News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

September 6, 2010

The Off Season: Taking in the ‘cultural’ experience we call the State Fair

TERRE HAUTE — I suspect that some member or another of our family has made an annual pilgrimage to the Indiana State Fair — that legendary land of fatty foods and horse barns — since corn dogs were first put on sticks; as long as “Carter had pills,” my mom used to say. The fair is a mixture of the new and the familiar, of the traditional and the trendy, of ancient harvesting machinery and inflatable purple aliens, of hand-held paper fans and soybean diesel — powered golf carts, of road apples and Peruvian flute music.

On a Saturday summer morning, not an hour after an early breakfast, we loaded up our car and headed east across the dual lanes of the Ernie Pyle Memorial Highway, otherwise known as U.S. 36. It is a trip that our car follows almost by rote through Parke and Putnam and Hendricks counties to the capital; after all, our kids were 4-H’ers, so we’ve hauled everything from caged rabbits to boxed fossils, painted rockets to canned fruit to the fair.

Years ago, our families — both my wife’s and mine — came halfway across the state before sunup to find a place in the dust of the infield between the fairgrounds’ track and grandstand. In those older days, we rarely got to sample the greasy and tempting fare of the food vendors’ booths, thinking that surely we would wither and die before we ever tasted real “sati babi” or “original” lemon shake-ups. Our moms supplied our fair food — generally, anything that could be wrapped in waxed paper or carried in Styrofoam. We did, however, always manage to look just pathetic enough to get a bag of cotton candy or a blueberry sno-cone.

I knew that we were in for an unusual day this year when, within a few steps of being inside the fair’s gates, I spied a girl clomping along in front of one of the livestock barns wearing only a bikini and cowboy boots. It’s those kinds of wonderful inconsistencies, those fabulous realities, that always make our day at the fair a true experience. 

Since we were still hungry when we left home, and had driven nearly two hours by the time we’d made 38th Street, our first stop inside the fairgrounds was for lunch — an event anticipated with gluttonous delight. I love Italian sausage — particularly piled high with fresh onions — so I eagerly went for that delicacy with cash in hand.

My wife normally sees to it that we all eat healthy meals, but she, too, capitulated in the war against cholesterol and triglycerides by downing the Polish version of my lunch. At least we stayed away from the edgier fair foods: deep-fried peanut butter cups; chocolate-covered bacon; fried butter balls; and the dish that had been the rage, the “Doughnut Burger,” which consisted of a quarter-pound of beef slapped between two halves of a Krispy Kreme donut. 

We had chosen a good day to walk the fair; unlike every other day of it — the entire summer, for that matter — it was breezy and cool, a few drops of rain chasing us from tent to booth to stock barn. Only in the hour or so before we left that evening did the familiar simmer of a brutal August sun burn its way through the clouds to make us uncomfortable, and by that time, foot-sore and damp and beat to the socks, we were happy to make our way toward home.

More than anything else, I wanted to see the huge 25-foot sculpture called “God Bless America,” inspired by Grant Wood’s iconic painting, “American Gothic.” Standing alone and imposing in the AgroSciences Celebration Park, the sculpture, created by J. Seward Johnson, was on the north side of the fairgrounds, and since we parked on the south side, we hiked ourselves past countless kiosks hawking $5 sunglasses, hot tubs and collapsible yard rakes. We walked at a trot through the Parke County-inspired covered bridge (Dan Collom and his gang built it), and past the “Dock Dogs” exhibit, which starred a number of pool-diving pooches, including a hound named Boo.

After spending a few minutes admiring the enormous nostrils of Johnson’s subjects, we made our way to the Department of Natural Resources Building, a favorite stop of mine since the days I first wandered past its sweating aquariums with my dad more than 40 years ago. I’ve caught my share of bluegill and bass in my day, but seeing them through the sides of those gurgling tanks and under fluorescent lights was somehow different.

My wife loves the butterfly exhibit near the DNR, and although most of the swallowtails had gone into hiding for the day, the place was filled with Painted Ladies (the butterfly variety). The cool waters of the cement fish ponds were inviting, too, that is if we had wanted to wrestle with gars and paddlefish and enormous channel cats. There, I saw kids fishing in a 312,000-gallon pool, learning to catch, then release their trophies.

Inside the building, we stood in line to bend and peer through glass at the most common of Indiana’s snakes in the “Reptiles of Indiana” exhibit. We were there, not only to take a safe look at a poisonous copperhead, but also to find the exact kind of critter that we too often find around our spread. It was there, a red and gray and brown Eastern Milk snake that, although harmless, was still rather mean-spirited. We also saw the tiny but mighty brown recluse and black widow spiders; both more fun to meet on the other side of glass than face-to-face under a dark porch or deck.

