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Essay from 1916 predicts what Cokato would be like in 1950
Feb. 15, 2016

BY STARRLA CRAY
Associate Editor

COKATO, MN – What will the world be like 34 years from now?

A century ago, a student at Cokato High School with the initials E.F.S. – possibly Ethel Swanson* – envisioned the answer to this question, writing a lengthy essay about what Cokato could be like in 1950.

In the essay, which was printed in the Feb. 10, 1916 edition of the Cokato Enterprise, E.F.S. imagines she had been a missionary in India and had been away from Cokato for 34 years.

She wrote that she was seized with the desire to visit her native land at age 52, and took a short journey to Cokato by airship.

“Now, instead of the little town I had known it to be, Cokato was a large city of about 15,000 people,” E.F.S. noted.

Church changes
The morning after her arrival, she attended church. There was only one place of worship in town, with a doctrine that preached “the love of God and the brotherhood of man.”

Her classmate, Conrad Johnson, was the minister. When she asked someone about him, the person described Johnson as a “very influential and capable man.”

E.F.S. noted that Johnson’s “discourse was wonderful. A modern theology that was very fascinating to listen to.”

“I no longer wondered why there was now only one church in Cokato,” she added.

Paper clothing
The next day, she explored the business district.

“I asked which store I should go to, wondering if Socialism had taken such a hold in Cokato that there would only be one store, too,” she noted.

To her relief, E.F.S. was told there were multiple options, and that she should shop at the Big Store, which occupied an entire block.

Living models showcased the fashions, “walking to and fro, back and forth.”

“I asked my clerk the price of a simple white dress, and was surprised to find one so reasonable,” she noted.

E.F.S. later discovered that the dress was made of paper, which a proprietor said was “the very latest fabric used in the manufacture of garments.”

E.F.S. asked how people wash paper clothes, and the clerks said, “That’s the beautiful part of having garments such as these. When our clothes get soiled, we turn them over to the manufacturer and new ones are made out of them.”

E.F.S. questioned the durability and warmth of these garments, and was told that “The winter garments are made of very heavy paper, chemically treated to be very warm.”

Food, school, and farming
After purchasing a wardrobe of paper dresses, E.F.S. went to lunch at the New Home cafe, run by Miss Ruth E. Olson.

“Ruth took me through the kitchen and showed me the different electrical cooking utensils, then took me back to the dining room and gave me a bill of fare. . .” E.F.S. noted. “Utterly at a loss of what to order from such a complicated bill of fare, I turned to Ruth and said, ‘Please give me a chicken sandwich and a cup of tea.’”

The following day, E.F.S. visited the schools, which were all located in town.

“The country children are conveyed to town by aeroplanes,” she noted.

The next week, she visited Willie Peterson’s farm.

“Everything was run by electricity and there was now no drudgery connected with farming,” she noted.

Farms kept greenhouses, so that “fresh vegetables could be obtained for the whole winter.”

E.F.S. noted that the town as a whole was in very good condition.

“Cokato now has a municipal heating and lighting system, paved streets, street car service, good hotel accommodations, built up business and resident sections.”

*According to Mike Worcester of the Cokato Historical Society & Museum, Ethel Swanson is the only 1916 graduate listed with first and last initials of E.S.

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