The Lope: Twilight Zones of the State Fair

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Twilight Zones of the State Fair

The 2007 Kansas State Fair started Friday and runs through this coming Sunday. Here are some updates on the deliciously antiquated creepy aspects of the fair.

My Dark Master

Don't abstain from the creepy charm of the Women's Christian Temperance Union's "little man" when Something Sober This Way Comes. Every year, he is the first thing I check on where he lurks the grandstands, just north of the Kansas Dairy Association booth.

I've always wanted to build an urban legend around him. I suppose he might be the soul of rum-soaked sinner, trapped in a mannequin by Carrie Nation herself - damned to abstain from demon rum and to veer others from his decrepit life by turning the pages of a laminated book for all eternity. Lamentation via lamination, as it were. But then I tend to think that about any creepy wood-like automation.

Or perhaps he's not so trapped after all, and sews the seeds of subliminal havoc from his annual perch. If you want to have some fun with your fair-going friends while visiting him, adopt a glassy stare for a few seconds and repeat in a dazed monotone: "Yes, Master. Tonight. When they sleep. Yes."

2007 Update - Impostor

Oh where, oh where has my Dark Master gone? This isn't him. The WCTU has two of these things, and this year they sent the second stringer. This grey-suited twin has had more extensive remodeling over the years and is less menacing (an impression shared with me by several WCTU workers). He rings a different sort of bell, too.

He's got eyelashes, his eyes move less and he runs much more slowly. The latex under his once-quivering lip has cracked away, leaving the impression from a distance of a sort of goatee. Both of the WCTU's mechanical men bear builders plates from the Character Display Company of Chicago, but they are undated.

Say it ain't so!

AND, he has maintenance issues. When I arrived at the fair Saturday, I was informed he'd stopped working that morning.

He'd been repaired by Sunday and I shot these videos:

However, by Tuesday he'd broken again. Here is a look inside his guts, hidden in the wooden podium from which he protrudes. Perhaps one of you knows how to work on these things. If so, you might consider contacting the Women's Christian Temperance Union. They'd appreciate it, and you'de be helping to preserve something unique.

This WCTU volunteer closes the door on the little man after my peek inside. She told me that the exact age of the two automatons was a subject of much debate within the organization and that the 1935 date listed on the WCTU brochure is a best guess. She also informed me that the organization began their presence at the fair with a small building near one of the south gates of the current fairgrounds, the purpose of which was to allow women a private place to breastfeed babies, which was not accepted publicly at that time.

Not a Good Year for Automated Men at the Fair

The huge automated skeletal barker for Ye Old Mill isn't working either. Here it is being covered Sunday night. At the time of this writing, Wednesday night, he's still cloaked and dead - not undead, just dead. I'll miss him. People would lean against the white fence that surrounded him and then be really startled when he lurched to life with his booming voice and sweeping movements.

Here he is back in 2005, giving a vampire jackalope a lift.

That year, we were given a back-stage tour of this 90+ year-old "water dark ride" and saw how 80,000 gallons of water moved through the 1,000 feet of serpentine tunnels. Go behind the scenes with us and see how it works in Ye Old Mill.

I rode through Ye Old Mill a couple times this year. It's still pretty cool, but if you have an aversion to being squirted, beware of the giant nose about halfway through and the clown toward the very end of the ride, which is about 3 minutes and 45 seconds long.

And this was last year. See more in Bride of Ye Old Mill. I may nominate Ye Old Mill in the current "Eight Wonders of Reno County" contest.

Ye Old Mill is always a favorite subject of mine, in any weather. Here it is during this past Spring's (that's right, Spring) MCC sale.

One stormy night during last year's fair, I basked in it's resemblance to the ubiquitous village windmill in an old black and white horror movie. Walk with me in thunder and lightning as we recall Ray Bradbury's Mr. Dark and ask when Comes the Storm?


Of my three favorite creepy automatons at the fair, only Norman the taffy puller remains active and in good health. He's possessed of an octogenarian wooden gaze and a repetitious motion - but he sure makes tasty treats. His repetitious weaving suggests a snake charmer who calls forth taffy rather than cobras.

Well, sort of at work. They weren't making taffy at the time I was there, but you get the idea.

Well, back to the fair for me. I must download orders from my Dark Master.


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