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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
The Winter Carnival (01/31/2007)
By Frances Edstrom


     
Last weekend was the Minnesota Newspaper Association annual meeting, which finds the news department at the Winona Post in Minneapolis getting further education and hobnobbing with other journalists from around the state.

For John and me, it is also an opportunity to visit our daughter in St. Paul. I am not very savvy about St. Paul. Before we married, I lived for a brief time in south Minneapolis, and learned how to find the U of M area, where there was always a lot of action, but as I didn't have any money for shopping or entertainment, that was about the extent of my exploration. Subsequent visits to the Twin Cities area (not that there is ever really a compelling reason to leave Winona) were to friends and theaters in Minneapolis, so St. Paul remained off my radar. I still have trouble differentiating between the state capitol building and the cathedral up there.

One notable exception was a trip to the St. Paul Winter Carnival many years ago, in 1986, when former Winona Chamber of Commerce director Bob Bone was chair of that event. It was one hundred years after they built the first ice palace, so a centennial palace was touted far and wide. According to legend, in 1885, some reporter for the New York Times wrote that St. Paul was the "Siberia of America"¯ and questioned whether it was fit for human habitation. This just goes to show that the New York Times is not all it's cracked up to be, as the foolish fellow apparently didn't even know about International Falls or Embarrass. But, that was enough impetus for a bunch of hard-partying Chamber of Commerce guys (in case you don't know, businessmen used to be very rowdy and drink three martinis at lunch, but President Jimmy Carter, thank goodness, put an end to that!) to dream up the Winter Carnival, the ice palace and funny costumes to go with the "legend"¯ of King Boreas and the Vulcans.

So, in 1986, the enormous ice palace was built. Our friend and one of the former managers of the Williams Annex in downtown Winona, Doug Watson, was running a hotel in downtown St. Paul, and he invited us to bring the kids up to stay. The hotel, the name of which I cannot now remember, was going to be one of the main gathering points for the Winter Carnival royalty, and we would get to meet some of them and maybe even party with them.

Well, we never turn down a party, so there we were. And you know what? We found out that the New York Times reporter kind of got the story straight. It was so cold that I was afraid the kids' noses would freeze off if we got out of the car to see the ice palace, so John just drove past it slowly, and the kids ogled it through the car windows. They did get to see the Winter Carnival royalty up close, which I hoped wouldn't warp them for life. But Cassidy assures me that her memories of the experience are all good, and focus on the incredible costuming rather than the incredible behavior we witnessed. Unfortunately, I didn't know enough about St. Paul bigwigs to be impressed by the chance to meet them, and remember none of their names.

Being ignorant about St. Paul still, with the exception of Cassidy's neighborhood and some great restaurants she takes us to, we were surprised (even though we read about it in the Pioneer Press) to discover ourselves in the midst of the Winter Carnival. We arrived at our hotel (staying at Cassidy's place requires displacing roommates) and the trip though the revolving door was like stepping through Alice's looking glass. We were surrounded by folks dressed in the most bizarre and outlandish costumes we've seen since our trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The place was crawling (not literally that early in the evening) with men and women from other cities dressed in the costumes identified with their local celebrations. The most sensibly dressed were in long woolen dusters and cowboy hats, from someplace in North Dakota. The least sensibly dressed, beauty queens and princesses aside, were the fellows from La Crosse Oktoberfest, cavorting around in their lederhosen, despite the frigid weather and howling winds. We sat in the lobby and watched, fascinated.

But aside from that and a couple of traffic jams, we skipped the Carnival festivities and chose the warmth of the indoors and pizza at Cassidy's. Perhaps if we'd had costumes"¦naah. 

 

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