9 - Grandstand
Click Image for a Larger VersionHappenings at the Grandstand! Text
Happenings at the Grandstand
“Hi. This is Bob ‘meet me at the fair’ Hope inviting you and your family to the grandstand show at the Minnesota State Fair I’ll be looking for you in the audience.”
Hollywood icon Bob Hope, race car driver Wild Bill Endicott, Vice President Teddy Roosevelt, singer John Denver, and a horse named Dan Patch. What do they all have in common? They all attracted visitors to the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand!
When we think of the grandstand today, we think about concerts, talent shows, and fireworks. But over the years, the Grandstand has offered everything from politics to pop culture.
“I remember very vividly the day the Brady Bunch came. I loved that show. The patterns that they were wearing were so different than what you saw on television, especially in my case, because here we are used to watching these kids live and work and perform in their own little world on television, in black and white. To see them more 3-dimensionally was just like, wow, it’s much more tangible, it’s much more real.
In the early years, the real focus at the Grandstand was horse racing. But with the introduction of the automobile, anything to do with cars became the rage. Soon, aviation and aerial acts were included in the grandstand show too. Marching bands and orchestral performances were a staple, and splashy Broadway style dance productions added pizzazz.
By the 1950s, Hollywood stars, comedians and musicians brought a new kind of entertainment to the grandstand. From Roy Rogers, Jane Russell, and the Smothers Brothers to Johnny Cash, Rush, and Bob Dylan, evening fairgoers have been entertained in grand fashion.
Fireworks at the grandstand have signaled the end of the day at the fair since the 1920s. Back then, elaborate sets were created for over-the-top theatrical performances such as “The Last days of Pompeii.” At the end of each show, the entire set exploded as pyrotechnics shot in the air. To this day, fireworks are always a memorable finale to leave with fairgoers as they head home for the night.
A Horse named Dan Patch
You’ve probably walked down Dan Patch Avenue at the fair. You might even know every food vendor, ride, and building along the way. But have you ever asked yourself, “Who was Dan Patch?” A famous person? A politician? The first Minnesotan to down a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies? Nope--this street was named after a Minnesota race horse!
Dan Patch raced regularly at the Minnesota State Fair and was a celebrity beyond the fairgrounds. In fact, in the early 1900s, he was the most famous horse in America!
Dan Patch raced in harness competitions, where horses pull drivers in two-wheeled carts called sulkies. He never lost a race. In 1906, he broke his own world record on closing day of the fair, by running a mile long race in one minute, fifty-five seconds.
But the story of Dan Patch doesn’t end there. His owner, Marion Savage, loved Dan Patch and treated him like royalty. Mr. Savage owned many businesses and featured Dan Patch’s image in his product ads. Thirty hours after his beloved horse died in 1916, Marion Savage died, too. Was it a coincidence? Or did he die of a broken heart? We’ll never really know. But, after his death, the Minnesota town was renamed Savage, to honor the man who brought the world the amazing Dan Patch.
Thrills and Spills at the Grandstand
In the fair’s early years, most visitors came from rural, often isolated areas. Seeing a hot air balloon or airplane was often a first. Witnessing a few explosions in Grandstand programs called “Thrill Days” was even more exhilarating.
It all started with Model Ts crashing into each other. Soon after came locomotive crashes, resulting in cheers from wide-eyed crowds. Once the novelty of crashes wore off, aerial acts began to take shape.
Tiny engines in the sky, otherwise known as airplanes, had crowds looking up to see a loop de loop. Next the planes flew just feet off the ground, straight into makeshift houses. Spectators gasped, then cheered when pilots emerged victoriously.
In the 1920s, wing walking became the rage. Women like Lillian Boyer were frequent performers. Not only did they walk on the wings of speeding airplanes or hang from their feet--some would vault from a swiftly moving car to latch onto the wing of a passing plane!
The thrills kept coming, as new acts took the place of aerial stunts. High-wire performances were added, diving horses drew gasps from the crowd, and the famous Zachhini sisters were shot out of a cannon.
Then came the demolition derbies of the 60s and 70s.
“They would put 24 cars out there and they would ram each other, trying to hit someone’s front end with your back end, until it was down to 1 car running, and that person was the winner of the Demolition Derby. It was very exciting. I mean, we would take the time to prepare our cars taking the glass out, the chrome off, the gas tank off- anything that could hurt anybody if you hit them. Put the gas can in the front seat in the upholstery. You never really get going very fast, so you can’t get hurt. But there was no better way to release a year’s worth of frustration, than to blast full speed, in reverse, and hit the front end of another guy’s car. And it was a lot of fun.”
Today, the grandstand gets lively once night falls and the music begins. You may not see someone hanging from the wing of an airplane, but the zeal of the crowd is the same as the old days.
What is your favorite memory at the Grandstand?