When the fairgrounds grow empty and dark after the Midway shuts down at 11:30 p.m., the Indiana State Fair is almost unrecognizable.
Crowds of loud, excited people no longer fill the streets. Instead they’re lined with trash bags as fair workers empty the cans and replace them with clean bags.
These people who come out to work, rest or even explore the fairgrounds at night—the carnival workers, the 4-Hers, the security guards, the cleaning crews—often go unseen or blend into the background of the fair during the day. They form the backbone of the fair. They eat, sleep and breathe the fair during these two weeks.
The fair was at its peak, full of families coming in after work and teens heading out for a night of fun on the Midway. The sun had almost fully disappeared, the dusky sky slowly fading into black.
With the dark came the bright Midway lights, twinkling and shining against the night sky.
But even with the crowds, Hook’s Economy Drug Store shut its doors at 9 p.m., and the Dairy Bar stopped letting people join the throng waiting in line shortly after that.
The crowd has started to thin in the areas away from the Midway, but the rides and games were still going strong. Most of the vendors were still open, smoke wafting from the grills and mixing with the lights.
Kids in strollers were passed out or in tears, ready to go home and get to bed after a long day of fun, or they were running around like crazy, on their last wave of energy.
The Midway didn’t give any indication of closing in an hour—the ride lines were still long, and crowds milled around, watching and eating last-minute fair food.
Some carnival workers started to clean up, but the crowd still remained. The rides were still chugging along, desperate to get through everyone who stood in line for their chance to ride. The tractors stopped running and returned to their night position near gate 10.
A steady stream of people left the Midway, but the crowd didn’t seem to shrink. A dad carried a large pink and white stuffed dog under his arm, the other hand holding his daughter’s as they maneuvered through the crowd.
But at 11:30 on the dot, all the lights in the Midway went out and the music stopped. Hoards of people took the closing cue and started heading for the exit.
Shirley Hamid, the manager of Shrine Operations, said she keeps Murat Shrine Toy Store open a little past when the Midway closes.
“Eleven-thirty is usually when they make us stop selling things,” Hamid said. “We wait for the last few who don’t win stuff so they can buy a prize for their money.”
For Hamid, nighttime is when people come after work and are happy and carefree and fully able to enjoy the fair.
“It’s more relaxing and cool during the night, and people are able to have a good, relaxing time,” she said.
The Midway cleared fast of fairgoers once the lights shut off, and soon it was just carnival workers cleaning up their games and vendors cleaning out their booths.
Some of the carnival workers sat together in front of their games and rides and smoked and chatted, enjoying the end of another long workday.
The stuffed animals sat alone in the game booths, forlorn in the mostly dark Midway.
If any rides needed fixing, that was done after the lights went out. Some of the bulbs on the funhouse were being replaced, and the bumper cars were turned on their sides to be fixed.
One of the food vendors was having fun with his cleaning, pulling his shirt up and relishing the cool breeze coming in the window. Country music was playing in the booth. He was yelling out to his friends, talking loudly with both the people in his booth and those surrounding.
He likes the fair at night because it’s quiet and cooler.
“You forget that so many people come here and so many people have been here all day,” the vendor said.
He stays in the bunkhouses behind the Midway at night, but before he heads to bed, he likes to stroll through the fair, since he doesn’t get much of a chance to check it out during the day.
Because he doesn’t have transportation to get off the fairgrounds, he doesn’t leave that often, instead choosing to hang out with coworkers on the grounds.
If he can get away however, he likes going to nearby rivers or ponds and hanging out there instead of the fairgrounds for a change of scenery.
“It’s nice to see what else is around,” he said.
The lights in the Grandstand were all on, illuminating the dump trucks and bulldozers depositing dirt.
For one of the rodeos indoors, dirt was taken from the Grandstand and put in the building, and David Ison and his crew were in charge of putting it back and smoothing it out.
Ison said the job should only take them one night, and it did take most of it. They worked from 11 p.m. to around 4 a.m.
In the Swine Barn, all the pigs were fast asleep except for a few piglets, which were feeding from their mom.
Daniel Hieatt, from Alexandria, likes to spend his nights in the Swine Barn, watching over his piglets and other pigs. He only sleeps around one hour each night during fair week because he prefers to be with the pigs.
Nighttime, when no one else is around the barn and it’s quiet, is his favorite time with the pigs.
