said Marquardt, who’s been making the trek since 1967. “It’s clean, it’s fresh, the grass is green and isn’t trampled down.”
The morning of opening day is the perfect time to visit the Midwest Dairy Association’s all-you-can-drink (for $2) milk booth.
“The first day, it’s not so crazy,” said Kassie Martyn of Buffalo, Minn., a Future Farmers of America volunteer pouring the drinks. “People are more calm about it.”
Martyn is in her second year working the milk booth. Her colleague, Elle Thorson, was in the first hour of her first day ever as a volunteer, and she was shocked when the gates opened.
“There was nobody here, and so I was expecting about 20 people,” she said.
“Oh, no,” Martyn laughed. “Just wait.”
Linda Canfield of St. Paul is another firm believer in hitting the fairgrounds on Day One. She comes every year with a group of friends.
“My husband says you have to wait until the fair’s broken in,” she said, “so he just drops us off.” Canfield was eager to check the results of the bakery competition, where she entered four items for judging, including blueberry coffee cake and chocolate bittersweet cookies.
Some fairgoers expressed concern about safety, given the recent attacks in public gatherings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.
“It was one of the first things I thought about,” said Ceili Lindstrom of Mounds View. “I’m not scared, but the thought crossed my mind, because I’m a mother. Things like that can happen.”
Said her mother-in-law, Jody Kougl Lindstrom, also of Mounds View, “I refuse to let that prevent us from enjoying what we have. You can’t let that frighten you from living your life.”
In a statement, fair officials said the safety of fairgoers “is our No. 1 priority. Our public safety and security plan is developed and implemented in partnership with multiple law enforcement agencies and experts at every level. Our comprehensive security systems encompass every part of our operation, and they are continuously reviewed and adjusted.”
‘Like running a marathon’
Over in the Education Building, pitchman Daniel Islas was selling a lot of Miracle Whisks, a handheld kitchen appliance.
“I do not apologize for the price,” he told the crowd gathered around his booth. “Good things are not cheap, and cheap things are not good.”
About a dozen customers walked away with whisks at $30 each.
“It’s like running a marathon,” Islas said of his yearly stint. “Always at this fair, the first day predicts the rest of the fair.”
His assessment so far: “It’s going great.”
For some, though, the first day is more like the end of a long slog of preparation.
“The energy’s gone about three days before the fair starts,” said Scott Oeltjen, 17, of Glenwood, with a laugh. The Pope County 4-Her was showing his dairy cattle.
For Kirsten Coder of Delano, opening day brought fun and a scare. After polishing off a bucket of mini-donuts and going down the Giant Slide, her family headed to the butterfly garden, where she briefly lost track of her child.
Three-year-old Anna is “a runner,” her mom explained. Anna dashed out the door before any of the family noticed, and they spent a harrowing few minutes trying to find her.
“Oh, I’ve lost children,” Coder’s aunt, Suz Grimes of Inver Grove Heights, said later, nodding with understanding.
Coder was crying in the butterfly garden as the rest of the family gathered around to comfort her. Then Anna returned with the garden’s ticket-taker, who had spotted her making her break, and all was well.
“I think I lost five years of my life,” Coder said.