Between the mule races, the donut-burger stand and the Ferris wheel are people—the thread that holds a quilt of bustling activity together. This is the community the Indiana State Fair creates for 17 days, then lets disappear—until next summer.
This year’s fair is fading fast, but the fairgoers still pour in, to come see Hook’s Drug Store or the winning wedding cake. Tomorrow begins the teardown; the tents and rides will be gone by noon, but today is still the fair.
The “Truly Remarkable Loon” performs unusual tricks with a yo-yo wide as a dinner plate, to an audience of little ones giggling and cheering.
“I might want to add, it is tradition at the Indiana State Fair to applaud when the juggler does something good,” says the Loon, flipping the yo-yo back and forth, catching it with string. “This is good!”
Down Main Street, the choir of “Spin the Wheel!” and “Free ice cream!” fill the air. Two women walk hand in hand through the grandstands, sharing cotton candy.
Down the Kiddieland Midway, kids are thinking rides and toys. Little bodies wait in impatient lines, pestering their parents for another lemon shake-up. The spinning dragon rides go round, round. Two little girls scream and giggle.
“I have never missed a fair. I’ve gone my whole life. And we do more than the rides,” Kenda Resler-Friend said. “Actually my kids thought the shuttle was the ride at the fair until they were like, 10.”
Resler-Friend is working this year inside the Harvest Pavilion with the AgroSciences exhibit, but usually she’ll enter a few baked goods into Open Class and enjoy visiting with her friends.
“This is our vacation, my family visits every year. I know so many people who come, but the fair keeps growing. I meet so many new people each year,” Resler-Friend said.
The Champions Pavilion is a village of pointed tents with colorful stripes, looking more like Aladdin’s market place than a horse barn. Massive horses with manes and tails pulled into intricate buns twisted with purple ribbons clomp, cuh-clomp by, on their way to competition.
On red picnic tables beside an elephant-ear stand, Nancy and Tom Walker share small talk and a funnel cake with a family of five they just met.
“Thanks for the fried dough,” says mom Sarah. “Do you need anymore?” she asks her 12-year-old Nate.
“Nope, all I need now is a souvenir,” he says. “I’m a souvenir and junk guy,” he explains to Nancy and Tom, who go to the fair each year if only for the ribeye sandwiches.
Indiana State Fair officials work hard to make sure they’re creating a community quilt that finds room for every color and shape of fabric. Lesley Gordon, media and community outreach manager for the state fair, is an Indianapolis native who takes fair fun seriously.
“We do everything to make sure,” she said, “from the first day to the last day, someone who visits us will see that smile and be greeted with the helping hand of the Hoosier hospitality.
“The fair is a marathon, we don’t stop trying until it’s over.”
Laura Arwood 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.