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Finding Minnesota: 125 Years Of St. Paul Winter Carnival

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
Angela Davis joined the station in 2006. Angela co-anchors the Sund...
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By Angela Davis, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) – Say the words “Winter Carnival” in Minnesota and images of ice carvings and snow sculptures instantly come to mind. This year the St. Paul Winter Carnival is celebrating its 125th anniversary and the fun that’s been going on since 1886 will get started Jan. 27.

From the jump, the St. Paul Winter Carnival was extravagant. The first year of the celebration brought the first ice palace.

“The palaces from that era were huge, they were mansions of sorts. The festival would also host weddings in there, they were available for rental,” said Chris Schneeman, 2009 King Boreas Rex. “There were state dinners. They were enclosed, which is different from the ones we have today.”

So what would inspire such a lavish behavior on the ice? Believe it or not, it was an insult.

Legend has it that a reporter from New York City visited St. Paul in 1885 and then went back to write how the city was quote “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter.”

Members of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce were quick to respond.

“The publisher from the St. Paul paper got a group of business leaders and civic leaders together at the brand new Ryan Hotel, which was downtown St. Paul, in 1885 and said ‘Let’s do a carnival,'” said Bill Foussard with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. “Montreal, Canada had had something similar to it, which was discontinued, and said ‘Hey, let’s do it.'”

Over the years, the Winter Carnival has grown both in size and popularity. And as you can imagine, there are many souvenirs from all those years — keepsakes so precious, they are stored at the Minnesota History Center.

“What we have here in the collection is a wolverine lap robe from the James J. Hill collection that was used for those sleighs that would have lined the streets for the St. Paul Winter Carnival … It would have provided a lot of good warmth,” said Linda McShannock with the Minnesota History Center

This year, as the Winter Carnival celebrates its 125th anniversary, visitors from cities in Mexico and Japan, as well as Florida and Georgia will come.

So how will folks from warm climates handle this cold weather?

“Minnesota and St. Paul is an exotic destination. So they come to experience what they can’t have where they live and to celebrate some of the winter weather that we enjoy all year long. Because we know it’s all a state of mind, right?” said Schneeman.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Winter Carnival, you can buy ice wine. It’s called “Winter Ice” and it’s made from Cannon River Winery’s grapes. You’ll find it at select liquor stores.

Also later this month, you can go see that collection of souvenirs from years past. Parts of it will be on display at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul.

Click on the links below for more information on the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the history of the festival.
St. Paul Winter Carnival Website
James J. Hills House
Curiocity: The Making Of Winter Ice Wine

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