ST. PAUL — Of all the changes in the world and at the Minnesota State Fair in the past 50 years, one thing has remained the same: the lure of the Giant Slide.
It’s something Stacey Pittroff-Barona says people find comforting and why they keep coming back year after year. They pay $2.50 for a felt mat, climb 100 stairs and glide over five drops in a five-second ride on the enormous yellow slide.
“I think people have their traditions out at the Fair, and the Giant Slide is a big part of people’s lives,” she said. “I would be curious to know how many people have a picture of the Giant Slide in their photo albums over the years.”
The State Fair is celebrating a half-century with the slide that remains mostly the same as it did when her father, Fred Pittroff, installed it in 1969.
“Over half the people are grandparents riding with their kids,” Pittroff said. “They remember riding it 50 years ago.”
The Minnesota slide is one of 42 Pittroff built and sold over the years and one of two (the Wisconsin State Fair’s is the other) his family still maintains. It is unique in its permanent galvanized steel construction and, unlike modern slides, it has no dividers, so 25 people can slide together at the same time.
“The slide was easy,” Pittroff said of its success. He says it’s the most popular ride at the Fair. Why? “It’s something everyone can enjoy, not just the kids.”
The Giant Slide is open to families Thursday through Sept. 2 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
50 fun facts about the Giant Slide
1. Fred Pittroff, 80, installed the slide at the Minnesota State Fair in 1969.
2. The galvanized steel construction is the same as it was 50 years ago, except for the scaffolding — damaged by Minnesota winters — which was redone in 2016.
3. The slide is 50 feet high, 170 feet long and 30 feet wide.
4. The Minnesota slide is about five feet shorter than the Wisconsin slide because the ground beneath its top is higher.
5. The original slide, created in California for the Orange Show in San Bernadino in 1966, was orange with three humps that created seven-foot drops.
6. After several people injured their ankles when the mat flew out from under them on the drops and their tennis shoes caught on the slide, Pittroff shortened the drops to 3.6 feet.
7. The Minnesota slide has five humps.
8. Pittroff grew up in a family-owned printing business, where he worked until his retirement.
9. It takes five seconds to travel down the slide.
10. Riders climb 100 steps to the top.
11. Two hundred thousand riders slide annually at the Fair.
12. In its 50 years, more than 9 million guests have ridden the slide.
13. It takes a rotating crew of 100 employees to operate the slide at the Fair, about 25 at a time.
14. The slide is painted yellow because it’s the coolest color, reflecting the heat of the summer sun.
15. Pittroff started his career at age 15 selling hot dogs on a stick at Balboa Fun Zone amusement park in California.
16. He was inspired by a smaller slide at a Santa Cruz, Calif., amusement park when he learned it was the most popular ride at the park.
17. Pittroff attended the Park & Fair Convention in Chicago in 1967 and sold 10 slides at its trade show. He would go on to build and sell 42 Giant Slides over the next two decades.
18. The slides were popular because they were low-maintenance and something all ages could enjoy.
19. His family operated 10 slides for several years but now only have two, at the Minnesota and Wisconsin state fairs.
20. People protested the destruction of his Australia slide, saving it with a historical designation.
21. One of his former slides in Mississippi was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
22. In 1969, tickets to ride cost 25 cents. In 2019, tickets cost $2.50.
23. The Pittroffs make $500,000 gross in annual sales on the Minnesota slide alone.
24. Employees wax the slide with a bar of paraffin wax to keep it slippery.
25. Rain closes the ride because damp mats don’t slide well, and soaked mats slide too fast.
26. When the weather clears, employees squeegee the slide and blow it dry. Heaters underneath combat dew and humidity.
27. There are scream microphones strung over the slide to broadcast the screams of excited sliders.
28. The Wisconsin microphones were taken down because the slide is adjacent to a noisy stage.
29. The slide had traditionally been painted every year, but improved paint has a two-year life now.
30. The Minnesota slide was sandblasted and painted in April.
31. While Pittroff sold and built slides, his wife, Beverly, managed permits, contracts, insurance and other administrative tasks.
32. Beverly Pittroff died on the last day of the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. A full rainbow appeared over the Giant Slide when the family returned from the hospital and lingered for about an hour.
33. A memorial bench in honor of Beverly Pittroff is located in front of the slide.
34. The couple’s daughter Stacey rode the slide at 4 months old and helped in the business as she grew up.
35. The original mats were made of burlap, then hemp, now felt.
36. The felt mats last about two years. It takes 150 mats to run the slide at the Minnesota State Fair.
37. Stacey Pittroff-Barona, 45, managed her first slide at age 14. She has never missed a Minnesota State Fair.
38. In 1993, while working at the State Fair, Stacey met Robert Barona, who was working at the hamburger concession next to the Giant Slide.
39. In 1996 on the Fair’s opening day, the two were married at the top of the Giant Slide. The couple, who live in Roseville, now run the slide business.
40. Their two daughters, Isabella, 21, and Anibella, 19, make up the third generation of Pittroffs to work the Giant Slide.
41. Several celebrities have ridden Fred Pittroff’s slides, including singer Kenny Rogers, who filmed part of a television special at the Wisconsin State Fair.
42. Other VIPs to ride one of Pittroff’s slides include former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Walter Mondale, actor Morgan Freeman, singer Janet Jackson and actor Russell Crowe (who allegedly complained about having to pay).
43. In 2011, Stacy London, host of TLC’s reality show “What Not to Wear,” went down the Minnesota slide with cameras mounted on her high-heeled shoes.
44. The most common injury on the slide today is akin to a rug burn, when sliders’ elbows rub the slide on the way down.
45. Parents are advised to hold their children in their laps, not by the hand; otherwise, they’ll go faster and pull their child off the mat.
46. Head-first slides are banned, as are selfie sticks. A repeating message to sit up, legs straight hammers the rules into the riders’ brains on their ascent.
47. Pittroff’s first insurance policy on the slide was $500,000. He now has a $4 million policy.
48. In 2015, Pittroff was named a Living Legend by the National Independent Concessionaires Association.
49. In 2017, the Minnesota State Fair inducted him into its Hall of Fame, the organization’s highest honor.
50. The Giant Slide will be featured in a special exhibit case curated by the Minnesota Historical Society at the Minnesota State Fair’s History and Heritage Center this year.