HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – Marking its centennial year this year, Michigan Technological University’s (MTU) Winter Carnival has rich history and tradition dating back to its beginning in 1922. Carnival has turned into one of the biggest annual winter celebrations in the nation.

“So Winter Carnival actually started in 1922 as a one-night ice carnival,” Lindsay Hiltunen, the University Archivist at MTU said. “The students and people on campus wanted a way to celebrate the winter season and probably get away from the doldrums of the classroom a little bit. It was held at the old Amphidrome which is now the Dee stadium. They had figure skating and speed skating contests, there’s music, there was a circus theme, there’s a lot of performances and then just good fun and festivities for everybody. It caught on and it was so popular that it actually continued through for the next several years under that circus theme. Michigan Tech even actually had a troupe of performers related to Winter Carnival that went out and toured in the upper Great Lakes region to drum up publicity for the university.”

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

Even though the love for Winter Carnival has stayed constant Carnival hasn’t always looked like what we see today. Hiltunen says it took a few years of the events for the traditions we know and love to really begin to take shape.

“We do start to see some of the long-standing traditions starting in the 1920s in the 1930s so the Queen’s competition, for instance, began in 1928,” Hiltunen said. “That’s been a long-standing beloved tradition of folks who have gone to the coronation ceremonies and have celebrated Queens throughout the decades.”

And no Winter Carnival is complete without taking a glimpse inside, around, and in some cases on top of the giant snow statues that dorn the streets of MTU’s campus and around the community.

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

“You then have the snow statues and I think are also one of the most popular aspects of Winter Carnival that began in 1936,” Hiltunen said. “One of the first prize-winning snow statues was actually a giant king that was sitting on his throne. It was so robust that students and faculty could actually sit on his lap and pose for photos. So it was a way to engage with the statues physically and not just visually, which was kind of cool.”

And although some traditions have stood the test of time, others can not say the same.

“In the 1960s. They started working with a snowball fight, but they wanted to bring in a sister university so they would pack up hundreds of pounds of snowballs and send them to what is now Texas State University,” Hiltunen said. “They actually have photos in their archives, throwing snowballs and having fights and we have pictures in our archives showing all those snowballs getting packed up and ready to fly down. So that didn’t last beyond the ’70s.”

After their introduction in 1936, snow sculptures became a staple tradition. As each year passed, the statues became more elaborate in order for students to top the previous year’s winner. Students even began to collect secrets and ‘how to’s to create prize-winning snow statues that would be passed down from generation to generation.

“That’s where you see a lot of like the ice work coming in with the beautiful faux stained glass windows that they’re creating out of ice and all these little details,” Hiltunen said. “I remember this one particular statue it had a gabled roof and it was like Snow White’s cabin. There were utensils that you could see peeking in through the window and just all these little details like even ruffles in the curtains.”

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives
Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

“Bill Bowman from the class of 1959, reached out to the archives and let us know that he was the snow statue coordinator in the late ’50s,” Hiltunen said. “And there was one statue that the Tech wives had actually built and it was this beautiful ostrich and it was pulling a woman and a cart and buggy. But there was a different statue that actually beat them out in points, but there’s a little raunchy, so Bill made the executive decision to actually award the prize-winning statue to the Tech Wives Club and their beautiful ostrich statue.”

Snow sculpting isn’t the only fun to be had during Winter Carnival. Events like human bowling, hockey, and broomball, curling, ice skating, and many more are all still things people still enjoy every Carnival, with various events gaining enough popularity to be brought back.

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

“Another tradition that’s sort of come and gone over the years, but it has regained popularity is the human-dog sled race,” Hiltunen said. “There are some great photos from the ’60s of this human dog sled race where people are pulling their friends and are attached to sleds, running, and just having fun.”

Enjoying all that winter has to offer wasn’t the only form of fun Carnival offered. Some of the biggest names in music, comedy, hypnosis, and many other acts have graced the Rozsa or the Sherman Gym providing a spectacular show to Carnival goers over the years.

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

“I think people really love the talent that has come through in terms of musicians and comedians and different performers over the years,” Hiltunen said. “I know a favorite from some of our alumni of the ’70s was when ‘Guess Who’ came and performed a couple of shows just to name one of the pretty big musical acts that have come in over the years. One of my personal favorites was a comedian when Bob Saget came to perform. He recently just passed away and I still have the poster from when he came to perform at Winter Carnival so it’s nice to have those keepsakes.”

This celebration of winter is something that draws thousands to the Cooper Country each year. But for any true Yooper, it is like the Winter Carnival spirit is in their blood.

“I think Michigan Tech and the community have embraced Winter Carnival because it’s a way to get us through the long winter,” Hiltunen said.We have no shortage of snow up here and I think creating something special when maybe it’s bitter cold outside to help us get through this last hump of winter. I think it’s something that really gets people together and they get to look back on the years that came before them to think about the traditions that ebb and flow. This happens in families, this happens in institutions, and it certainly happens at Tech, but we’ve proven that our spirit for winter is strong and our love for Winter Carnival is even stronger.”

And if you are a proud Michigan Tech Alum and want to relive your glory days by creating a snow sculpture of your own, well now is your chance!

Courtesy:
Michigan Tech Archives

“In more recent years, they’ve been allowing alumni to do that as well. So if it’s one alumnus and then their family who only has that connection through their mom or their dad, they can still engage with Michigan Tech and Winter Carnival,” Hiltunen said. “I think that’s one of the really wonderful things about Winter Carnival is that it sort of spans through the town and beyond. It’s not just for Michigan Tech, but the community can come to a lot of these events and participate by walking around and viewing the statues, going to the hockey game, going to many of the other sporting events and contests that take place that it’s something that people look forward to not just on campus, but in the whole Copper Country and beyond.