This is So Not Fair

Everything’s cancelled.

No, that’s not true, but sometimes it feels that way.  As an antidote, it can help to remember the past, particularly times in the past that were worse off than now. (I’m so cheery today.)

Today, I’m thinking about how unfair it is that we don’t have the MN State Fair this year. This is significant to us because the whole theme for August’s SongNotes from the Birds is “State Fair.”  We launched it last year, never imagining that we would being going without.

At the heart of the state fair’s existence lies this: EDUCATION.

Yes, it was meant to be fun (Entertainment is next week’s theme).

Yes, this tradition had some element of the sacred as a holiday, especially in its earlier European practice (Religion was the focus of last week’s theme with “The Lord’s Prayer”).

Yes, a great way to pull people in and attract attention is through competition (Competition was featured in the fun banter from “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” in our August 1st email).

But of all four of these pillars of the fair’s goings-ons – Competition, Religion, Education, and Entertainment – education is the most fundamental. 

Education in agriculture was the keystone, while the arts, sciences, and history all are woven throughout the fair’s purpose over time.

As such, below is a lesson in the history of the fair itself – specifically the years that the MN State Fair was marked absent.


Side note – let’s be real here, nobody really wants to think about education right now.  Some American schools have started already, but we in Minnesota are still scrambling to figure out what exactly it will look like amid coronavirus living.  We had to rearrange our whole house this week to make room for more workspaces and desks.  Ugh.  Not what we were planning for this season. The whole idea of being ‘absent’ from school has kind of evolved recently, wouldn’t you say?

On to the lesson.

The Fair’s Five Absences

In the 164 years since the Minnesota Territory’s very first agricultural fair in 1855, there have been only five times that it was not held.  Here is a list of those years and why they are of note.

1858. Minnesota became a state.

{fair meets for two years}

1861. The Civil War begins.

Minnesota, being the newest state in the union at this time in history, contributed heavily to the nation’s bloody battle. Only two years after its first official fair as a US state, its people had to attend to matters more important than cows and corn.

1862.  The US-Dakota conflict strikes fear.

The continued strain of the Civil War may likely have deterred the Minnesota get-together again, but a more acute stressor was at play.  The escalation of complicated relations between the US government, the local Dakota bands of Native Americans, and southern Minnesota settlers entered a new wave of tensions on August 17.  (Coincidentally, just a few hours prior to editing this list, the two of us happened to listen to a fascinating special about this very issue.)

{meets for 29 years}

1893.  The Chicago World’s Fair dominates.

Speaking of competition – sometimes it’s better to join the winners than compete with them. With the excitement of the huge World’s Fair taking place in relatively close proximity, the MN state fair went on sabbatical this year.

{meets for 50 years}

1945. World War II leaves its mark.

After six years of the brutal Second World War – the last four of which heavily involved the US – Minnesota wasn’t quite ready for a get-together.  In addition to the men from this state who served in the military at the time, Minnesota’s civilians were engaged in the war effort through employment at manufacturing companies like Cargill and Honeywell.  Even the state fair grounds itself became a makeshift plant, with a propeller factory being housed in the now iconic cattle barn! Largely attributed to the nationwide war-caused fuel shortage, this would be a year of cancelling the annual festivities in Falcon Heights.

Note, however, that it was in this year that the movie State Fair was released, so Minnesota wasn’t completely fair-less.

1946. Polio epidemics deter socializing.

Throughout much of the early 20th century, this dreaded childhood illness caused epidemics each summer. As a myriad of treatments were being developed, hygiene campaigns and quarantine were also part of the solution. (sound familiar?) Panic about containment led to cancellation of many large gatherings throughout the country, the 1946 MN State Fair being one of them.

{meets for 74 years)

2020. Covid.

Here we are. For the past 74 years, no wars or World Fairs or widespread diseases have kept those gates closed for the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

Until Covid. And now we enter the sixth time, since the fair’s inception, that it was cancelled.

We here at the Birdhouse feel strongly that this is simply…(wait for it)…Not Fair.

We’ll be here all week.  And next weekend we’ll share about Entertainment at the fair, which in our spin on it actually ends up being much more about the well-being of the performer than about the actual entertainment.

It will be fun, though.  We promise.   Our email will let you know when it’s show time. Click here to get it if you’re not yet on the list.