Archive for the ‘Winter Sports’ Category

Another Elite Powderhorn Park Speedskater

I’ve written before about the world-class speedskaters who skated at Powderhorn Park in the 1940s and 1950s and the high-level competitions held there. Now reader Gayle Mosiman Meadows has shared more information about speedskating at Powderhorn in the 1930s, especially involving her late father, Roger Mosiman.

She sent this image of a program from a meet in 1938 that featured her father who was then 14.

Program from 1938 speedskating event at Powderhorn Park, featuring photo of Roger Mosiman (Gayle Meadows Mosiman)

Program from 1938 speedskating event at Powderhorn Park, featuring photo of Roger Mosiman. (Gayle Meadows Mosiman)

Mosiman was likely featured on the program because at the time he held the juvenile boys national record for the fastest time in the 220 yard sprint. The national record for intermediate boys at the same distance was held at that time by Roger’s older brother, Earl Mosiman. The Bearcat American Legion Post was one of four posts that featured prominently as sponsors of speedskating teams.

Gayle also sent a copy of photo of Roger boarding a train for a skating competition in New York, likely the 1940 North American Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY. He is being seen off by his mother, Lillie, and his younger sister, Bernice.

Roger Mosiman boarding train for 1940 National Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY. Roger is being sent off by his mother, Lillie, and younger sister, Bernice. (Photo courtesy of Gayle Mosiman Meadows)

Roger Mosiman boarding a train for the 1940 North American Speedskating Championship in Schenectady, NY.  (Photo courtesy of Gayle Mosiman Meadows)

Roger, who attended Marshall High School in Minneapolis, finished the multi-event competition for the junior boys championship tied with Art Bulrice of Saranac Lake, NY. In a one-sixth mile race to determine the title, Roger fell and had to settle for second place. Winning the men’s title that day was future Olympian Leo Freisinger of Chicago.

After Marshall High School, Roger attended the University of Minnesota and became a navy pilot in WWII. In the 1960s, he moved to Gig Harbor, Washington. Roger died there in December 2011 at age 87.

Many thanks to Gayle for the program, the photo and the memories.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

Ski Jump Update

So many people have commented on my article posted nearly two years ago about the history of ski jumping in Minneapolis that I thought I should provide an update. I was prompted by an exchange of emails this week with Greg Fangel who is the owner of woodenskis.com, where he buys and sells wooden cross-country skis and provides a great deal of ski information and links to other skiing sites. I’ve edited together some of Greg’s emailed comments below, with thanks.

I’ve been an avid cross-country skier since 1974 and currently live in White Bear Lake. I’ve been researching ski history for the past 5 years or so, mostly from a Mpls/St. Paul/Minnesota point of view. In my research, ski jumping comes into play, since it’s Nordic and one of the early forms of competition. I personally know Norm Oakvik, who is mentioned in your blog.  He organized many events and coached USSA teams in Minneapolis. Norm is a legend in the cross-country ski community in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I interviewed Norm in November of 1995 for a story in the Løype, a newsletter of the North Star Ski Touring Club.

Norm’s parents were from Norway and Norm started skiing in Minneapolis in the 1930-40s. He competed with the Minneapolis Ski Club in 1940-70s, specializing in Nordic combined in the early years. Nordic combined is ski jumping and cross-country skiing combined into one event. He was a driving force behind the National Nordic ski competition, which was held in Bloomington in 1976. Bill Koch came to ski that event.

In May of 2005 a few of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the Minneapolis ski community wanted to name a trail or system after Norm Oakvik at Theodore Wirth Park. We held a special meeting at Wirth with supporters and Norm present. Norm was so humble, that he didn’t want his name on the trails, even though he spent countless hours trail clearing, grooming, and coaching at Wirth. I don’t know how Norm is doing now, but he was recently in the hospital.

I’ve interviewed ski jumper Adrian Watt from Duluth who participated in the 1968 Winter Olympics and competed at the Glenwood jump in Minneapolis. He has some fascinating stories.

