Book note: The Great Minnesota Get-Together gets a great history


For as long as I can remember, the State Fair has held a special charm for me. I remember getting all dressed up when I was very young—wearing my prettiest dress and riding the Snelling Avenue streetcar to get to the Fair. When our children were growing up, my husband and I made sure that we made it there every year. In fact, the Fair is still so special to me that in 2007, I went three times. I just couldn’t get it all in on one visit.

Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History tells the story of our Great Minnesota Get-Together. The book, by mother-daughter duo Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky, is well-organized and a pure delight for all who love our State Fair. The authors have captured the spirit and imagination of the Fair—the sounds and sights and smells almost jump from the pages.

Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History by Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky. 224pp hardcover from Coffee House Press, $35.

Pictures, memorabilia, history, stories, and fun facts trace the State Fair all the way back to 1854, before Minnesota had attained statehood. The Minnesota Territorial Fair, as it was called, was mainly an agricultural event, with a bit of culture and entertainment. The first fair was held in Minneapolis, then moved around from place to place throughout the state until 1884, when Ramsey County donated land at its present site to the Minnesota Agricultural Society. The site was considered an ideal location because it lies midway between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The written history and stories are woven in among the pictures that portray who we once were and who we are now. The book mentions all of the quirky little things that make our State Fair the adventure that it is: Ye Olde Mill, the Space Tower, the butter sculptures, all the milk you can drink, and of course everything on a stick. Did you know that cheese curds were not introduced to fairgoers until 1975? It’s also interesting to know about the events that are no longer part of the Fair, such as the high-wire thrill shows, the auto racing, the demolition derbys, and the prohibition booth.

In order to produce this book with all its details, the authors spent untold hours seeking out the photos and the information, and their efforts are certainly appreciated by this State Fair fan. The coffee-table book has pretty, glossy pages that are well laid-out. This book captures the very essence of all the best of the Minnesota State Fair. It would make a great holiday (or anytime) gift for a special person in your life.

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.