The state fair is Illinois at its best — or at least the one we have in our mind: one state, united, celebrating the things we make and the people who make them.
We've been gathering like this to celebrate agriculture every summer since 1853, when Franklin Pierce was in the White House and the California Gold Rush was well underway. The fair hopscotched across the state early on, including to Chicago in 1855. It wasn't until 1894 that it went to the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Since the 1940s, a second state fair has been in Du Quoin.
This year, the Springfield one is Aug. 8-18.
Nostalgia is deep by design, and so is a sense of timeliness.
The long, long walk from the grassy parking lot. The aged buildings dotting the 366 acres, constructed generations ago. The entries from Granite City, Oak Park, Macon, Clinton, Bloomington-Normal and Charleston. They're all created by Illinoisans, our state on full display.
Over the years, they've come to see Lincoln speak, through the Civil War, through the creation of tools and machines that could till acre after acre and ship the Illinois-grown goods around the world.
They've brought prize-winning tomatoes and secured ribbons for the best watermelons, dioramas and photos.
Sure, it feels like our Illinois is divided along political lines more than ever, and the drumbeat of concerns about population loss and state budget woes can be unrelenting. That it too often feels like Chicago controls the whole state through power and politics is overwhelming. And don't get us started on the roads.
But every summer, the fair returns, traditions in all.
No matter what, that spinning butter cow — all 500 pounds of unsalted dairy product, housed in a rotating, refrigerated display case — will be there just as its been since the 1920s. There will be Veterans Day and Governor's Day and Senior Day. The air will smell like french fries and elephant ears. The weather will be hot.
And we'll be there again, celebrating what's great about Illinois.