Minneapolis has a rich ski history and that should not be overlooked. We need to preserve that history for generations to come.

Greg Fangel

The ski jump at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1923 (Charles Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The ski jump at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1923. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

Greg mentioned that he’s interested in putting together an exhibit on local skiing history for a possible new project at Wirth Park.

Over the past couple years, several veterans of the Minneapolis skiing scene have commented on my original post on Minneapolis ski history. If you haven’t looked at those comments in a while, check them out. Add your own stories either here or on the original post. Thanks!

If you haven’t kept track of what’s going on with cross-country skiing in Minneapolis parks you might be surprised to find out about current trails, especially at Wirth Park. Get more skiing info at minneapolisparks.org.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

The Makwa Club’s Lake Calhoun Toboggan Slide

A couple of months ago I posted photos of a toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914. Now I’ve rediscovered a description I had saved long ago of a toboggan slide from an earlier time on a Minneapolis lake. The Makwa Club – makwa is the Ojibwe word for “bear” – built a toboggan slide at Lake Calhoun in 1888, according to the Minneapolis Tribune, January 22, 1888.

The Tribune reported that the Makwa Club was formed in 1885 and had its first toboggan slide on Lowry Hill near Thomas Lowry’s house. For the winter of 1888 the club built a much grander slide at Lake Calhoun. The Tribune reported, “The slide is much superior to any that has been built in Minneapolis before and is probably as fine as any that is in existence in the country.”

The other toboggan slides in the city that winter were maintained by the Flour City Toboggan and Snowshoe Club and the North Star Toboggan Club. (Newspapers of the time referred often to the toboggan “craze,” much like the bicycle craze that would soon follow, and the canoe craze that came after that. Today, I suppose, we text or tweet.) The Flour City slide was a 1,000-foot slide near Ridgewood Avenue that ended near Franklin and Lyndale. The North Star slide was west of the city in what is now Theodore Wirth Park.

The only photo I can find of a toboggan slide from that era was the North Star chute on Glenwood Hill, 1887. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The Makwa slide was 220-feet long, running onto Lake Calhoun from the bluff on the east side of the lake where the Lyndale Hotel once stood. The slide had three chutes that had a drop of 55 feet and crossed both the street railway track — 15 feet above the track — and Calhoun Parkway — 24 feet above the road. (Yes, the Makwas did get the permission of the park board to build its slide over the parkway.) The slide met the lake ice about 50 feet out from the shore and the level runway continued 1,500 feet onto the lake. After a run of about 1/3 mile, toboggans hit roughed up lake ice that prevented them from running onto Lake Calhoun’s horse trotting track.

The grandest feature of the slide, however, “had never before been tried in any slide,” according to the Tribune: a wooden warming house and starting platform at the top of the slide, 10 feet off the ground. The front of the warming room was made almost entirely of glass and looked straight down the slide,. The slide was illuminated by five electric lights.

The Makwas even had an arrangement with the motor (trolley) company by which the 7:40 train out from town every evening stopped at the foot of the slide to drop off club members and the 9:57 train made a special stop at the same place to pick them up for a return to the city after an evening of mirth. The slide was for the use of club members only.

The Makwa uniform was breeches and blouse of heavy gray French wool and stockings, toque and sash of cardinal. The membership of the club was limited to 200 and included many of the best-known young men of Minneapolis. The president of the club in 1888 was English journalist Harry P. Robinson, who was featured in an earlier article about his close friend John S. Bradstreet. Bradstreet was a Makwa, as was park commissioner Eugene Wilson.

The problem with the Makwa’s grand slide was that no one was willing to pay for it. In 1891, the Tribune reported that a lawsuit had been filed — in what it called the “Makwa mess” — by the man who built the slide in an attempt to recover his costs from the officers of the defunct club. Makwa Club members had been assessed $10 each to pay for the slide in 1888, but most didn’t pay. Some claimed that the officers of the club did not have the authority to spend the money on the slide. (I wonder if these claimants used the slide!) Of the $800 charged to build the slide, only about $300 had been paid. The Makwa directors, including Robinson, then sued individual members who hadn’t paid up. The Tribune reported on only two of those cases: one was not contested and the other lost on a technicality.

