WOSTER: The State Fair, about as old-time South Dakota as you can get
On Labor Day I like to be with family, but when I still worked full time, I often spent at least some of the holiday weekend at the State Fair.
I have a great family, but the fair was a decent second choice for a place to spend the last weekend of summer. Crowds, kids, brand-new farm machinery, carnival rides, fancy fried food, loud music and long walks along dusty fairground streets. What's not to like about that? And if you're lucky, you just might see an old friend or two. For sure, you'll meet some new ones.
I met a guy billed as the "horse whisperer" one year. The name came from the Robert Redford movie of the same title, but the guy I met in Huron said he really didn't do anything mystical, the way Redford did in the film. My guy just spoke softly, moved easily and handled the animals gently. It worked, but for a moment I was disappointed, the way a kid sometimes is when someone shows him how a magic trick really works.
My disappointment didn't last long. For one thing, I was on assignment for the newspaper, so I had to get it together and get back to working. For another thing, it's hard for anyone to stay disappointed long at a fair of any kind. There's simply too much going on and not enough time to experience it all.
It's about as old-time South Dakota as you can get, the State Fair. People sometimes call it a celebration of the state's agriculture heritage, and it is that, for sure. The livestock, the 4-H judging, the arts and crafts and canned goods, the tractors and combines, and the lemonade in the shade during a break between visits to booths and stands and other attractions. All of them are a piece of a lifestyle anyone whose childhood was a farm or a small town remembers well. Most of us wouldn't go back to that time, I suppose, but we do recall it fondly. A lot of us probably wish our kids and grandkids could have experienced that time, and maybe that's why so many people still take their families to the State Fair each year. It's where the memories become real for just a day or two.
Making memories come to life at a fair. Maybe that's why Hollywood made so many versions of the film "State Fair.'' Filmmakers did that theme at least three times, with that same title. In 1933 and again in 1945, the Frake family attended the Iowa State Fair and got into quite a bit of mischief during the visit. Dick Haymes played the Frake's son, Wayne, and Vivian Blaine was the attractive singer, Emily, who captured Wayne's attention. In 1962, still calling it "State Fair,'' the plot shifted to the Texas State Fair, where Pat Boone played Wayne and Ann-Margret was Emily. This Emily could dance as well as she could sing. In every version of the movie, the parents won their judging competitions, so that turned out nicely.
Not to take the magic from the movies, but I read online that the 1962 State Fair was filmed in California, at Mooney's Grove Park. I also read that the Pat Boone version "was considered to be a financially and critically unsuccessful film.'' Okay, that isn't good. But the Tilt-A-Whirl used in the '62 film supposedly is at a theme park in Golden, Colo., so there's some enchantment out there somewhere.
I'm not saying the following experience was magical, but I once spent a good part of a hot State Fair afternoon watching a three-or four-piece combo play outside one of the tents on the fairgrounds. I can't even remember what the attraction inside the tent was. I was fascinated by a cool-looking young guy in the combo who played a big-bodied Gretsch electric guitar. The guitar's finish was called Cadillac Green. The barker said the guy was Johnny Cash's brother, Tommy.
I've seen many things in my life, but the State Fair in Huron is the only place I ever saw Tommy Cash and his Cadillac-green Gretsch. Beat that with a yardstick.