Essayist's favorite State Fair memory

The State Fair opens Thursday, and like most Minnesotans, essayist Peter Smith has his own favorite memory of state fairs past.

Smith: There was a time at the state fair-a matter of a decade-maybe two-when they parked a beautifully-painted, refrigerated semi just outside the entrance to the Midway between the beer garden and the grandstand. Inside was a very dead, very frozen whale-an orca as I recall-named "L'il Orvy".

The people who owned Orvy blared a sideshow-like, "Yowsa-yowsa" spiel over a set of tinny loudspeakers. You paid your money. You shuffled up a set of stairs, into the trailer, and there he was. Yessir. Sure enough. Li'l Orvy-a dead frozen whale.

You shuffled the length of his carcass, out another door, back to terra firma. Squinting after having been inside the trailer, you'd feel a little fleeced and a little conflicted. You'd just paid good money to shuffle past a dead whale.

I've wondered for years about the people who showed Orvy. Who were they? Where'd they get him? And where'd they get the idea to truck him from fair to fair?

I've imagined them pitching the loan officer at the bank on the idea of financing the truck and trailer.

"It's a frozen whale. We're gonna call him L'il Orvy. L-I-apostrophe-l. We're gonna show him at fairs. People will pay good money to see him..."

I've imagined Orvy in his trailer, bouncing just a bit on the Interstate between all those state fairs, less exhibit than cargo now.

I've even imagined the couple home for the winter, fair season over-she sitting on the sofa, feet tucked up under her, watching TV-he in the lounger reading pack issues of Popular Mechanics-and Lil Orvy in his trailer, refrigeration unit thrumming on the far side of the barn where they can't hear it from the house.

They're probably retired now. I hope they've retired Li'l Orvy too. After hundreds of thousands of miles and all that freezer burn, I hope he's thawed and returned to dust.

This year, when I go to the fair, I will visit Li'l Orvy's spot.

I will buy a sno cone in his honor and shuffle a ceremonial shuffle.

"Rest in peace," I will whisper to Lil Orvy as the sno cone syrup trickles over my knuckles onto that hallowed ground. "Wherever you are, rest in peace."

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News