One of the “chief forms of pleasure that the belles and bloods of the city indulged in” that winter through “the most select of all the clubs” ended up being a free toboggan ride for most of them. (Tribune, March 20, October 18, December 22, 1891.)

By the fall of 1891, however, Makwa president Robinson had married the daughter of one of the wealthier men in Minneapolis, Thomas Lowry, so he may have found the means to pay the builder of the toboggan slide that was “much superior” to any other in Minneapolis.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Makwa Club’s Lake Calhoun toboggan slide, please let us know. We’d love to see it.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith

Snowmobiles in Minneapolis Parks: 1967

Do you remember snowmobiles in 1967? I remember them as loud, smelly, uncomfortable and, by today’s standards, horribly unwieldy. Not what you’d expect to find in pristine city parks. But they were very trendy then – the latest and coolest — and Minneapolis parks have always tried to keep up with what was new and in-demand in recreational opportunities. On December 13, 1967 the park board approved establishing a snowmobile course on Meadowbrook Golf Course and renting snowmobiles there.

My snowmobile memories were prompted by the park board’s current interest in allowing snowmobiles on Wirth Lake in Minneapolis as part of a snowmobile convention this winter. I found some 1967 photos of snowmobiles at Meadowbrook a while back and scanned them just because they represented a moment in time for me.

Snowmobiles for rent at Meadowbrook Golf Course in 1967. (MPRB)

I watched the Vikings Super Bowl IV loss as part of a football/snowmobile party on a farm near Hutchinson in January 1970. (Many farmers in the area were pioneers in snowmobiling, encouraged by the farm implement companies – and their local dealers — that initially invested in the technology. It gave the companies and dealers something to sell year round.) Maybe the Vikings’ embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that day tainted my perception of snowmobiles, too; I developed a slight, queasy aversion to them, recalling Hank Stram’s infuriating smirk and bad toupee every time I saw one.

But the snowmobile photos on this page piqued my curiosity for a couple of reasons. One, I couldn’t remember the company “Boatel” or their “Ski-Bird” from my youth. Turns out it was a boat manufacturer in Mora, Minn. that acquired a snowmobile company, the Abe Matthews Company of Hibbing, to broaden its product line. The company apparently manufactured most of the machine, but installed an off-the-shelf engine.

For more information on the Boatel Ski-Birds visit snowmobilemuseum.com and vintage snowmobiles.

The second intriguing aspect of the photo above is the decal on the right front of the machine, “Bird is the word.” In the few photos I’ve found online of the machines — Boatel stopped manufacturing them by 1972 — none of the Ski-Birds have that tagline on them.

If you are of a certain age, or a huge fan of Minneapolis rock-and-roll history, or a Family Guy devotee, you know the line is most famous from a song by The Trashmen in 1963.

Cover photo of Minneapolis surf rockers The Trashmen from their Bird Dance Beat album, their follow-up to Surfin’ Bird. Steve Wahrer (front) was responsible for the raspy vocal on Surfin’ Bird.

The Minneapolis surf-rock band’s Surfin’ Bird, their first record, climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been covered by numerous groups, from The Ramones to Pee Wee Herman. (See Wahrer performing the song on American Bandstand and being interviewed by Dick Clark. The show wouldn’t pay travel costs for all four band members, so Wahrer performed alone. It must have been odd for him to perform that way because he was the band’s drummer.) It’s a hard song to forget, which was reinforced by its use in a Family Guy episode in 2008 that introduced it to new generations.

I wonder if Boatel bought the rights to the lyric for its Ski-Bird. Surfin’ Bird was based on two songs by The Rivingtons and although The Trashmen significantly reworked them, The Rivingtons, a LA vocal group, were given songwriting credit. So if Boatel did pay rights to use the line, The Trashmen probably didn’t collect anything from it.

