MANKATO — Visitors to Mankato’s annual History Fest will get a chance to belly up to the bar for a cold one.
The newest attraction at this year’s festival is the Sarsaparilla Saloon, which will feature cold mugs of 1919 Root Beer for the more than 3,000 kids that come through History Fest each year. Jack McGowan built it himself, like he’s built just about everything else at his famed McGowan’s Farm.
“It’s a saloon!” McGowan exclaimed, blowtorch in one hand and a newly created handle for a wood-burning stove in the other as he completed finishing touches. “It was part of the Old West.”
Back in the Old West, he said, there was always a saloon. But McGowan’s not using it to teach kids that drinking is a part of everyday life. He’s using it to teach kids about music.
In the Sarsaparilla Saloon, McGowan has filled the place with items and personality as unique and McGowan himself. Bar stools with tops made out of tractor seats, antique pistols on the walls, wanted posters that greet people as they come in the door with the likes of Billy the Kid, the Younger Brothers and Jesse James.
And along one wall of the saloon is, of course, a piano.
“These saloons always had pianos,” McGowan says. “And that’s how I’m bringing music into it.”
For McGowan, music isn’t just a hobby or something to do. It’s an integral part of his existence.
In nearly every building on his compound — which sees about 15,000 people come through every year for company picnics, wedding receptions or other functions — there sits a piano. And every one of them, he said, gets used during History Fest.
Among the History Fest “portrayers” are the Swanson family. They come in from South Dakota and display all kinds of skills, such as the gentleman who can crack whips in both hands at the same time.