Northfield Historical Society highlights Carleton’s Mai Fete

May 17, 2017

Local historian and writer Susan Hvistendahl will chronicle the story behind Carleton’s Mai Fete tradition at a special event at the Northfield Historical Society (NHS) on Thursday, May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

An early 20th-century spring ice cream social at Carleton College became a May festival on the lawn of Gridley Hall dormitory on May 22 of 1909, with Maypole dancing, Glee Club singing and the crowning of a May Queen. Over the next half a century, entertainment was added to the celebration in the form of plays, dances, operettas and other extravaganzas which drew thousands of people to Carleton’s Lyman Lakes to enjoy the spectacle.

The event will also include a screening of rare archival footage of what became known as “the most beautiful and impressive event of its kind in the northwest.” Featured are scenes from elaborate pageants such as “Sigurd the Volsung” of 1924, with green-haired mermaids, a Viking boat, a chariot drawn by two goats, and a snowflake ballet of 125 dancers accompanied by members of the Minneapolis Symphony.

This special focus on Mai Fete is presented in conjunction with the current NHS exhibit “Hometown Ties: Carleton Celebrates 150 Years with Northfield” which runs through June.  

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will also be served. The Northfield Historical Society is located at For more information call (507) 645-9268 or visit online at