Saint Paul Winter Carnival

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The 2004 Ice Palace

In 1885, a New York reporter wrote that Saint Paul was, "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation" in winter. Offended by this attack on their city, the Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce decided to prove not only that Saint Paul was habitable but that its citizens were very much alive during winter, their most dominant season. Thus was born the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. The first carnivals were held in 1886, '87, '88 and 1896. They were revived in 1916 and 1917. Beginning again in 1937, they continued through 1942, resuming on a permanent basis in 1946.[1]

The 1887 Ice Palace

In 1886 King Boreas the First was crowned and the first Winter Carnival commenced. This festival also featured an ice palace, an elaborate creation made from the ice of Minnesota lakes, which has evolved into an internationally recognized icon for Saint Paul's festival.

The event featured many activities including bobsledding and ice horse-racing. The former name uniquely and directly describes the activity as frozen lakes were used as race surfaces for sled-carts. The events also served to bring the community closer together including members of nearby Native American tribes. Many members of local tribes would ride into the city and pitch tents to participate in the Winter Carnival.


Man examines a Winter Carnival ice sculpture.
St. Paul Winter Carnival 2007

The Winter Carnival has grown over the years and the legend has evolved to place it in the role of a strong community organization. The Royal Family makes over 400 appearances in a given year and participates in many activities to benefit the communities around the Twin Cities Metro Area. As a community organization, the members of the Royal Family and Vulcan Krewe travel internationally throughout the US and Canada visiting different communities and engaging in various festivals. They promote community awareness and volunteerism and support many causes.

The Winter Carnival is held during January each year. It was not held during World War II out of respect for the conflict abroad. Currently the Winter Carnival runs the following events as part of the celebration:

  • Royal Coronation
  • Grand Day Parade
  • Outdoor Beer Dabbler Festival
  • Winter Carnival Medallion Hunt
  • Dogsled Race
  • Kids' Day
  • Snow Sculpting
  • Ice Sculpture Carving
  • Klondike Kate Cabarets
  • Historic Art Exhibit
  • Torchlight Parade

Royal Family[edit]

Tooth Fairies ice sculpture. (2008)

The Royal Family is selected through each character's fraternal organization, and in the case of the queen and princesses, a pageant-style coronation. The Royal Family consists of:

  • King Boreas (the true king of the St Paul Winter Carnival)
  • Prime Minister
  • Aurora, Queen of the Snows
  • Captain of the King's Guard
  • Sergeant of the King's Guard
  • Titan, Prince of the North Wind
  • North Wind Princess
  • Euros, Prince of the East Wind
  • East Wind Princess
  • Zephyrus, Prince of the West Wind
  • West Wind Princess
  • Notos, Prince of the South Wind
  • South Wind Princess. (Ooh La La)
  • A minimum of four King's Guards; one each assigned to guard one of the four princesses.

Vulcan Krewe[edit]

The Vulcan Krewe is selected by the Order of Fire and Brimstone along with the new Fire King, Vulcanus Rex, each year. Each year a new Krewe is hand selected through an application and interview process. Selected Krewe members must complete a five-year commitment to become a full fledged member of Fire and Brimstone. After a member's fifth year, that individual is then eligible to be a Fire King.[2]

Members of the Vulcan Krewe[edit]

  • Vulcanus Rex (The Vulc) - The True King of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. Of all the members of the Krewe, he is the only one to wear red and black (all others wear only red).
  • General Flameous (Flame) - Keeper of the flame. Legend says that if the flame dies, the Fire King dies and it will be winter forever.
  • The Duke of Klinker (Klinker) - The Fire King's aide-de-camp and the herder of the flock. The Klinker is the longest burning ember.
  • The Count of Ashes (Ash) - The raiser of sleeping spirits. The "swinger" of the Krewe.
  • The Prince of Soot (Sooty) - The recorder of past memories. The "ladies' man". Usually the oldest member of the Krewe.
  • Baron Hot Sparkus (Sparky) - Commander of the Lancer’s Legion and the Stoker of Emotions. The "spark plug" of the Vulcan Krewe.
  • Count Embrious (EB) - The Fire King’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. The young and romantic one. Usually the youngest member of the Krewe.
  • Grand Duke Fertilious (Ferty) - Minister of Propaganda and the propagator of progeny. Usually the member with the most children.

Vulcan attire[edit]

The Fire King running suit, the uniform

In the early carnivals, when the Fire King ran alone, he wore typically kingly attire, crown and all, with heavy emphasis on the color red in the rest of the costume. In 1916, Ron Stewart, Vulcanus Rex I, wore a warm blanket coat with a wide sash and a headpiece with devil-type horns on it. This attire continued through 1939. Again, in 1940, Vulcanus Rex VI, E.R. Reiff, designed the basic running suit worn today. The horns were replaced by two feathers at the back of the head with a central fin running across the top of the head from front to back. In 1959 the feathers disappeared by order of Vulcanus Rex XXII, John Works. In February, 2012, Vulcanus Rex LXXV; Steve Robertson, began wearing a crown following the overthrow of Boreas to signify Vulcanus Rex as the Victorious King of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. There are six primary pieces to the current running suit: the hat, the running suit, the cape, boots, gloves, goggles, and grease.

