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Feb. 5, 1886: St. Paul’s first Winter Carnival

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: January 30, 2011 - 12:13 PM
In an adjective-laden editorial typical of the era, the Minneapolis Tribune pronounced “Minneapolis day” at St. Paul’s first Winter Carnival “a complete and memorable success.” To celebrate the carnival's 125th anniversary, we offer you, dear reader, a fine selection of photographs of the 1886 carnival -- plus a quirky image from the 1958 edition.

A Brilliant Success.

Minneapolis day at the St. Paul winter carnival was a complete and memorable success. It is estimated that more than ten thousand Minneapolitans visited the neighbor city yesterday afternoon and evening, and St. Paul was thronged with guests from more distant points. It is hard to conceive a more fantastic, extraordinary, and brilliant sight than the “storming” of the ice palace last evening. The great transparent structure was aglow from the foundation to the top of every turret with red lights burning inside. Surrounding it were the many hundreds of brightly uniformed members of toboggan clubs and other organized sporting bodies participating in the parade, all bearing torches. These constituted the besieging army. At a given signal the assailants began to play Roman candles upon the castle, and the assault was soon followed by elaborate and profuse discharges of fireworks from within. There ensued for some time a pyrotechnic display that was indescribably gorgeous. It was a cold night, and the tens of thousands of spectators who filled the carnival grounds and blocked the adjacent streets were pretty thoroughly chilled; but their admiration and ardor triumphed over physical discomfort, and everybody was enthusiastic.
 
The carnival, it must be owned, is outstripping all anticipations. The people of St. Paul have shown a patriotic zeal in the matter that is simply astonishing. The whole city is organized into uniformed toboggan clubs. Men, women and children alike wear the blanket costumes and parade the streets with torches. Last winter not one of these people in a dozen would have known a toboggan from a gondola; but now tobogganing has become the supreme object of life. Doubtless this amazing and unprecedented devotion to winter sports will be followed by some reaction. But the carnival is certain to have the excellent result of permanently domesticating and popularizing in the Northwest all the healthful out-of-door recreations which are in vogue among our Canadian neighbors. St. Paul deserves the highest credit for having led the way in the promotion of this good cause. Minneapolis has not failed to show appreciation and goodwill. St. Paul will doubtless be ready to return yesterday’s compliment by coming en masse to attend the Exposition opening some months hence.
 

The Winter Carnival's first ice palace was built in Central Park, just north of downtown St. Paul. The central tower was 106 feet tall. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

A picture of the ice palace was a popular backdrop for carnivalgoers posing for a photograph. Here three skaters demonstrated just how many layers of clothing Minnesota's invigorating climate demanded. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

Who needs a backdrop when your toboggan club's uniforms are this spectacular? (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

The first carnival drew a variety of clubs associated with winter sports. It's not clear what this club was all about. Curling? Bandy? Draperies? (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

The Dayton's Bluff toboggan club gathered for a photo at the carnival's very first slide. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

Kennedy and Chittenden Fancy Groceries in St. Paul put a lot of effort into the Winter Carnival that first year, judging by the uniformed snowshoers and matching ice sculpture. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

JUMPING AHEAD 72 YEARS: Poor Harvey Moss. With no snow in sight, the 16-year-old St. Paul boy was the picture of disappointment atop a half-mile-long slide at the 1958 Winter Carnival. The original caption doesn’t explain how he ended up at the Capitol grounds, why he bothered to climb aboard the grounded toboggan – or how the Minneapolis Star photographer could sleep at night after staging such a corny shot. The caption did provide some good news: Snow would soon be trucked in and wetted down by the fire department, ensuring a fast ride for tobogganers.

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