Minnesota Moment: When Greeley came to the fair – the other fair

September 14, 2018

What happened: Horace Greeley made a speech at the fair.

When: Sept. 15, 1871.

A little later: You might be surprised to think the fair was still underway so late in September. But this wasnt the Minnesota State Fair, it was the Great Northwestern Exposition, a competitor to the State Fair that opened on the 15th.

Headline grabbers: The big news was the livestock judging (local mogul W.S. King, who ran the exposition, cleaned up the awards for prize cows and bulls); the Great Race of prize horses, a Handsome Testimonial to Mr. Hickok; and, of course, Mr. Greeleys Talk to the Farmers.

Go West: Greeley is remembered today, if at all, for offering general directions to the ambitious: Go West, Young Man, although its still being disputed whether or not he said the famous phrase first. Quotes aside, he was a dominant figure in American history for decades author, newspaper editor, politician and all-around public intellectual.

How about them apples: At the exposition, Greeley was received with the most enthusiastic demonstration of respect, and once the applause died down, he began by noting that hed seen a sign quoting his 1865 statement that apples would not thrive as a crop in Minnesota. He had to eat his words (and perhaps his Minnesota-grown apples). You have learned to select the hardier kinds of apples better suited for this soil, he said. I rejoice in your success. I will not say that this State will not produce oranges at some future time.

In addition to talking about crops, he also praised Minnesotas weather (Two or three months of good, steady, hard, cold weather is very agreeable to me ); said our water was better than Texas, which was worse than Ohio and Mississippi mud water; and that our wheat looked good, but Pennsylvania had us beat.

On the downside: The year 1871 would turn out to be cruel for Greeley; he would lose his wife, resign his editorship of the New York Tribune (which hed founded) and embark on an ill-fated campaign for president against incumbent Ulysses S. Grant. In 1872, he received 66 electoral votes to Grants 286. But even if Greeley had gotten more, it wouldnt have mattered. He was dead by the time the Electoral College convened.

What remains: The Great Northwestern Exposition failed, the Minnesota State Fair prospered and the state is a leader in apple innovation.

James Lileks

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