INDIANAPOLIS — Officially, it’s the Year of the Dairy Cow at the Indiana State Fair, which opens Friday, but this year’s fair logo carries another theme: “Celebrating the Hoosier Spirit.”
Fair officials hope the theme reflects both their desire to move past the deadly stage collapse that marred last year’s fair, while still honoring the victims -- and all of the people who rushed to the scene to help.
”It’s directly linked to what we saw happen last year,” said fair spokesman Andy Klotz. “We saw Hoosiers coming together to help other Hoosiers.”
This year, during the fair’s 17-day run, organizers are hoping to attract a crowd of more than 850,000 by offering the perennially popular fair staples, from barnyard animals to midway rides.
But they’ve also carved out space and time to acknowledge the tragedy that took seven lives and injured dozens when an outdoor stage rigging collapsed on a waiting concert crowd.
On Aug. 13, at 8:46 a.m., all fair festivities will come to a halt for a moment of silence to mark the one-year anniversary of the fatal event. Crowds will likely gather near the scene of the stage collapse where a plaque with the names of the dead was unveiled last month.
Some may choose instead to gather near a new art sculpture located in the northwest quadrant of the fairgrounds. The 12-feet high sculpture of three wooden, twisting stalks of corn is titled “Celebrating Hoosier Spirit.”
It’s recognition that in the chaos of the stage collapse, which came moments after high winds swept across the fairgrounds, there were hundreds of people who rushed to scene to dig through the rubble to help those who were trapped underneath.
At a memorial service for the victims last year, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels recounted stories of people who risked their own safety in the mad search for victims and survivors.
”There was a hero every 10 feet,” Daniels said.
His wife, Cheri Daniels, has been a fair booster and ambassador since Daniels took office in 2005. She’s driven tractors pulling cartloads of fair visitors, scooped up squealing piglets in her arms, and competed in watermelon-spitting and cow-milking contests. She’ll host her eighth annual two-mile Heartland Walk for Health on the fairgrounds Aug. 11.
In recent days, she’s been on radio stations across the state, urging people to come to the fair and reminding them of the fun to be had.
”People assume because I’m from New Albany, I was raised on farm,” Cheri Daniels said. “But the first time I touched a cow was at the Indiana State Fair.”
Cheri Daniels was in the grandstand last year with the crowd waiting for a concert by the country duo Sugarland to begin when a storm swept in. She left moments before the stage rigging collapsed, urged to leave by a state trooper. As she was doing so, fair officials decided to cancel the concert but by then, it was too late.
Questions about why fair officials didn’t evacuate the concert crowd sooner, as bad weather was moving in, have become part of a series of lawsuits filed by families of the victims. Cindy Hoye, the fair’s executive director for the past eight years, told the Associated Press that the tragedy haunts fair officials.
”You have to understand that this team out here has been devastated,” Hoye said in her first interview since the collapse. “We don’t take any of that lightly, that there have been people who have lost their lives, people who are forever impacted. There is not a moment that goes by in our planning that we don’t think about what happened.”
Among the new safety and security measures put into place this year in an effort to prevent another tragedy is the onsite presence of a meteorologist who works for a commercial weather company that provides weather-forecasting services at PGA Tour events. Fair workers, vendors, and volunteers have all gone through safety training.
”You can never minimize a tragedy like this,” Cheri Daniels said. Her message is that it’s possible to both remember the tragedy and celebrate an Indiana tradition that’s now in its 156th year. “We don’t just have a state fair. We have a great state fair. It’s a real gift.”
To find out more about the Indiana State Fair and to see a schedule of events, visit the website at www.in.gov/statefair
Fair starts this week
The Indiana State Fair begins Aug. 3 and runs for 17 days. Fair headliners this year include Barry Manilow, Blake Shelton, Journey with Pat Benatar and Loverboy, and Train. Those concerts will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis.
The fairgrounds will still be the scene for other concerts and events, midway rides, and exhibitions of Indiana agriculture and livestock. Admission at the gate is $10 for adults and $5 for children, but less expensive advance tickets are available at many locations. For more information, go to the State Fair’s website at www.in.gov/statefair.
State Fair celebrates dairy cows
New Cowtown USA exhibit
offers dairy-related activities
The Indiana State Fair would be quite different without grilled cheese sandwiches or milkshakes in the Dairy Bar. This year, the fair celebrates the value of the dairy industry to Hoosiers with the “Year of Dairy Cows,” presented by the American Dairy Association (ADA) of Indiana.
There are more than 1,500 dairy farms in Indiana housing 176,000 cows. Those farms produce about 3.5 billion pounds of milk, accounting for nearly $500 million in milk production each year. Hoosiers with a sweet tooth will be proud that Indiana ranks second nationally in ice cream production.
”Dairy brings a great economic benefit to Indiana,” ADA spokesperson Jenni Purcell said. “Not only that, but milk is very nutritious. Dairy farmers are dedicated to and passionate about taking care of their animals and the land.”
Through its partnership with the ADA of Indiana, the Indiana State Fair will feature a number of dairy-related activities to highlight the importance of dairy cows, including:
- Cowtown USA (Family Fun Park) - This exhibit gives visitors the chance to hand-milk a real cow and participate in the pasteurization process. Participants can take part in creating cheese, butter, and ice cream. Even better, they get to sample the “homemade” delights when they’re done.
- Moo Chew Grilled Cheese & Lemon Chiller (Dairy Bar) - These are two new food items featured in the Dairy Bar this year. “Moo Chew” is a grilled sandwich with American cheese in between two slices of Pepper Jack on Sourdough bread. “Lemon Chiller” is a lemon-flavored milkshake.
- Culinary Contests (Ellison Bakery Home & Family Arts Building) - A Kids’ Favorite Dairy Smoothie Contest is set for Aug. 4 and 5 for school-age children and a Big Cookie Decorating Contest, open to everyone, is Aug. 4.
- Buttercup - The mascot for the American Dairy Association of Indiana will be at the fair to meet and greet fairgoers and represent the dairy industry through the fair’s 17 days.
- LegenDairy Marketplace (DuPont Food Pavilion) - The ADA of Indiana provides information about the nutritional value of dairy products and the importance of Indiana’s dairy industry.
- Fuel Up to Play 60 tent (Family Fun Park) - This children’s activity teaches youngsters why it’s important to eat nutrient-packed foods and exercise for 60 minutes per day.
- “Celebrating Dairy Cows” interactive kiosk (Mac Reynolds Barn) - This exhibits features facts about dairy cows and the history of the Reynolds farm in Fishers. There are also cow-themed games and photo opportunities.
- Free “Cow Cup” (Hot Wisconsin Cheese stand between the Ball State Ag/Hort Building and the DuPont Food Pavilion) - From 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, patrons can receive a free 32-ounce souvenir “Cow Cup” of soda with the purchase of any cheese item.
- Cattle Barn (West Pavilion) - The ADA of Indiana offers displays on modern dairy farming, cow comfort, robotic milking, and the six major dairy breeds.
- Dairy cow exhibits (Normandy Barn) - Information about Ellen, the world champion milk-producing cow from 1975-92, will be on display. A carousel milking exhibit will teach visitors about advancements in the dairy industry, and wall panels will provide information about the six breeds of dairy cows.
The State Fair has featured one important Indiana agricultural community since 2007. Previous products featured include corn, pigs, tomatoes, trees (hardwoods), and soybeans.