Commentaries:Headed to the fair? Go see MichelleI took my time getting up Monday morning. No one really likes Mondays, but that wasn’t my reasoning. I just wanted to savor a few quiet minutes before the next couple of weeks got started.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
I took my time getting up Monday morning. No one really likes Mondays, but that wasn’t my reasoning. I just wanted to savor a few quiet minutes before the next couple of weeks got started.
By the time you all read this, I’ll be on “vacation.” I use the term lightly, since most of my vacation will be spent volunteering at the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation’s museum at the Minnesota State Fair.
Somehow, the State Fair has become as much of who I am as my family, my friends and my career. I started out there when I was 18, a kid looking to make some money for books before leaving for her first year of college. I had a blast, so I went back the next year. And the next year after that. Eighteen years I worked for the Great Minnesota Get-Together before I decided o take a break from it.
I took a break after the 2004 fair, but found the pull of being part of the behind-the-scenes activity tugging at me the next year. I went several times, but it just wasn’t the same.
But then I saw the request for volunteers at the MNF museum. I’d made a faithful trip through there for years, marveling at the large, noisy machinery as I passed through. It seemed like something I should include in my fair-going, being a newspaper type. But those machines scared me. What would I do there?
I took a chance, though. If anything, I’d learn how to make those cute newspaper hats they hand out, right? I signed up for a shift or two. I think I ended up coming back four or five times that year.
I found my new fair home.
The gal who used to coordinate the volunteers, Kristin, was thrilled. Usually, it’s hard to find people who want to give up time to come out and volunteer. They bring their families to the fairgrounds, and they want to go see what there is to see. I get that.
In the newspaper museum, I’ve found a place that kind of pulls together my love of my career, and the love of my fair. I’m fascinated by how complex the linotype machine is — and am gradually learning the basics of its operation. It fairly boggles my mind, as I sit at my computer watching my words spill out, that once upon a time type was set one line at a time. And that the linotype, this beast of a machine, was once the liberating invention of the trade.
Because once those lines of type are set, they’re far from a finished product. Each leaden line is placed in a column, braced by blocks on the sides, pounded into place and then set onto a press to print. Last year, I started to learn how to run that printer, too — another giant beast about the size of two dozen lazer printers stacked on top of each other. The front page plate of the Maynard Press, which is the name of the publication printed there, weighs approximately 100 pounds. And that’s just one page. There’s four plates that go into making a 1900’s era newspaper.
I’ve always been a bit of a history geek, so I naturally think the details of days gone by are pretty cool. Visitors are always been impressed by the machines, especially when they’re running. It’s so different from how we do things today. As much as a computer can do, it really doesn’t put on the same show as an old-fashioned newspaper folder does.
But there’s another part to all of this: teaching — even for just a few brief moments — visitors about the freedom of the press. About my rights as a reporter. About your rights as a citizen. About the First Amendment and all of the rights it guarantees us. You know, funny stuff like the right to choose our own religions and to speak out at city council or school board meetings.
Oh, and for the record, because we reporters like to get our facts straight, those cute little newspaper hats are called printer’s caps. They’re named because pressmen fashioned similar hats to keep the ink out of their hair when it splattered. See? Already I’m teaching you something, and I’m not even there yet.