Flashback Friday: 1961 Princess Kay Looks Back on That Year's State Fair

August 31, 2018 10:25 AM

Diane Kramer was a pretty big deal at the 1961 Minnesota State Fair.

The then-18-year-old from a farm near Worthington was crowned that year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way, which meant her presence was in high demand all over the fairgrounds.


"As soon as I was crowned, they whisked me away and I was on the go the entire fair," she recalls. "I can remember getting my picture taken with the governor at the time, Elmer Andersen. There were so many appearances."

She even crossed paths with another of the fair's top attractions that year, teen idol Ricky Nelson, then riding high on the strength of hits like "Poor Little Fool," "Travelin' Man" and "Hello Mary Lou."

The performer, who rocketed to fame playing himself on television's "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," first appeared at the State Fair in 1957, almost setting off a riot in the process, according to media reports at the time.

He was back for a Monday morning performance in 1961; and while he was there, Kramer had the chance to meet him.

"I was a huge fan," she said, "And I got to have pictures taken with him. I was so star-struck. He was my favorite TV and movie star at the time, and there he was right in front of me."

The 1961 State Fair marked the 100th version of the event, not counting years where the fair was called off because of war or pestilence, or those held before Minnesota became a state. It drew a total of 1,118,596 people, making it the third-largest fair in history up to that time.

Admission that year was 50 cents. Tickets for the nightly grandstand shows, which featured Roy Rogers' TV sidekick Pat Brady and the Sons of the Pioneers, were $2 or $2.50 ($1.50 for unreserved seating), according to newspaper advertisements.

A Minneapolis Tribune article previewing the fair stated it would feature 80 acres of machinery and 24 agricultural exhibits. And fair records show there were around 120 food vendors.

Admission to this year's State Fair is $14 for adults and $12 for those between age 5-12 and those over 65. In 2017, the fair drew a record 1,997,320 attendees.

And the 2018 fair features around 300 food vendors.

Kramer said the fair was busy 57 years ago, though nowhere near the level its at today.

"I was there two or three years ago," said Kramer, whose son now runs a bakery in Minneapolis that supplies focaccia bread to a coffee shop in the Farmers Union Building at the State Fair.

"It's really changed a lot over the years. It was busy back then. But not like it is now. The last time I went, it was wall-to-wall people. It's become such a big deal."

But it was a pretty big deal back then too, especially when it came to the coronation of Princess Kay.

"It was held in the grandstand back then," Kramer said. "I still remember that night. The place was packed with people."

The coronation was only the start of a busy reign. Kramer estimates she made around 1,780 appearances during the year she held the crown.

"There were many nights we drove all night to get from one side of the state to the other," Kramer said. "Once I had to be in the Twin Cities for an appearance, and I was in Northern Minnesota. So, we decided to take a flight to get back. I can still recall taking off from a field with flashlights."

She added, "That was exciting, though maybe not in a good way. I was just glad when we finally landed."

However, Kramer said she wouldn't trade her Princess Kay memories for anything.

"I enjoyed every minute of that year," she said. "It was probably one of the best years of my life."

Since then, Kramer has lived all over the U.S. She was an airline stewardess for United Airlines for a time, sold real estate in Boston, worked in the bank vault at the MGM in Las Vegas and managed a Jenny Craig Weight Loss Center in Denver.

Now she is back in Worthington with her husband, having returned to the state in which she was once crowned a princess.

"I think we're back to stay," she said. "We really like it here."


Frank Rajkowski

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