“It’s when I do most of my work and bonding with them so they know me,” Hieatt said. “I like watching them grow.”
He brought 36 of his pigs to the fair with him this year, and he does headcounts of the piglets four times a night, he said, just to be sure nothing happened to any of them.
Sometimes when he’s not with the pigs, he’ll take walks around the fairgrounds and play cornhole with some of the Indiana State Police officers, he said.
“This place is different at night,” he said. “It’s easier to get around.”
The life of a night security guard isn’t easy. It can get lonely, and at times it can be hard to stay awake.
One of the night guards, Britt Rogers, was stationed at one of the entrances to the fair, making sure no intruders got in or brought anything dangerous into the fair. He also directed delivery trucks to make sure they get to the right place.
He chose to work at night because after spending five years as a security guard, he’d become a little burnt out on the public.
“I’m a solitary person, so the night shift fits into my personality well,” he said. “There’s less heat and less people.”
Sitting on his chair, he had a copy of USA Today, a Taco Bell to-go cup and a few stacked, empty coffee cups in a cup-holder.
He drinks coffee, walks around and talks to himself in order to keep himself awake through his 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. During the day, he tries to get as much sleep as he can.
After all the wrappers and rejects from $2 Tuesday and other fair garbage was tossed away, it had to go somewhere to get it off the fairgrounds.
Chris Gordon, a garbage man from Ray’s Trash Service, is the one who has taken that job on for the 2015 fair.
“Nobody wants to do it,” Gordon said.
But even so, Gordon did his job with a smile and a sense of humor.
“They pack a dumpster and they fill it with crap, and I get rid of it,” Gordon said. “I’ve seen everything from corn husks to horse s—t. You walk up and it’s like, ‘Ugh.’”
And while being a garbage man may not be the ideal job, Gordon said it’s a steady paycheck, and the job security is great.
He goes to every dumpster around the fairgrounds, and the fair is first priority during its time in town, no matter rain or shine.
Just Tuesday night, he had already been up to the fairgrounds five times, each of the metal containers of trash he took out weighing up to six tons.
“You’d be surprised how much trash there is,” he said.
Around the infield parking lot, 10 horses raced, pulling jock-carts behind them, the night sky still dark. Their only light came from the hundreds of bulbs at the top of the Grandstand.
The horses were training for Hoosier Park harness races, and while they aren’t affiliated with the fair, their training schedule was disrupted by it.
Because the fair starts to get busy around 8 a.m. daily, the trainers have to give the horses their daily exercise starting around 4 or 5 a.m. so they can be off the track by 8.
“When the fair isn’t here, we usually don’t start until 7 [a.m.],” said Cheryl Morrison, one of the caretakers for the horses.
While each trainer has a different routine for their horse, they usually jog around four miles daily, plus additional speed training, Morrison said.
“It screws it all up [for the horses] big time,” Morrison said. “They’re not used to it.”
Sun rose over Kiddieland with pink, orange and blue colors mixing in the sky, and the fair began to spring to life again as early-bird workers arrived to prepare the fair for a new day.
At 7:30, a pancake breakfast was set to start, so right around 6 a.m., people started setting up tables and chairs and white picket fences by the Grandstand to mark off the area.
Supply trucks and golf carts roamed the street, transporting things around the fair to get vendors ready. Workers cut the grass and trimmed around the corn stalks.
The Baker Man was already open, selling breakfast options for the early risers at the fair, and as the clock neared 7 a.m., more and more workers came in to start their day.
The Cattle Barn was full of activity and noise as 4-Hers scrambled around, trying to get ready for their 8 a.m. show.
Outside, 4-Hers hosed down their cattle and scrubbed at their hooves to make sure they looked good for the show.
Stacey Bachelor, an experienced 4-Her who was showing a jersey heifer, said the most important part of show day was getting the cattle ready.
“We’re preparing the whole week, but the morning of we start around 4 a.m.,” Bachelor said.
Bachelor grew up sleeping in the barn with her animals, but she said the dust and tight spaces made it hard to do, so she switched to staying in a camper all night.
As the day continued to grow brighter and the sun fully rose, vendors started arriving to open their booths.
They tore down the tarps covering their booths to reveal their equipment, and smells started to waft through the fairgrounds as they fired up the grills.
The grounds were still relatively empty and calm—at least until more people began to trickle in and another day at the Indiana State Fair began.
Kara Berg is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.