Who is Linda Skeens? Mystery Woman Sweeps Virginia Kentucky District Fair, Captivating the Internet

In my dream, a sweetgrass breeze blows through the open door. In the background, birdsong weaves in and out of earshot, as if crossing the water. My fingers brush the red gingham tablecloth laden with homemade pickles and various jams, a perfectly yellow summer sun shimmering through the glass. I raise a hand to shield my eyes, and through the gaps in my fingers, I can just see my mistake. It’s not the sun at all; it’s Linda Skeens’ award-winning canned corn, beautiful and terrible as the dawn, and all fair attendees cower before its grandeur.

Linda Skeens’ winning canned corn, seen here in the most perfectly American photo ever taken.Emma Chandler

The Virginia Kentucky District Fair may have crowned her champion baked goods, but the internet has made her its queen.

Linda Skeens won every spot in every baked goods category at the Virginia Kentucky District Fair, and the internet is here for it.
Linda Skeens won every spot in every baked goods category at the Virginia Kentucky District Fair, and the internet is here for it.VaKy District Fair

Held annually since 1913, the Fair affectionately nicknamed VaKy draws an average of about 14,000 attendees from Wise County, Virginia and neighboring Letcher County, Kentucky. It features amusement rides, live music, bull riding, motocross, a horse show, and arts, farming, crafts, and home economics competitions. It’s unclear if she competed in the bull contest, but Skeens cleaned up in the home economics division. She won all the places in all the categories of Baked goodsmany of those of canned food, and also won the highest overall ranking in most of those categories. A true Renaissance woman for the times, she even placed herself in Embroidery and Wall Decoration. Commentaries dubbed this phenomenon a “Skeens Sweep”.

Skeens is versatile, ranking in the craft categories as well as the kitchen.
Skeens is versatile, ranking in the craft categories as well as the kitchen.Emma Chandler

The whole internet is on fire with his fandom. There are thousands of comments, memes and calls on her and Sharon, of “Thank You, Marie Callender” fame, to collaborate. There’s a whole parody Facebook group using her name, people pleading for a cookbook or an interview to find out more about how she rose to the top of her game, and more than one Linda Skeens posting that they have received dozens of messages and want to let everyone know that they are not this Linda Skeen.

A Virginia-based Linda Skeens-but-not-just-Linda-Skeens I spoke to said she received messages from Baking Queen fans from as far away as Norway and Indonesia. “Everyone has been incredibly cool and funny and fun,” she says, “(people) got the joke, and I’m having a blast.”

The fair has been over for two weeks, but if anything, the tradition is still building. “Linda Skeens is not here to make friends,” commented Maria Durbin on the original fair post, “just here to make HISTORY.”

But, in Slim Shady fashion, the real Linda Skeens has yet to rise.

I can’t really blame her; the hype must be discouraging. The comments, my god, the comments! In the absence of verifiable details, the rumor mill is collective entertainment. People wonder if she was the only attendee, or they posit that maybe everyone in Wise, Virginia is named Linda Skeens. He’s been called the “John Wick of canning,” and there are countless Chuck Norris jokes. Insinuations that she might murder her closest competitors (or be murdered by them) abound, as do mini fan-fiction dramas to rival “Game of Thrones.” In these, Linda Skeens has rescued a family from a burning house, played catering fairy godmother at a wedding leaving only the smell of fresh apple pie behind, or saved a kitten from a tree by cooking a stick ladder under it. “Linda saved me hundreds on my car insurance,” Caren Rose said.

Desperate to speak with Skeens and hopefully find out the secret to his best strawberry fudge (!), I contacted the fair to see if we could get the lean. Spokeswoman Jennifer Sturgill told me Skeens won 25 of the 29 categories she entered, and contrary to popular belief, she often wasn’t the only entrant — she’s just that good. As a fellow Southerner who knows well that craft and cooking competitions are the bread and butter (pickle) of the county fair, with fierce competition from many talented entrants, I am amazed at this achievement. Lots of commenters on social media are too, and they’re crying out for a cookbook. Is there one released every year like some fairs do, I ask Sturgill, hopefully? “I’ve definitely been asked about a cookbook, and right now, no, there isn’t, but I’m not saying it couldn’t happen in the future.”

At least that’s good news, but would Skeens talk to us? “Unfortunately Linda is declining interviews at this time,” was the response.

Like I said, I think that’s understandable; she doesn’t seem to be on social media, and that must be overwhelming for a person to handle. Sturgill said the fair employees were struggling to process publicity, and there are 15 of them. But honestly, I think I prefer mystery. As it stands, Linda Skeens could be anyone you pass on the street, slipping away to share her miracle brownies with the world, and returning unnoticed, like a Banksy bakery. So, the medium is the message: the delights still exist in these difficult and chaotic times. We can count, at least, on the immortality of a well-risen bread, or a perfect biscuit.

“Everyone needs a Linda in their life,” Katie Cortes commented on Facebook, and I believe it’s true. This explains why so much of the internet is so captivated.

I have a feeling that next year’s VaKy district fair may have a wider scope than in past years. Sturgill tells me they already have the dates set, so mark your calendars June 13-17, 2023. Legend has it that if you arrive early, when the birdsong rises and falls again with the dawn, you’ve come from You you might spot someone dropping a plate of strawberry fudge out of the corner of your eye or smell a freshly baked apple pie.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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