Ed Ericksen has attended the Minnesota State Fair 75 years in a row — no easy feat considering that the fair hasn’t been held 75 years in a row.
It was canceled in 1945 because of World War II fuel rationing and in 1946 because of a polio epidemic. But at his father’s insistence, they walked around the fairgrounds anyway, just to say that they’d been there.
Going every year “was very important to my dad, so it became important to me,” he said.
Now it’s become important to his five children and 15 grandchildren, all of whom — a total of 30 when you count spouses and companions — will join him next weekend to take their annual tour. “We get the entire family together twice a year,” he said, “Christmas and the State Fair.”
According to family lore, the tradition goes back more than a century. After his grandparents emigrated from Norway in 1912, one of the first things they did was head for the fair. The Ericksens haven’t missed one since.
“My dad always claimed that he was at the 1912 fair, too, because he was in my grandmother’s womb,” Ericksen said. His dad, Arnold, eventually made it to 51 consecutive fairs. Erickson attended his first fair before his first birthday. In 1962, a Minneapolis Star photographer took a picture of Arnold, Ed and Ed’s 7-month-old son, Brad.
The photographer “thought it was interesting that we were on our third generation,” he said. “Now we’re on our fourth generation.” He turned to Brad’s son, Luke, and added: “The pressure’s on you to produce a fifth one. I want to get to at least 200” — as in years of consecutive years of family attendance.
Luke seems willing to take up the cause. “It’s not just about the fair,” he said, “it’s about family.”
Pronto Pup purist
Ed Ericksen’s 75-year streak started before there was a Skyride, a Space Tower, Princess Kay butter sculptures, even “before they had food on a stick,” he said. That was introduced in 1947 — he was on his ninth fair by then. “We ate salted-in-the-shell peanuts” before that, he said. “That was a big deal for us.”
He’s seen buildings come (education, home improvement and agriculture building, which replaced one that burned down), and traditions go. But it’s the Midway sideshows that were a staple in his youth. “The fat lady, the bearded lady — they even used to have burlesque shows,” he said. “I miss that.”
Asked what he considers the fair’s best improvement, he answers emphatically: “Pronto Pups!”
The laid-back Ericksen — his license plates say “Easy Ed,” a nickname he’s had most of his life — jokes a lot, but he’s dead serious about Pronto Pups. There’s a difference between corn dogs and Pronto Pups — “something about the batter” — and he won’t tolerate substitutions. Nor will he indulge in them outside of the fairgrounds.
“I know that they have Pronto Pups at the [Canterbury Park] racetrack, but I don’t eat them,” he said. “I’m loyal to the fair.”
Over the years, the family has worked out an elaborate fair schedule. And, lest there be any confusion, Ericksen has been known to mail out copies of it — on index cards.
Ericksen goes early so he can explore the exhibits on his own. He doesn’t say it, but one gets the impression that having the whole family tagging along would slow him down. At 75, he figures that he’s good for 10 to 12 hours at the fair.
“I’m a clone of my dad in that I look younger than I am,” he said. “Last year I went to the booth where the guy guesses your age, and he said I was 59. Of course, he might just have wanted my $2.”
At 1 p.m., the entire clan gathers at a big shade tree, that they call “Grandpa’s tree,” near the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) exhibit. Then they set out in a pack.
“The first thing we do is go to the Giant Slide so the kids can ride it,” he said. “Then we mosey over to the Grandstand. From there, we go to the Midway, where we split up for two hours. When we rendezvous outside the Midway, we buy three or four barrels of French fries, which we eat sitting on the curb of the street, if we can find a space big enough for all of us.”
The itinerary varies from that point, but it typically includes visits to Heritage Square, the International Bazaar and Kiddie Land, which Ericksen still refers to by its old name. And, of course, the Food Building. “Eating is a big part of going to the fair,” he said. “We have so many people that we can buy one of everything and then everyone tastes it.”
Another tradition is posing for a family photograph at a different location every year. Daughter Wendy Bachman uses the annual picture as the cover for a calendar that she distributes to everyone.
The family teases Ericksen that the attraction he’s been to the most is Ye Old Mill. “My dad just had to go to the Old Mill,” he said of the ride, which opened when his father was 6. “So the two of us would ride together through the lovers’ tunnel.”
The one thing he hasn’t done is go through the Haunted House. “I guess it’s the only thing left to do before I die,” he said with a wry smile.
Although he grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in Bloomington, it hasn’t always been a short commute to the fair. His first job, at Braniff Airways, transferred him to Dallas. He used his employee travel benefits to fly back for the fair until he found an airlines job in Minnesota.
During his two-year stint in Texas, he never went to that state fair. “Probably should have,” he conceded. “Our state fair and the Texas state fair always are ranked tops in size and attendance. But it just didn’t seem right,” he said, to show interest in another fair.
The State Fair doesn’t keep data on which visitors have the longest tenure, but they often hear from folks who’ve logged 50 or even an occasional 60 years on and off. Ericksen’s run of 75 years would likely be a record, but he’s never bothered to notify the fair.
“I tried to tell the guy selling Pronto Pups once,” he said, “but he didn’t seem interested.”