What was supposed to be the world's largest ice sculpture is now the world's biggest pile of icy rubble.
Hopes for a record-breaking ice spectacle in Superior, Wis., came crashing down Tuesday morning, the victim of weeks of unseasonably warm weather.
Minnesota artist "Iceman Roger" Hanson had been working on his six-story-tall "Lake Superior Ice Project" installation since early December, sleeping in a lakeside trailer by night and spending day after day spraying lake water onto a cable strung between two poles. As the water dripped down, it froze into fanciful shapes that inched higher every day.
The sculpture was to be a centerpiece for community gatherings, starting on Valentine's Day and running through the final weekends of February. There would have been light shows and bonfires, food vendors and family activities.
At 10:06 a.m., it collapsed.
Hanson, who was giving an interview to the New York Times at the moment it fell, posted a mesmerizing video of the fall on his Facebook page with the headline, "The Big Crash." One of the icy pillars around the sculpture's 17-foot base caved in, followed quickly by millions of pounds of ice above it. One giant cube came to rest on top of the pile like a punctuation mark.
"What are you going to do? Who are you going to fight? I can't fight the weatherman," Hanson joked later in an interview.
He's already making plans to salvage what he can and start sculpting as much as he can amid unseasonably warm weather. "Today was a big learning lesson," he said. "It's not a total failure. I'm going to try to start again."
Hanson, a self-taught engineer, has spent years creating towering ice sculptures in his back yard in Big Lake. This winter, he approached Superior with an offer to make them something spectacular — something to draw crowds the way ice caves did when last year's polar vortex froze Lake Superior solid.
Yichun, China, currently holds the world's record for tallest ice sculpture, at 53 feet. Superior officials offered him $30,000 to break that record. He was aiming for 70 feet and was reportedly pushing 60 when it all came tumbling down.
"The weather just wasn't with us this year," said Superior Parks Director Mary Morgan.
It was 37 degrees on Christmas Day on Barker's Island, where the Ice Project was rising. On Jan. 24, Hanson posted a picture of himself on Facebook, looking puzzled as the temperature had hit 44 degrees.
The warm days, followed by cold snaps, degraded the stability of the ice. But Hanson is undaunted.
"We can be back in business," he said. "I'm not a quitter. I'm a stubborn man."
Morgan said city officials were meeting to discuss whether the project can be salvaged. The Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, which set up an Ice Project page to chart the sculpture's progress, was even looking forward to its eventual collapse.
"Its collapse, expected sometime in mid-March, may also prove to be an exciting part of the process," the Chamber wrote on its site. "Just think of the over 6 million pound ice crashing spectacle!"