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July 14: Water Circus at the State Fair

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On this date in 1917, folks were gearing up for the North Dakota State Fair in Grand Forks, which would run from July 17-21. Many exciting events were in the lineup.

Katherine Stinson, Red Cross flyer, was set to make several flights and demonstrations, with newspapers teasing, “Flying up-side-down. Loop-the-loop. Thrilling death dives.” She would indeed give many thrills, including a near-miss when a stiff wind caused her to crash. She escaped injury, and was even cheered when she coolly informed the crowd that she was okay and joined them in the grandstand.

Emard’s Novelty Orchestra, with an advertisement tagline that they were “distinguishing the best from the rest,” was set to play for the dances at the fair. Other bands were also present, including the Grand Forks Military Band, Finley’s Kilties band, and more.

Captain Oscar Holm of M. Company, the First North Dakota Infantry, announced that his company would do a special demonstration, including “actual battle maneuvers.”

Exhibits and displays were crowded into every possible space, and agricultural shows were abundant throughout the week.

And a Water Circus was also scheduled! The Grand Forks Herald reported: “If a person cannot go to the far-off sea shore…then a person living in this section of the country can go to the North Dakota State Fair… and by attending a performance at the Water Circus, get more real thrills… and enjoy life more thoroughly than at any far away sea shore.”

Lillian Cooley, one of the act’s diving stars, was a high and fancy diver. She was also a strong swimmer, and at a recent demonstration in Cairo, had been given a gold medal by Red Cross officials, marking her as part of the “world’s life saving alliance for women.”

The ad also touted her as one of the most beautiful young women in the world, saying: “Physically she is a near duplicate of the famous statue of Venus.”

The show would have certainly been a unique spectacle for many of the fairgoers. Aside from Lillian Cooley, it had a “disappearing” water ballet, where the players fully submerged for several minutes, and novelties, such as the use of a “wireless telephone” to ask questions of the swimmers while under water.

The show would truly have made a splash!

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

Grand Forks Herald, June 20, 1917, p7
Grand Forks Herald, July 16, 1917, p5
Grand Forks Herald, July 17, 1917, p1
Grand Forks Herald, July 18, 1917, p1
Grand Forks Herald, July 19, 1917, p1 and 3
Grand Forks Herald, July 13, 1917, p2

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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