Tag Archives: Aquatennial

A Royal Wartime Romance

Hennepin County’s famous Aquatennial has been part of the Minneapolis summer since 1940. So, too, have been its royalty, including the festival’s Queen of the Lakes. Young single women representing cities and companies across the state gather in Minneapolis each year to compete for the opportunity to serve on the Aquatennial royal court. Here at Hennepin History Museum, our extensive historic Aquatennial collection has extensive files filled with historic photographs, scrapbooks, coronation gowns, and crowns associated with the Queen of the Lakes. Their stories are part of the Aquatennial story, but also provide a glimpse into broader historical trends and experiences. In the case of Queens Margaret Cary and Nancy Thum (above), the collection and its stories provides a peek at what it was like to be a young adult in World War II-era Minnesota.

During the 1940s, the Aquatennial Queen of Lakes rules were clear: married women were not eligible to run for or to hold the title of Queen of the Lakes. In 1944, this led to an unexpected situation when in that December, not one but two current reigning Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes were “conquered  by Cupid in uniform!” With the advent of World War II, American marriage rates skyrocketed. The average age at time of marriage also dropped. Perhaps no surprise, the eligible young Aquatennial royals also found love and chose marriage.

In early December 1944, with the war still raging, Queen Margaret Cary chose to give up her crown to marry her fiance, recently returned army flyer Charles Sandberg. Nancy Thom, shown above, took over the royal duties. But just weeks later, Nancy announced her own engagement! Her fiance remained stationed in California, however, and Nancy’s wedding did not take place until after she had served out the rest of her reign and crowned her successor.

Hennepin History Museum is home to the historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to make a financial contribution to help us to preserve and share this important local historical resource.

Uptown Girl

In the summer of 1955, the life of a “summertime shop girl from Uptown” was changed forever. Judy Penney, a 19-year old language student at the University of Minnesota and a retail clerk at the Purple Door gift shop (then located at Lake Street and Holmes Avenue), was crowned the Aquatennial’s 1956 Queen of the Lakes. While representing the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis as the Uptown Commercial Club’s official Miss Uptown Aquatennial candidate, Judy lived with her parents in nearby St. Louis Park.

Being chosen as Aquatennial Queen was often a major life-changing event for young women like Judy. Suddenly plans to find a full-time job or return to school were placed on hold; being a queen was a full-time commitment itself! All the hard work came with exciting perks and opportunities, however — including a tour through Spain with Minneapolis journalist Barbara Flanagan.

The photo here, part of our extensive historic Aquatennial collection, was taken during a hot week in August. The members of the Minnesota Apparel Industries had provided Judy with an entire wardrobe suitable for such international royal travels. Selected by a stylist with air travel in mind, the wardrobe “features the type of packable and versatile clothes that make the American girl’s apparel the most envied in the world.” (Picture, September 4, 1955) During this extensive, multi-day photo session, Judy patiently tried on and modeled the extensive contributions from the state’s apparel industry; a month later, she took her new ” special air-travel wardrobe” with her to Europe.

We will be featuring materials from our Aquatennial collection throughout July! Please check back often (and follow our InstagramTwitter and Facebook pages) for more #HistoricAquatennial.

Hennepin History Museum is home to an extensive historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to help preserve and to share this valuable local historical resource. 

Mike Hogan’s Aqua Jester Trunk

Above: Aqua Jester Mike Hogan used this trunk at Aquatennials from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Clowns, jesters, and fools have existed for many hundreds of years in literature, dramatic performance, and pop culture. Children grow up seeing clown imagery with familiar characters like Ronald McDonald and the famous red clown noses sold to benefit charity. On a more sinister note, horror films featuring antagonistic clowns and sightings of people wearing creepy clown costumes to terrorize others have left many people with a fear or dislike of clowns, and have harmed the reputation of these performers. The objects of this week come from a trunk donated by Mike Hogan, an Aqua Jester clown between 1950 and 1990.

Len Jacobsson, another member of the Aqua Jesters, who performed at events like the Aquatennial, suggested that people who have a fear of clowns may have been embarrassed by one in the past. To combat this stigma, Aqua Jesters follow a strict code of ethics, with the guiding principle to make others laugh at their own expense rather than embarrassing their audience. Despite performing for laughs, many clowns take their craft seriously, working to perfect their appearance and comedic act. In response to the authenticity of the creepy clowns that were cropping up last year, performer Fred “Ozzie” Baisch pointed to their lack of dedication, saying, “No self-respecting clown would appear in a rubber mask.”

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Above:; Hogan’s Aqua Jester coat is decorated with pins advertising the Aqua Jesters, the Schlitz Circus Parade, and two individual Aqua Jesters.

Not uncommon in Twin Cities history, a friendly sibling rivalry between Minneapolis and Saint Paul seems to have arisen even with their clown troupes. According to Katie Humphrey at the Star Tribune, community members in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis formed separate clown groups after World War II to perform at festivals. Later, Humphrey wrote, a women’s clown group called the Powder Puffs was formed because females were not allowed to join the male troupes. Camps and classes such as the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp and the “Clowning Around” class at Lakewood Community College were created to train aspiring performers.

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Above: Mike Hogan’s oversized clown shoes were part of the gift to Hennepin History Museum that included his Aqua Jester trunk and coat.

Clown troupes in the Twin Cities were once very popular and a staple at parades and fairs. Today, membership is waning. With fewer clowns comes fewer visits to places with people in need of some cheerful clowns, especially nursing homes and hospitals. It may be time for the younger generation to try and break the stereotype of scary clowns by joining these groups to keep this historical tradition going. If you’ve ever thought of donning a red nose and some oversized shoes, this may be your time to shine.

Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student where she is majoring in history with a Medieval History minor. She comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.

Sources

Al Sicherman, “Class Clown,” Star Tribune, December 29, 1991.

Katie Humphrey, “Send in the clowns: Volunteer clown clubs, a staple of civic festivals for decades, are seeking more members as longtime merrymakers age,” Star Tribune, August 24, 2011.

Mary Jane Gustafson, “There is lot more to clowning than meets eye,” Newspaper Clipping from Clowns Folder at Hennepin History Museum.

Reta Stewart, “Clown ministry draws appreciative audiences,” Newspaper Clipping from Clowns Folder at Hennepin History Museum, April 21, 1986.

Sharyn Jackson, “Minnesota clowns distraught over ‘creepy clown’ craze: Professional clowns are disheartened that their image is being used as a fear factor,” Star Tribune, October 12, 2016.