1946: Minnesota State Fair Cancelled Due to Polio Epidemic

In 1946 the Twin Cities was caught in the clutches of a nationwide polio epidemic. As the state made its way from spring into summer it was reported that 1 out of every 2,114 Minnesotans had at some point during the year had been infected with the virus (1 out of every 1,045 citizens in Minneapolis and 1 out of every 2,649 in Saint Paul). When August came and the disease didn’t seem to be losing steam talk turned to consider the canceling of upcoming outside events – in an effort to keep people from meeting in large groups and potentially passing on the disease. At the top of the list was “The Great Minnesota Get Together”, the State Fair, scheduled to run that year from August 24 – September 2.

A closed-door meeting was held between the State Fair board and health and education authorities on August 14th to discuss potential options. At the end of the more than one-hour meeting, based on the recommendation of the group, secretary of the state board of health Dr. A.J. Chesley issued the official order to cancel the fair for the year due to polio “epidemic”. The declaration forbade “the assembling of persons in such ways as to endanger the public health or the spread” of the disease. Speculation leading up to the meeting was that the minimum decision of the group would be to ban children from the event. In the end, the group decided to err on the side of caution and close it entirely.

With roughly 1600 cases and just over 100 deaths reported in Minnesota since Jan 1st, everyone involved was concerned about more people getting sick -, especially kids. While Chesley believed that there was no conclusive evidence that controlling crowds would help to control the epidemic he did feel that “unnecessary mingling with crowds should (still) be avoided, particularly of children”

Shortly after the announcement was made, crews of more than 100 employees that had worked tirelessly to set up for the Fair went back to work taking those same things down and returning them to storage for another year. People that submitted entries to the various contests that would be judged during the days of the fair were asked to come and pick up their items.

The financial brunt of this decision fell squarely on the shoulders of the State Fair. Estimated costs by its forced closing were well over $100,000, with $25,000 already spent in advertising the upcoming grandiose event. While they were concerned about the money loss they believed the final decision of the group was the correct one. State Fair board secretary emphasized that “this will be a cheap price to pay if it will save the life of one person that might contract infantile paralysis by attending the fair”.

This was the last of five occasions that the State Fair had been closed (to date). The following year Minnesotans came rushing back to the fair in droves. Many records were set in 1947, including attendance of 902,693 and outside gate receipts of $349,841.

Works Cited:

Saint Paul Pioneer Press August 13, 1946, August 24, 1946

Saint Paul Dispatch August 14, 1946

Minneapolis Tribune August 14-15, 1946

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