A night at the carnival

Published 12:53 pm Saturday, July 2, 2011

A group of friends play skee ball at Merriam’s Carnival on the opening night of the Fourth of July festivities. -- Garrett Wampler/Albert Lea Tribune

Merriam’s Carnival withstood the heat, humidity and rain on Friday night in Albert Lea, to mark the start of the weekend’s Fourth of July celebration.

One-year-old Maleah Franksain, of Albert Lea, picks her prize after selecting a duck out of the lazy river on Friday at Merriam’s Carnival.

The lights, sounds and smells of the area formulated the atmosphere that comes with a carnival. Many residents came to the spectacle creating a sense of excitement in the air for the weekend’s activities, before storms but a damper on the evening.

“It is another event for the community,” Albert Lea Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen said.

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Petersen said Merriam’s Carnival came to her three years ago to discuss the possibility of having a small carnival before the fair to celebrate the Fourth of July.

“I thought it would be a great addition to this great weekend,” Petersen said.

Even with the government shutdown everything is running smoothly for the carnival. They don’t need to worry about state inspectors because the carnival uses their own generators for power.

While some people attended the carnival for the lights and the sounds, it is often the rides, food and games that garner the most attention.

Many people don’t go to carnivals for the rides, just like Albert Lea resident Mary Ann Hanson. Hanson made her first trip to the Independence Day festival this year. She said she came to the carnival for the food.

Jim and Kay Lester stand in front of their Dawg Wagon at the carnival. Jim Lester said they have “the best hot dogs on the planet.”

“The food — you can’t beat a carnival’s food,” Hanson said. “That is what brings me to fairs and carnivals, it’s the food.”

Hanson said her favorites are freshly fried onion rings and funnel cake.

What makes the carnival treats so delectable?

“It’s fattening!” Hanson said.

Along with fried onion rings and funnel cakes the carnival offers an assortment from Albert Lea area vendors like Jim and Kay’s Great American Dawg Wagon. Co-owner Jim Lester boasts that his stand serves the “best hot dogs on the planet.”

Business is usually good for Lester during the festivities. He said if the weather holds off they could sell 300 or 400 hot dogs over the weekend.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing anything in Albert Lea,” Lester said on having his stand at the carnival. “I think it’s the smaller version of the fair and it gives kids something to do on the Fourth.”

Daysha Luttrell, 9, of Albert Lea, prepares for the Sizzler to begin its spin cycle.

Another bonus for the local vendors is that the City of Albert Lea doesn’t charge vendors to sell their items over the holiday weekend.

After devouring a carnival treat the extreme thrill-seekers can head towards the rides. The carnival offers the Zipper and the Sizzler for the fearless patrons. While riding the Zipper, riders are secured inside a cage before being tossed around by the machine.

The carnival also offers rides for the more pedestrian rider. The Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and swings are designed for carnival-goers of all ages.

Let’s not forget about the children. Merriam’s brought along kid favorites like the glass maze, kiddie train and the panda bears.

Kids attempt to toss a ball into a circle highlighted by either a red, yellow or blue circle.

A portion of the gate receipts will be shared with the City of Albert Lea for allowing the carnival to be put on.

Merriam’s Carnival is set up in the North Broadway parking lot next to the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. It will run throughout the holiday weekend. Today the carnival is open from 1 to 10 p.m. with $14 unlimited ride wristbands available. On Monday, the carnival will be showcased from 1 to 8 p.m., ending before the fireworks show.