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Once at Mia: The Aquatennial dines with art

Lucretia may be hungry. She appears to eye the plates of food before her with something like regret, the disappointment of knowing she will soon be leaving this world without having stuck around for dessert.

The guests, for their part, don’t seem to notice Lucretia at all. They are partying. And they are in the presence of royalty: the 1965 Aquatennial Queen, Mary Sue Anderson.

1944 Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes Patricia Carlsen in Mia's fountain court.

1944 Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes Patricia Carlsen in Mia’s fountain court.

Mia was celebrating its 50th anniversary that year; the Aquatennial was marking its 25th. The organizations didn’t have an especially intertwined relationship—the famous Aqua Follies were never performed in the museum’s fountain court; sand sculptures were never built, as far as we know, of Lucretia or Doryphoros. But Munsingwear, the local underwear manufacturer, did pose the 1944 Aquatennial Queen in her skivvies beside the fountain.

Begun in 1940 as a 10-day celebration of Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, the Aquatennial quickly became known as “America’s Summer Festival,” filled with celebrity guests (Bob Hope, Natalie Wood, Gene Autry), extravagant parade floats sponsored by Dayton’s, and such aquatic contests as canoe races from Bemidji to Minneapolis, sailing regattas, and, more recently, milk-carton boat races. The Queen of the Lakes was once considered the most-traveled festival royal in the country, with some 500 appearances a year. Indeed, ’65 Queen Mary Sue Anderson, from Willmar, rode on a float the following New Year’s Day in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, and was pictured in the local newspapers for weeks afterward—a “Minnesota Miss on vacation.”

On July 20, when the Aquatennial kicks off for the 77th time, it will be a shorter and drier affair—four days, no milk-carton races or sand sculptures. Tennis is the main attraction. But there will still be a Queen of the Lakes, and if she finds her way to Mia in her tiara, we’ll be sure to introduce her to Lucretia.