The competition at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair began innocently enough when a woman named Linda Skeens entered her many baked treats, canned goods and other items for the judged contest.
Then she won - and she won huge. The fair posted a list of winners on Facebook showing that Skeens dominated the June 13 competition, winning more than 25 of 80 contest categories. That’s when things took on a life of their own. Her online fans wanted to find her.
Skeens swept the cake, pie, cookie, bread (both sweet and savory), brownie and candy categories. In addition to baked goods, Skeens’s corn won best overall canned vegetable, and her peppers prevailed as the overall best non-cucumber pickled item.
Skeens won best spaghetti sauce, best applesauce and best sauerkraut. Not only did she win best jelly with her grape jelly, but her peach-raspberry jam won best jam, too - among several other undefeated dishes she cooked up for the competition.
Thousands of people responded on the Facebook post, most in awe of Skeens’s culinary skills. But the questions were persistent online: Where is Linda Skeens? And who is she? Her rapidly growing fan base wanted to know, and as the days went on, it became a mystery intensifying with each meme posted on the page, as people asked, “Seriously, Linda?? Do you sleep?”
“She showed up, showed everyone what a winner looks like, and left without a trace,” posted a commenter. Some comments got 10,000 likes, and the hashtag #whereislindaskeens began circulating.
Endless jokes rolled in: “Did you hear about the time there was a kitten stuck in a tree? Linda Skeens baked a French Baguette Ladder right there on the spot and rescued it.”
Some people invited Skeens to Thanksgiving dinner, while others asked for her hand in marriage.
“We have found the lady who can take down Bobby Flay,” said a commenter.
Except they couldn’t find her. Aside from her name, the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair - which has hosted the annual event in Wise, Va., by the Kentucky border, since 1913 - revealed no information about the woman who seemingly won it all.
One woman named Linda Skeens, who lives in Blacksburg, Va., was bombarded with messages on Facebook, to the point where she felt compelled to make a public declaration, explaining that she is not, in fact, the Linda Skeens.
“I AM NOT THE LINDA SKEENS BAKING PHENOM WHO WON ALL OF THE RIBBONS AT THE KENTUCKY VIRGINIA DISTRICT FAIR,” she wrote.
Skeens, 68, said her mistaken identity has actually been delightful, as she has had the unexpected opportunity to connect with kind strangers from around around the world in recent days.
“I’ve heard from people from Indonesia, Australia, the U.K., Norway, all kinds of places,” she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
“I have honestly had the time of my life,” she said. “I really hope and pray the real Linda Skeens has been made aware of all the appreciation she has received online for her baking skills, because she certainly deserves it.”
Skeens’s loyal legion continued to look for their baking and canning hero on social media, or anywhere on the internet, for that matter. Several people made TikToks about her, including a man who performed “The Ballad of Linda Skeens.”
Radio personality Mason Moussette, who hosts a morning show in Dallas, was in on the quest. She is always looking for entertaining stories to share with her audience, she said, and when she stumbled upon the search for Skeens, she was intrigued.
“I just found it fascinating,” said Moussette, who also made a TikTok inquiring about Skeens’s whereabouts, which has nearly 400,000 views. “I wanted to know the story of this woman. How did she do so well in so many categories?”
“The entire internet is looking for this woman,” Moussette said in her TikTok.
As it turns out, the real Linda Skeens’s granddaughter came across Moussette’s video and got in touch.
As her grandmother’s name flew across social media, “my phone just started blowing up,” said Franki Skeens, 33.
While she and her family were stunned by Linda Skeens’s sudden stardom, they weren’t surprised by her many victories at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair.
“To us, it’s nothing new because Mamaw has done it for years,” said Franki Skeens.
She has fond childhood memories of baking cookies and other treats with her grandmother to enter into the fair.
“It’s a big family tradition,” said Franki Skeens, adding that her grandmother has participated as a contestant for several decades, and has taken home many blue ribbons, but perhaps none as many as this year.
According to Franki Skeens, Linda Skeens lives in Russel County, Va., with her husband. She is in her late 60s, and she does not have any social media, an email address or even a cellphone.
Her granddaughter said she is a doting mother and grandparent to three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She is also an avid churchgoer, with a knack for arts and crafts - including embroidery, cross-stich and painting - and of course, cooking and baking. Within her family, she is most famous for her potato casserole, her strawberry fudge (which won best overall baked good at the fair) and homemade blackberry ice cream.
The district fair judges awarded her top honors this year for her peach turnovers, chocolate cake, peanut butter cookies and buttermilk breakfast biscuits, among many other items.
“If it can be made, she can make it,” Franki Skeens said, adding that her grandmother declined a request for comment from The Washington Post, saying she is overwhelmed by the attention. “I don’t know how she does it. There are never any leftovers.”
Aside from her clear culinary aptitude, “she is an exceptional woman,” said Franki Skeens. “She’s kind, she’s sweet. She would either give you the shirt off her back, or she would make you a shirt, depending on what you wanted.”
Although her grandmother prefers to keep to herself, Linda Skeens is apparently thrilled about the public reaction to her triumph at the fair.
While her family reads her comments that have come in from strangers on social media, “she just grins from ear to ear,” Franki Skeens said. “She loves it.”
According to Jennifer Mullins, a member of the fair committee, Skeens was one of 40 contestants this year who entered the 80 contest categories at the fair, which ran from June 14 to 18. The food is judged by an anonymous four-person panel the day before the rest of the fair events begin.
In addition to various exhibits, the fair also hosts other events, such as bull-riding, demolition derby and talent shows. Mullins confirmed that Linda Skeens has participated in the fair for many years, and she has clinched countless contests.
“Linda has always won big,” said Mullins. “She has always been very successful at the exhibits, but this year, she took on newfound success on social media as well.”
“How this story unfolded was a surprise, I think to everyone,” she continued. “This is bringing joy right now when we need that.”
Next year’s fair is scheduled for June 13-17, and the committee is anticipating a bigger crowd than ever, thanks to the legendary Linda Skeens.
“If people are interested to meet Linda, they just need to go to the next local county fair,” Franki Skeens said.
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