Monday, January 14, 2019

St. Paul Winter Carnival

As a native Minnesotan, I'm used to people from other parts of the country misunderstanding winter in the North Star State. Yes, it gets cold (but only in the winter), and yes, we get a lot of snow (most years), but no, it's not cold year-round and it's not so cold that we can't enjoy December, January, and February.

In 1885 a New York reporter visited St. Paul and declared the city to be another Siberia. He said it was "unfit for human habitation." Offended by the attack (and rightly so!), the people of St. Paul decided to retaliate by showing the world how much fun winter in Minnesota can be.

In 1886 the St. Paul Winter Carnival was born and holds the title of being the oldest winter festival in the United States, predating the Tournament of Roses Festival by two years. That first year, it was held in the month of January and included bobsledding, ice horse racing (on frozen lakes), a royal crowning, dogsled races, snow and ice sculpting contests, a parade and much more.

One of the highlights of the first Winter Carnival was this ice castle. It was designed by Alexander Hutchinson, the man who designed ice palaces in Montreal the three years previous. It was built with over 35,000 blocks of ice taken from Minnesota lakes and cost about $5,210. It was 106 feet tall. In comparison, the castle built in 1992 (shown below) cost $1,900,000 and stood 165 feet tall (a Guiness World Record). 

The ice castle has been the centerpiece of a festival that has continued to grow for many years. 




Ice Sculptures

Snow Sculptures
The carnival was canceled in 1889 and 1890, due to extreme temperatures--and not because it was too cold. It was canceled because the temps were too high those years and it would be impossible to build the palace, skate on the lakes, or do any of the other winter activities for which the carnival had become famous.

A wonderful book to check out if you're interested in the fascinating history of the St. Paul Winter Carnival is called Fire & Ice, by Moira F. Harris.

What about you? Would you visit a winter carnival? Do you live in a cold weather climate? Have you been ice skating or sledding?

Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people, places, and events.

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  1. I do live in Maine now, and grew up in Vermont. Winter is NOT my favorite season but I have been sliding, ice skating and snowmobiling. I have visited winter carnivals, but only the smaller town ones where they make ice sculptures and so forth. Thanks for posting! Stay warm!

    1. I agree, winter is not my favorite season, either, but it does give me a little more permission to stay indoors and cuddle up with a good books. :) Thanks for stopping by, Connie. I'd love to see Maine and Vermont in winter.

  2. What a fun post. I went to school some miles over the border in Wisconsin---and trekking over for winter carnival was an annual thing. Lots of fun---despite the miserable temps we sometimes had! Thanks for sharing and bringing back some fun memories.

    1. That does sound like fun memories. I've actually never been to the St. Paul Winter Festival, even though I've lived in MN my whole life. I did see the Hollidazzle Parade one year, which was the closest I've ever come to celebrating a winter activity in the Twin Cities. Thanks for sharing your memories here, Sandi.

  3. I do enjoy winter, maybe because my birthday falls in January and I love Christmas? Being a Minnesota girl has led me to embrace the winter. I have been skiing, skating, and sledding, even though I don't do any of them regularly. My husband actually proposed to me on our siatska rink behind my parents' house! I have also been to the St. Paul Winter Carnival a couple of times. The ice palaces are amazing! If we still lived closer I would probably try to drag my husband over more often. We also like seeing the lights, and we went to the Bentleyville display in Duluth for the first time.