I don’t know if these are customers renting snowmobiles or park board employees at Meadowbrook Golf Course. (MPRB)

The park board’s 1968 annual report noted that “ski sleds” were rented at “various wintertime locations.” I was surprised to learn from the 1968 annual report that it was also the first year electric golf carts were used on any Minneapolis park golf course; they were also first rented at Meadowbrook. So snowmobiles beat golf carts onto park board golf courses by a few months. The contract for 13 snowmobiles and 6 snowmobile sleds for rental was won by the Elmer N. Olson Company.

Golf carts and snowmobiles weren’t the only attractions added to parks in 1968 in hopes of generating new revenue. Pedal boats were added to Loring Lake, an electric tow rope was installed in the Theodore Wirth Park ski area, and construction began on a miniature sternwheeler paddle boat to carry 35-40 passengers at a time on rides through Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun.

A constant in the 129-year history of the Minneapolis park board has been the search for new revenues to support an expensive park system. If given a choice between snowmobiles in the city and good food at well-run restaurants in parks, such as now exist in three locations and will be joined by a new food service at Lake Nokomis next year, I’d chose the food. Blame the Kansas City Chiefs.

I haven’t found any record of rental rates for the snowmobiles the first year, but in January 1969 the park board approved a rental rate of $3.64 per 1/2 hour (plus 3% sales tax!) for park board snowmobiles and a charge of $1.25/hour or $3.75/day for the use of private snowmobiles on the Meadowbrook course.

I wonder if the Meadowbrook greenskeeper liked snowmobiles on the course with so little snow. (MPRB)

A more contentious issue was a park ordinance passed in early January 1968 that permitted, but regulated, the use of snowmobiles on Minneapolis lakes and parks. By November 1970, before a third snowmobiling season could begin, some residents had apparently had their fill of snowmobiles in the city and the park board considered banning the use of snowmobiles on park property, including the lakes. Park Commissioner Leonard Neiman, who represented southwest Minneapolis, proposed rescinding the ordinance that allowed snowmobiling, which suggests that residents near Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun might have led the opposition. The board did not vote to eliminate snowmobiling from parks at that time, but it did reduce the speed limit for snowmobiles — from 25 to 20 mph — and added a noise-control provision that mandated mufflers. It also directed staff to consider which parks or lakes snowmobiles would be permitted to use. The decision to lower the speed limit on snowmobiles in parks was credited in 1979 (12/19 Proceedings) with essentially eliminating snowmobile permit applications. None had been received since 1972.

Sometime between 1979 and 2002 the park board made slow snowmobiling even less appealing by setting the price for an annual snowmobile permit at $350. Pokey and pricey wasn’t a big sale. The board voted in 2002 to eliminate snowmobiling permits altogether, because no one had applied for one in many years.

The park board proposes now to charge $1,000 a day for permitting snowmobiles (does that cover multiple machines?) to use Wirth Lake during a convention that MEET Minneapolis estimates will bring $1 million to the city this winter. Sounds like a reasonable trade-off to me — especially because snowmobiles have changed so much since 1970, and so few residences are within earshot of Wirth Lake anyway

Finally, here’s your cocktail party trivia for this week. One of only four survivors of the raft of companies that competed for snowmobile market share in the late 1960s is Bombardier, the Canadian makers of Ski-Doo. The company is now 50% owned by Bain Capital of presidential campaign fame. Of course, two of Ski-Doo’s biggest competitors are Arctic Cat and Polaris, both based in Minnesota.

I wonder if any of the Trashmen ever rented a “Bird is the word”  snowmobile at Meadowbrook.

Papa-oom-mow-mow.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith

Lake Harriet Toboggan Slide

As the heat continues to burn grass and crops this summer, I’ll provide cool respite on the edge of Lake Harriet. Fred Perl, the park board’s forester, took these photos of the Queen Avenue toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914.

Looking up toward Queen Avenue on the western shore of Lake Harriet. (MPRB)

Check out the canoe racks that line the shore.

The view from the top of the slide along Queen Avenue above the street car barn. (MPRB)

The views from top and bottom are cool, but they don’t show all the work that went into building this slide. You can only appreciate that from a side view.

