As Minnesota State Fair is canceled for 2020, authors look back at past cancellations

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The Minnesota State Fair — the "Great Minnesota Get-Together” — has been intertwined in the fabric of the area since 1859.

The first Territorial Fair was held in 1854, four years before Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd U.S. state. 

"I think the state fair is the Midwest equivalent of the Champs Elysees in Paris,” says writer Linda Koutsky. “People are strolling, eating, shopping. It's a great celebration of life."

But not this year.

The state fair has been canceled because of the pandemic

“No, it’s very sad, but it’s the right thing to do, there’s no question about that,” declares Kathryn Strand Koutsky, who co-authored a book about the fair with Linda, her daughter. “There’s no way you can stay away from people at the fair.” 

The fair typically draws more than 2 million visitors during its 12-day run between Aug. 27 and Sept. 7. 

Strand Koutsky likely knows better about the risks than most. 

She was 8 years old when a polio epidemic shut down the fair in 1946. 

“We didn’t go to big gatherings, and I actually have friends who got polio at the time,” Strand Koutsky recalls. “The adults were particularly afraid of polio because it very often got their kids. They were the ones that got polio most often, so they didn’t want their kids at the fair.”

But by 1947, the polio threat was considered over. 

"The vaccine was still a few years away, 1952, I think,” Koutsky says. “Who knows what will happen next year? Maybe this will be over with, and we can go to the fair and be happy again."

The mother and daughter co-wrote the book “The Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History,” publishing it in 2007.  

Both women agree seeing the fair being closed is difficult.

“It’s a big shock,” Koutsky says. “When this hit — COVID-19, I thought, 'Maybe we’ll be OK by August.' And then, as it progressed, I realized it really was probably unlikely the fair was going to happen. But I still had my fingers crossed.” 

This is the sixth time the fair has been canceled. 

In 1945, it happened because of travel restrictions and a fuel shortage from World War II. 

That particular year might give everyone a little perspective this time around, Strand Koutsky says. 

“Aren’t you glad it’s not for wartime and things like that?” she explains. “They canceled it for wars, where they took over the grandstands and animal barns to make propellers and things like that.”

Strand Koutsky says she and her family try to get to the fair every year it’s open. 

Just like for most Minnesotans, it’s a vibrant and important part of their lives. 

“It’s really a celebration of the state,” Koutsky says. “It really captures all of the state of Minnesota. It’s the farm kids, it’s the people that sew and craft, they enter competitions.”

“It started with agriculture, and it’s still agriculture,” Strand Koutsky adds. “The corn roast that comes from corn in Minnesota. Plus fun, and a chance to eat stuff you don’t normally eat. And indulge a bit,” she smiles. 

A new sign hangs outside the fairgrounds now. 

In bold letters, it displays a new opening date: Aug. 27, 2021. 

Both women are looking forward to it. 

"You can't watch people anywhere else as well as you can at the fair,” Strand Koutsky says. “It's just a parade of all different kinds of the world going by. It's really fun. I'm going to miss it this year."
 Amid the worldwide pandemic, Koutsky says she has hope that things will get better. 

“I have to have hope. You have to hope for it to get better for all of us, in all aspects of our lives,” she says quietly. “But yeah, the 'Great Minnesota Get-Together,' we would really like to have it next year. Let’s all hope the more people can be safe right now, the better chance we have.”