The Knighting Ceremony[edit]

These ceremonies have been around for almost sixty years. Every year, the Fire King knights literally hundreds of lucky individuals. Special people are singled out by the king and his "Krewe" to bestow this unique privilege on. A knighting certificate consists of a "title" being bestowed, and a certificate being presented. The title and the memory of this event last forever. Titles bestowed usually reflect the individual's special contribution to a community, company, club or organization, or family.

The Royal Chariot[edit]

The current fire engine being used by the Krewe was built in 1932 by Luverne Fire Apparatus of Luverne, Minnesota. It is believed to be the only one of its type left. The City of Saint Paul began allowing the Krewe to use this fire engine in the late 1950s. Over the years the fire engine has been rebuilt many times while maintaining most of the original body and frame. In 1996, Fire & Brimstone took over ownership and upkeep of the truck.

The Order of Fire and Brimstone[edit]

In the late 1940s some of the former Krewe members thought it would be nice to have a group formed that included only former Vulcans. This was a great idea but it took until 1958 before the right men would come along that would make it into a full-fledged incorporated organization. Fire & Brimstone is run by a board of directors that is elected by the general membership at their annual meeting. This board's main objective is to provide support for the Vulcan Krewe and also to plan many activities and events for F&B members and their families to attend throughout the entire year.

The legend[edit]

This legend is the theme that surrounds the history of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival: (from the Winter Carnival website)

A long, long time ago, Astraious, the god of Starlight, and Eos, the goddess of the Rosy Fingered Morn, were wed. The union was blessed with five sons: Boreas, Titan, Euros, Zephyrus and Notos. As the eldest, Boreas was granted the title "King of the Winds" and he assigned to each brother a permanent grant of great force and power. To Titan was assigned the blustery North Wind. To Euros was granted control of the irresponsible East Wind. To Zephyrus was given custody of the bountiful West Wind. To Notos was presented the balmy South Wind. The brothers cavorted gaily over land and sea.

Boreas, while on his extensive travels, came upon a winter paradise known as Minnesota. He paused to behold the enchanting beauty of a magnificent group of seven gently sloping hills in whose embrace nestled a beautiful city. Boreas whistled in sheer ecstasy, "Historic Saint Paul and her seven hills! An ideal place. I will make Saint Paul the capitol of all my domains. It will henceforth be emblazoned to the world as the winter playground of the Realm of Boreas."

Meanwhile, Vulcanus Rex, the god of Fire, and the implacable enemy of Boreas, crackled in defiant disdain. "By the great sword of Mars I will temper the blusterings of Boreas with the heat and roar of my forces." He was tireless in his bitter resistance to all the festivities of Boreas.

Undaunted, Boreas proclaimed a celebration in the spirit of gay Carnival. "So be it!" shouted Boreas, "There will be a Carnival in old Saint Paul!" Boreas selected a Prime Minister to coordinate preparations in all the Principalities, Provinces and Royal Houses within the realm of Saint Paul. And so, for ten glorious days, there was Carnival and joyous celebration in St. Paul—feasting, dancing, fun and frolic reigned over by Boreas and the Queen of Snows, the fairest maiden of the realm, along with the four Winds, who were each accompanied by a lovely Princess from the realm of Boreas.

Klondike Kate, a lady of song and merriment, added her sassy but enchanting voice to the festivities by singing songs of desire and sentiment.

Senior King Winter, Queen of the Northlands, and their court contributed good will and wisdom, while Junior King Frost and Queen of the Snowflakes with their court, add youthful exuberance to the festival.

On the 10th day of celebration, Vulcanus Rex and his Krewe stormed the magnificent ice castle and confronted the King's Guard. Upon the good counsel of the Queen, Boreas bade farewell to the people of his winter capital in the interest of peace and goodwill, and returned to dwell among the gods of Olympus. Boreas and his court looked forward to the time when summer's warmth would once again relinquish its hold on the realm and the frosty atmosphere of winter would prevail.

Medallion hunt[edit]

Starting in 1952, each year during the carnival, there is an annual treasure hunt. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press prints in their newspaper 12 clues on 12 consecutive days. These clues point to a local park, where participants race to the park they think the clues point them towards, and start searching for the medallion. The clues are often cryptic until the 12th day, when people line up outside the newspaper offices, cell phones in hand and partners in parks, when the 12th clue gives them almost the exact location. The medallion has previously been hidden in a diaper, a White Castle hamburger box, a pop can, inside an Oreo cookie, and frozen in ice. The finders of the medallion are awarded up to $10,000 and receive a place of honor riding in the closing Torchlight Parade.

Ice palaces[edit]

1887 ice palace

The Winter Carnival has included an ice palace many times over the years. Ice palaces have been built in 1886, 1887, 1888, 1896, 1917, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1986, 1992, and 2004, among other years.


Other references[edit]