From the DNR, we wandered through the FFA Building, patted the greedy, too-fat goats in a petting zoo, sat in wonderful hickory furniture, and perched atop tractors and lawn mowers that had yet to touch a field or lawn. From there, my wife and daughter and son’s best friend, Lucy, went off in search of a live bear show and my son and I took off to explore antique tractors.

Of all the things we saw that day, I think the two of us enjoyed our stroll through those rows of old tractors most of all. I wanted to see if I could find a Silver King among the lot, and eventually I did just that, a lone ghostly monstrosity just like the one my Uncle Arlo had so many years ago. We marched through a field of Olivers and Massey Fergusons, Fords and Allis-Chalmers, John Deeres and Cases, eyeing the machines and respecting the time and care they demand. My favorite: a 1907 International Harvester, powered by kerosene.

After an envious look at a 1916 Harley Davidson motorcycle and a nearly perfect ’31 Ford Model A coupe, we hoofed it over to the Swine Barn, the primary attraction there being the largest and second-largest boars in the world. At 1,277 pounds, the grossly obese porker named “Tickle Me Elmo,” was a fascinatingly disgusting hog that defies description. His latest half-dozen offspring, penned nearby with a docile but proud Mrs., ignored the standing-room-only crowd, yet often stretched out just enough to invite a scratched tummy.

Although we wanted to wander through the Family Arts Building and its countless photographs and paintings and handicrafts, the lateness of the hour prompted us instead to head toward the Exposition Hall, where each year we stroll through aisle after aisle of displays featuring the likes of detoxifying foot baths, replacement windows, personalized license plates and plastic novelties, the most popular, I suppose, being the ever-present plastic doggy doo and fake ice-embedded flies. As always, we listened to sales pitches about stainless steel cookware, leafless guttering and the evils of damp basements, but bought nothing but a can of salsa mix, which is dynamite when served with chopped tomatoes.

There’s more to tell, but no room in which to tell it. We’ll head back to the fair next year; of that I am certain. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll again get to see “Coco, the 40-foot plastic colon, a big hit with fairgoers a few years ago, maybe even take in the cockroach races…

After our trip to the fair, you can’t say we don’t know how to have fun.

Mike Lunsford can be reached at, or by regular mail c/o the Tribune — Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at, and visit his website at to learn more about his books.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Lunsford
  • IMG_9352.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash

    Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Inscription 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured

    I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.

    March 30, 2014 6 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return

    It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.

    March 16, 2014

  • Sworn In.jpg Author visits birthplace of Calvin Coolidge

    Editor’s Note: Today, in this seventh and final installment of Mike Lunsford’s “New England Journal,” the writer visits a small town in south central Vermont, birthplace of the nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. Be sure to look for Mike’s regular column in Monday’s edition of the Tribune-Star.

    March 16, 2014 12 Photos

  • Waiting for Spring.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter

    I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.

    March 2, 2014 16 Photos

  • The Inlet at Thunder Hole.JPG Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

    February 16, 2014 9 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’

    I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.

    February 3, 2014

  • MET010714 lunsford art.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell

    You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.

    January 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET010414 lunsford 2.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

    It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

    January 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Millay at Steepletop.jpg ‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

    January 5, 2014 6 Photos

  • MET121713 lunsford radio.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside

    I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.

    December 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • MET120713lunsford.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’

    If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.

    December 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beach Roses.JPG Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.

    December 1, 2013 8 Photos

  • MET100913 woolybear.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?

    I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.

    November 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • B Plot at Epinal France.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’

    Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.

    November 11, 2013 4 Photos

  • Black Cat.JPG MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife

    My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.

    October 28, 2013 3 Photos

  • Stephen Kim 1.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy

    It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.

    October 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Harry Evans Bridge II.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

    It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

    September 30, 2013 6 Photos

  • MET0909113goldenrod.jpg Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September

    The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.

    September 16, 2013 2 Photos

  • MET083013lunsford squirrel2.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

    I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.

    September 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night

    We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.

    August 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beulah Gravestone.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at

    August 6, 2013 2 Photos 1 Story

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother

    EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.

    August 5, 2013 1 Story

  • A Sailboat on the Lake.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’

    We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.

    July 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Frost Writing C…Near Ripton.jpg Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked

    A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.

    July 21, 2013 7 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away

    I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.

    July 8, 2013

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …

    BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …

    June 24, 2013

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem

    The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.

    June 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • Green Heron3.JPG A walk in the woods

    I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.

    April 28, 2013 5 Photos

  • MET041013dowsing.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science

    My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.

    April 15, 2013 2 Photos

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Raw: Obamas Attend Easter Service Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy Raw: Crowds Rally at '420' Celebration in Denver Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010