There are St. Paul's false rulers, King Boreas and the Queen of Snows, and the multitude of royalty who are locked in a perpetual battle of warmth against winter.

There are the ice palaces, those unenduring, expensive, awe-inspiring castles that appear on years when the money, potential number of guests and weather align.

There are athletic events, medallion hunts and parades complete with a massive blowtorch and people thrown into the air from blankets, flipping above onlookers who admire their grace while worrying about someone being flung too far.

St. Paul's Winter Carnival — one of the city's oddest and most beloved traditions — has been around for 130 years.

Twin Cities PBS debuted a documentary this week that chronicles the history and many components of the celebration, which claims to be the nation's oldest and largest winter festival. The documentary aired Tuesday and will be playing again Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

"We really see this as a great opportunity to showcase what we've done and what we are doing currently," said Rosanne Bump, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation.

After watching the documentary, she said she was struck by the number of people who collect Winter Carnival memorabilia and are festival historians.

"It's a passion for so many people," Bump said. "It just comes back to being a part of this community."

Ashleigh Rowe, who wrote and produced the documentary that was funded through the state's Legacy Amendment, agreed.

"It is truly a part of our St. Paul heritage, and so much of what St. Paul is today is reflected in the history of the carnival," Rowe said.

The documentary touches on what was happening in St. Paul or the world at the time of different carnivals.

Real-life characters who were key to St. Paul's development were also integral to the festival's history. Railroad magnate James J. Hill helped make the first festival happen in 1886.

Responding to an affront from a New York reporter who dubbed St. Paul "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation," community members, including Hill, decided to showcase the city in the wintertime. Montreal's winter carnival was canceled that year due to a smallpox outbreak, so St. Paul stepped in and recruited the designer of Montreal's ice palace to build the structure in Minnesota instead.

Since that initial year, the festival has had a rocky history. Some years it was an extravaganza, like 1916, when Hill's son, Louis Hill, revived the celebration and persuaded thousands of people to march in the parade, Rowe said. Other years, during the Great Depression and wars, the event fell by the wayside.

Today, Bump is busy preparing for the upcoming carnival, which starts Jan. 26 and runs through Feb. 5. Along with long-held traditions, like the parades and coronation of carnival royalty, the festival will feature new events, including jazz in Rice Park and an "ice to spice" night featuring a mariachi band, jalapeño-eating contest and Mexican food from local restaurants, she said.

Unlike the early years of the festival, which the documentary shows as being heavily influenced and financed by local businesses and power brokers like the Hills, Bump said today's festival is built on community support.

"We really rely on the volunteers and that community spirit," she said.

Jessie Van Berkel