Thurtene returns to campus — and its roots — April 19-21

child on a carnival ride
Thurtene features thrill rides, carnival games and fair food. (Photo: Washington University)

Thurtene Carnival organizers are infusing new life into Washington University in St. Louis’ oldest tradition. This year’s fair, which takes place Friday through Sunday, April 19-21, near Francis Olympic Field, will feature a reimagined stage, new attractions and a fresh take on fair favorites. Highlights include custom-made funnel cakes with chocolate sauce; a thrift shop hosted by Strike Magazine; and a medieval castle where campus bands and a cappella acts will perform. 

“For years, Thurtene was the thing,” said Riley Thompson of Thurtene junior honorary, which produces the carnival. “We want to recapture some of that magic and make it the thing again.” 

The oldest and largest student-run carnival in the nation, Thurtene has long drawn students, alumni and St. Louis families to campus for thrill rides, student shows and deep-fried delicacies. But when COVID forced organizers to cancel in 2020 and 2021, the carnival lost some of institutional knowledge that has powered it for more than a century. So this year, Thurtene partnered with the Skandalaris Center to host a Thurtene IdeaBounce where student groups could pitch plans to improve their booths’ offerings, appearance and overall vibe. Judges included members of the Student Enterprise Program.

Thurtene Carnival

When: 4-8 p.m. Friday, April 19; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 20 and 21

Where: Next to Francis Olympic Field at Washington University in St. Louis

How much: Admission is free; parking is free after 5 p.m. Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday

More info: Thurtene Carnival

“COVID really did a number on Thurtene,” said Thompson, who is studying entrepreneurship at Olin Business School. “A lot of the knowledge that was passed down from class to class was lost. And that can be hard for these booths, which really are small businesses. That’s why we decided to help groups think about ways to bring their creativity to life and align their vision with Thurtene’s.”

This year’s IdeaBounce winner was the pre-health fraternity Alpha Iota Gamma booth, Lemon Air, which will serve customizable lemonades. Delta Sigma Pi (DSP), the co-ed business fraternity, also earned the judges’ praise for its funnel cake stand, already one of Thurtene’s most popular attractions. Over the years, the group has perfected its recipe, serving plates of hot, crispy fried dough. This year, DSP will offer customers a choice of toppings — chocolate, strawberry or caramel.

“We take a lot of pride in making every funnel cake to order — that’s what sets our funnel cakes apart,” said DSP officer Isa Arzeno Picco, who tried her first funnel cake at last year’s Thurtene. “I’m from Argentina, and in my culture, food brings everyone together. That is what we are trying to do. And that is what the Thurtene carnival is doing too.”

The Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity has been serving funnel cakes for years. (Photo courtesy of DSP)

Thurtene organizers also have constructed a venue to evoke the “facades” of years past. For decades, student groups, typically fraternity and sororities, built enclosed theaters where they performed original plays and revues. Sam Wang of Thurtene wanted to revive the tradition, even though he had only seen Thurtene facades on YouTube. The end result is a partially enclosed castle that will deliver a better experience for audience members and performers. 

“Watching these videos, you could see that the facades were so elaborate and of such high quality,” Wang said. “It made me really nostalgic for this time that we haven’t had the chance to experience. Hopefully, we can bring some of that special charm back.”

This year’s community partner is RankenJordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, which cares for children and families facing complicated medical diagnoses.

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