3 - Space Tower
Click Image for a Larger VersionThe Story Behind the Space Tower Text
“…the space tower is one of those landmarks of the fair. It’s a place we always say either if we get lost we’ll meet at the giant gopher or we’ll meet at the space tower..”
Visitors to the 1965 State Fair were greeted by an unusual sight. The new Space Tower stood 330 feet over the entire fair and was the fourth tallest structure in the Twin Cities! The Tower is a gyro tower, which means it has a rotating and rising deck that allows for the best view of the fair.
“The Space tower is a great way to see the sights of the State Fair because you can really see a lot, especially on a clear night - the lights of the midway, the grandstand, the sky ride, and downtown Minneapolis. You can see the IDS building as well as the Foshay tower. And you look toward downtown St Paul; you can see the capitol and the cathedral.
Over the years the Space Tower has also been a great spot for special occasions....
“I was 16 years old, it was my first real boyfriend. I was a freshman and he had just graduated from high school. We went all the way up and the sun was setting; it was about 8:30 or a quarter to 9, and it was just a beautiful red sky with gold. It was the first time that I remember seeing the State Fair in a whole different light. The memory is 40 years old, but it’s like, I’ll never forget that sunset; it was so romantic, I just loved it”
The Space Tower’s story begins in Germany where it was built by Willy Buhler, AG. It was shipped to Holland and then to Duluth, Minnesota. From Duluth, the Tower rode the rest of its journey on 20 trucks to the State Fairgrounds. But its story doesn’t end there. In 1982 a young man named Errol Kantor fulfilled his dream of owning a concession at the State Fair. He bought the Space Tower from a man who shared his same accountant.
The Space Tower may have been the largest cylindrical tube mast in the region but it was not the first tower of its kind. A Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle Washington. The theme of the World’s Fair was Century 21, and focused on modern science and technology.
Minnesotans who visited the fair on sunny days during the 1980’s saw a tightrope walker towering over the fair. In 1986, Jay Cochrane crossed the entire State Fair on a tightrope. He began at the 4-H building and walked a quarter of a mile above the crowded grounds to the Space Tower.
“It would take him at least 20 minutes. He would start out at the 4-H and walk all the way over to the top of the tower and then ride the tower down. People, I mean literally, people would stop and watch what he was doing.”
Cochrane was scheduled to walk all twelve days of the Fair but due to windy conditions, was only able to complete five tightrope walks.
“You would see him taking his time, because there must have been wind, and he would sit there and you could see him rocking with his pole. That bar - imagine how heavy that must be. If the wind was too much, he couldn’t do it because he did not have a net!”
Jay Cochrane was such a big hit, he was invited back a year later to walk the fair in the air again. He was able to complete seven of his twelve scheduled walks. Jay made his final appearance at the Fair in 1989.
The Space Tower at the Minnesota State Fair was part of a trend started by the Space Race in the 1950’s. At the end of World War II, the United States and Russia were the two most powerful nations in the world. Each country wanted to prove its strength in technology.
Outer Space was seen as the “final frontier” of humankind. The US and Russia thought exploration of Space as the perfect opportunity to flex their technological muscles. Outer Space suddenly became a fantasy world of unexplored territory.
The 1962 State Fair offered space-age attractions. A plastic 70 foot dome displayed man in space and a replica of the first lunar spacecraft to land on the moon. Fair goers could explore a space age kitchen complete with demonstrations about how to serve food in outer space and eat without gravity. Space age attractions were a perfect complement to the space tower.
“I love that it’s one of those retro elements of the state fair. The Space Tower just exudes this kind of early 1960’s optimism about where we were going as a nation. No frontier was too small, why not go to space? That’s one of the things I love about the space tower is just the way it’s this architectural icon of the fair even if you never go up into it, you really always recognize it as a place to meet, as a feature of the fair. It’s past a product of its time and what it represented to Minnesotans at that particular point in history.”
Space exploration at the fair never really lost its fascination. At the 1995 fair the exhibit, Mission: Planet Earth, featured a giant replica of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The exhibit included a model spacecraft cockpit and lunar rover, and NASA displayed an authentic moon rock and astronaut space suit.