Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


As soon as we got to the fairgrounds, Dave veered off to take photographs of a pig race.

Pigs, goats, cattle and sheep – the Kansas State Fair is a reflection of our agricultural base. Livestock is transported to Hutchinson from the center of Kansas and from every edge of the state. At the fair you’ll find tractors, huge pumpkins, and a butter sculpture.

4-H exhibits are, of course, a big part of the fair: photography, knitting, breads and pies, woodworking projects and garden vegetables. Here in Hutch, the hard work of a Kansas year is put on display in this end-of-summer event.

It had been too many years, maybe 10, since Dave and I had been to the fair. While Dave wandered around, I spent most of the day in the Pride of Kansas building as a guest at the Kansas Magazine booth. So, Dave got to see much more of the fair than I did.

“What’s the best thing you’ve come across?” I asked him when we reconnected that afternoon.

“The most amazing sound here is inside the poultry building,” Dave said. And so we entered the doors and stood still for a moment, listening to the cacophony of chickens and other winged creatures.

We stopped at the milking parlor and through large windows watched cows stand contentedly as their milk was pumped into clear glass jars.

Finding food at the fair was not difficult, although finding healthy options was more of a challenge. I walked past the deep-fried Twinkies, bypassed the hamburger with a Krispy Kreme bun, skipped the Pronto Pup stand which offered corn dogs, a “banquet on a stick.” I chose instead a mild-mannered bierock for lunch.

It was mid-afternoon on the Midway on a Monday, so it wasn’t too crowded. Each booth along the path was loaded with stuffed animals ready to go to those up for the challenge of ball throwing or dart tossing.

As we walked along the Midway, I recalled a visit to the fair when I was in seventh grade. I had come with my friend Donna and her family. The best part of that day was going through a haunted house. In the converted semi-truck trailer, as Donna and I turned corners and climbed stairs, costumed people leapt from dark places to scare us. We were told to sit on a bench and then were taken by complete surprise when a lever was pulled, the bench collapsed, and we slid down a ramp to the exit. Donna and I laughed and laughed and laughed. And then we went through the house again.

This year, our day at the fair was in the 90s, but Dave and I found a moment of cool relief near the White Water ride, a small rollercoaster. As the boats with riders rode the track downhill, they splashed into a pool – and thanks to a gap in the protective shield, we got wet. We stood there for several good splashes.

Having never ventured into the oddities tent before, Dave and I took in the “World of Wonders,” billed as the “Strangest Show on Earth.”

I know it’s a crazy sideshow, but it was a writer’s curiosity about carnival workers that took me into the tent. I’ve always wondered about their nomadic lives. I want to know what kind of people would choose this job, traveling across the country, town to town, fair to fair, living in a motor home. I just wanted to observe these folks in their natural habitat.

Included in the acts were a sword-swallower and a man who lifted a bowling ball with chains dangling from his earrings. We observed a beheading (Miss Sunshine). And there was an impalement act during which another woman threw knives around the frame of the lovely Miss Sunshine, who must have gotten her head reattached in between acts.

The state fair is a bit of everything; it’s the absurd and it’s the real. It is blue ribbons, five thousand stuffed animals, and deep-fried Kool-Aid. The fair is noisy with chickens and music and screams coming from the rides. Here, among the funnel cakes and the fathers pushing strollers, is a colorful summer snapshot of our Midwestern lives.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh


  1. A wonderful description, Cheryl. It made me feel like I was there. A hamburger with a Krispy Kreme bun?! So you get your main course and dessert in the same mouthful. . . bleagh.

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