This is the story of Sam and Ryan's wedding day.
It begins, like all the best love stories, at the Minnesota State Fair.
For seven years — almost as long as they've been a couple — Sam Ward and Ryan Wooldridge have traveled halfway across the country to visit family, friends and the State Fair.
"The Minnesota State Fair will forever be our special place," Ward wrote in an account of the big day he shared during their flight back to Arizona. "The melting pot of people, the foods you can only get once a year, the overall happiness that fills the grounds — it's truly magical, and we look forward to it every year."
Only one thing could make their special place even more special.
"A few weeks ago," he said, "Ryan and I were at home joking around on the couch, and one of us threw out, 'What if we got married at the fair and surprise everyone?'"
The couple set to work. They lined up a marriage license and an officiant — their ordained friend Laura — then headed to the fairgrounds to do some location scouting.
"We hopped on the Sky Glider and were enjoying a beautiful evening when I looked to my left [and] saw the Great Big Wheel," Ward said. "I looked over to Ryan, and we knew that was the spot — in front of the wheel."
On the first Friday of the fair, they gathered the close-knit group of friends who always got together for the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Instead of "Say cheese," what the group heard while posing in front of the giant Ferris wheel was: "Everyone say, 'Sam and Ryan are getting married!' "
Video of their vows drew more delighted comments and likes than almost any other post on the official Minnesota State Fair Instagram. More likes than posts about the butter princesses, the crop art, the costumed llamas, the cookie buckets. Not even the "It's Corn" remix made more people happy.
"I have never seen a U.S. feed that was so full of love and light," posted one visitor from the United Kingdom, who came for the giant pumpkins and stayed for everything else. "I want to visit you all in Minnesota now! Keep spreading the love."
People hopped into the comments to say they'd been married at the fair, too. Or that their cousin had just become engaged there. The Minnesota State Fair is a love story.
There are no accurate statistics about how many couples have been wed at the Get-Together. The State Fair is not the sort of venue you reserve. Instead, fair officials usually find out when they see a wedding party trooping through the Mighty Midway, or when they get a heads-up that something delightful is going down at the Giant Slide this Saturday at 1 p.m.
For a few blissful seconds this weekend, the line will stop, the slide will clear, and another pair of newlyweds will take the plunge — and get some truly epic photos for their wedding album.
There's only so long the slide operators can hold up the line during the fair's final weekend. But Stacey Pittroff-Barona, whose family has operated the Giant Slide for more than half a century, is happy to help. After all, the Giant Slide is where she married her husband Robert on the evening of opening day 1996.
"It was a great experience," said Pittroff-Barona, who just celebrated her 26th wedding anniversary. Thousands of fairgoers gathered around the slide to watch the bride in white and the groom in his tux exchange vows, then slide off into married life. For a few minutes, a hush fell over the rowdy fairgrounds: "You could have heard a pin drop."
After the most recent exchange of fairground vows, Sam and Ryan's wedding day included celebratory Pronto Pups, a ride around the fairgrounds in a scooter decked out with a "Just Married" sign and cans of White Claw tied to the bumper, a wedding cake from Grandma's and a reception at Ballpark Café.
Now back home in Arizona, the newlyweds are basking in the good wishes — and the glow that comes with spreading a little Minnesota Nice in the world. One of these years — once Ryan finishes grad school — they'll come back to us for good.
"The Minnesota State Fair is tradition; it's comfort; it's home, and it's where Ryan and I married each other," Sam said. "We cannot wait to live in Minnesota one day."