BY DAVE PAGE
When my friend and co-author Jack Koblas began doing research on F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1970s, quite a few of Fitzgerald’s St. Paul acquaintances were still alive. In response to Koblas’s inquiries about Fitzgerald, several of these friends replied that they couldn’t believe anyone wanted to do another book on Fitzgerald, implying that everything that could possibly be known had already been written. On the contrary, new information about the author of The Great Gatsby continues to be uncovered, and every year a few new books about Fitzgerald are released. In fact, between the publication of the 1996 F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota (by Koblas and myself) and my 2017 F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota, recently released diaries, better online research tools, and some old-fashioned sleuthing led to my discovery of several errors in the original manuscript. No doubt mistakes could be found in the latest text. While I hope none of these is due to poor scholarship, I welcome any new revelations about the time Fitzgerald spent in Minnesota, even if they lead to changes in interpretation or “fact.” Indeed, some additional information has already come to my attention that may or may not have made it into the book had I known about it before.
In addition, space considerations meant that some addresses and some anecdotes simply did not make the cut. The University of Minnesota Press and I have decided to publish some of those items here, and will update from time to time.
I welcome comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Underwood Street, Ye Old Mill (1915)
The Kennan Family began to build the Minnesota State Fair’s tunnel of love in 1913 and opened it to the public in 1915. The original 1910, 40-horsepower electric motor still powers the paddlewheel that creates the current to propel the wood boats through the four-minute ride. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1928 Basil Duke Lee story, “A Night at the Fair,” Ye Old Mill plays a significant role. Basil and his friends go the state fair hoping to find female companionship. They meet up with a couple candidates, and the group heads off for “the Old Mill.” Basil, in his short pants, feels left out, and when the others decide to “go around again,” he demurs.
The central conflict in the story, Basil’s lack of long pants, was naturally a topic of concern to the young Fitzgerald, who was very careful about his clothes, according to many of his friends.
In this story, Fitzgerald’s nemesis Reuben Warner is tangentially represented by Speed Paxton, who is at the fair in his Blatz Wildcat, an obvious reference to the Stutz Bearcat, which made its first appearance in 1912. According to Richard Washington, Fitzgerald’s friend and neighbor, Reuben Warner drove a Stutz.
Although the climactic “Battle of Gettysburg” in the story made its last appearance at the fair in 1909, “A Night at the Fair” provides a vivid glimpse into the world of the Minnesota State Fair almost exactly a century ago.
F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and historian Dave Page has been writing about Fitzgerald for years, focusing on his youth and early career in St. Paul. He is author of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer and His Friends at Home; he is also coauthor of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: Toward the Summit and coeditor of The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of which were nominated for Minnesota Book Awards. He is editor of The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Minnesota, 2013).