“A Night at the Fair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the short story “A Night at the Fair,” Fitzgerald described over eighty years ago what so many people still experience today at the Minnesota State Fair. I was surprised and delighted to find that much about the fair hasn’t changed.

The Magnificent Fair

The two cities were separated only by a thin well-bridged river; their tails curling over the banks met and mingled, and at the juncture, under the jealous eye of each, lay, every fall, the State Fair. Because of this advantageous position, and because of the agricultural eminence of the state, the fair was one of the most magnificent in America. There were immense exhibits of grain, livestock and farming machinery…a grand exhibition of fireworks…took place in the Grand Concourse every night.

Boys at the Fair

At the late afternoon of a hot September day two boys of fifteen, somewhat replete with food and pop, and fatigued by eight hours of constant motion, issued from the Penny Arcade.

Sensations of the Fair

The first lights of the evening were springing into pale existence; the afternoon crowd had thinned a little, and the lanes, empty of people, were heavy with the rich various smells of pop corn and peanuts, molasses and dust and cooking Wienerwurst and a not- unpleasant overtone of animals and hay. The Ferris wheel, pricked out now in lights, revolved leisurely through the dusk; a few empty cars of the roller coaster rattled overhead. The heat had blown off and there was the crisp stimulating excitement of Northern autumn in the air.

Night at the Fair

Once again the fair–but differing from the fair of the afternoon as a girl in the daytime differs from her radiant presentation of herself at night. The substance of the cardboard booths and plaster palaces was gone, the forms remained. Outlined in lights, these forms suggested things more mysterious and entrancing than themselves, and the people strolling along the network of little Broadways shared this quality, as their pale faces singly and in clusters broke the half darkness.

Yes, many things have changed. There are no aeroplanes, horse races or hoochie-coochie shows. And the wienerwurst has been replaced by the Pronto Pup (from Minnesota), the corn dog (an Iowa import), and the absolutely delicious pork-chop-on-a-stick. But the sights, the smells, and the fair as an event–all these abide.

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