As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).
The Winter Carnival was started in 1886 after newspaper writers from the east coast printed that the Twin Cities was just another Siberia, unfit for human habitation. Early residents were not willing to settle for such a reputation and began planning a winter festival modeled after Montreal's to show the world what the Cities were more than a frozen tundra. To preside over the festival, King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows was created. Along the years, additional members of the royal family were added, now totaling 21 volunteers. The Vulcan Krewe is the disruptive villain, representing springs destruction of winter (at the time I write this I am rooting for the Vulcan to succeed quickly). The culmination of the Winter Carnival is the dethroning of King Boreas by the Vulcan Krewe.
The Winter Festival is no simple or cheap undertaking. The first ice castle was constructed on February 1, 1886 at a cost of $5,210 with a height of 106 feet. That same castle would cost about $132,000 in today's dollars. The Guinness World Record was broken in 1992 with the 165 foot tall Pepsi Palace costing $1.9 million, a cost that nearly destroyed the festival (the last time Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl). The castle, located on Harriet Island, drew nearly 2.5 million visitors. With the Super Bowl in town this year, the Saint Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation wanted to create a truly impressive castle yet again.
The original plan was to build the ice palace on the grounds of the State Capital. The $15 million estimated price tag nearly melted the entire project. Instead a scaled back design received the necessary donations and it was built at Rice Park. There were 6 towers, one for each of the Winter Carnival figures: King Boreas, Queen Aurora and the princes of the four winds. The design was created by Cuningham Group, a local design firm that has been commissioned for the last few ice castles. The ice palace used 4,000 blocks of ice cut from Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota. This was the first castle to be built in the last 14 years. The standard festival is more akin to a one-story block fortress with numerous ice sculptures.
While the Saint Paul Winter Carnival celebrates the cold and brings thousands of people out each night to watch as it lights up, it also signals the beginning of the end. The Vulcan Krewe has defeated the King Boreas signaling the end of winter. With snow in the forecast, it appears the Winter Carnival lore is just that.