The impressive structure of the Lake Harriet toboggan slide. Note the passage made for cars on the parkway through the lattice. (MPRB)

Feel any cooler?

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minneapolis speedskating: Bearcat 8mm film from 1950s

Adam Martin has posted some fun 8mm film footage of the Bearcat American Legion Post speedskating team in Minneapolis from the 1950s on youtube.

Bearcat American Legion Skating Team. Appears to have been taken at Powderhorn Park. (Adam Martin)

Adam’s father – John – and uncles — Jim, Tom and Michael – skated for the Bearcat team, as he related in a recent comment on my first speedskating post.

The Martin brothers who skated for the Bearcat team in mid-1950s. (Adam Martin)

Have a look at that post as well as others on speedskating, then click this link (or the youtube.com link in Adam’s comment):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8ewShuJeEo

The first clips were shot at Powderhorn, I believe, but I don’t recognize where the clips at the end were from. Can anyone identify the other rinks featured — or tell us anything else about the clips Adam has provided?

Thanks, Adam.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

P.S. I just heard from Adam that his uncle identified the last clips as being shot in Winnipeg.

Minneapolis Park Memory: Ski Jumping at Wirth Park

I have received several very interesting comments from Jim Balfanz on my post about the history of ski jumping in Minneapolis. Today he sent me this photo of him (left) and his brother John, both champion skiers, in a double jump at Wirth Park in 1956. Jim copied the photo from the West High School yearbook of 1956. The original photo was “courtesy of the Minneapolis Tribune.”

In his comments, Jim has provided the names of many people who were important in Minneapolis ski jumping at a time when Minneapolis was producing national champions and Olympians.

If anyone else has memories, stories or photos to add either as comments on that post or in e-mails to me, I’d be delighted to post them.

Thanks to Jim and also to Jay Martin for his comments.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Elusive Minneapolis Ski Jumps: Keegan’s Lake, Mount Pilgrim and Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park

The Norwegians of Minneapolis had greater success getting their music recognized in a Minneapolis park than they did their sport. A statue of violinist and composer Ole Bull was erected in Loring Park in 1897.

This statue of Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull was placed in Loring Park in 1897, shown here about 1900 (Minnesota Historical Society)

A ski jump was located in a Minneapolis park only when the park board expanded Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park in 1909 by buying the land on which a ski jump had already been built by a private skiing club. The photo and caption below are as they appear in the annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for 1911.* While the park board included these photos in its annual report, they are a bit misleading. Park board records indicate that it didn’t really begin to support skiing in parks until 1920 — 35 years after the first ski clubs were created in the city.

Minneapolis, the American city with the largest population of Scandinavians, was not a leader in adopting  or promoting the ski running and ski jumping that originated in that part of the world. Skiing had been around for millenia, but it had been transformed into sport only in the mid-1800s, around the time Minneapolis was founded. Ski competitions then included only cross-country skiing, often called ski running, and ski jumping – the Nordic combined of today’s Winter Olympics. Alpine or downhill skiing didn’t become a sport until the 1900s. Even the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France in 1924 included only Nordic events and – duh! — Norway won 11 of 12 gold medals.

The first mention of skiing in Minneapolis I can find is a brief article in the Minneapolis Tribune of February 4, 1886 about a Minneapolis Ski Club, which, the paper claimed, had been organized by “Christian Ilstrup two years ago.” That article said the club “is still flourishing.” Eight days later the Tribune noted that the Scandinavian Turn and Ski Club was holding its final meeting of the year. The two clubs may have been the same.

Ilstrup was one of the organizers two years later of one of the first skiing competitions recorded in Minneapolis, which was described by the Tribune, January 29, 1888, in glowing and self-congratulatory terms.

Tomorrow will witness the greatest ski contest that ever took place in this country. For several years our Norwegian cultivators of the noble ski-sport have worked assiduously to introduce their favorite sport in this country, but their efforts although crowned with success, did not experience a real boom until the Tribune interested itself in the matter and gave the boys a lift.

The Tribune mentioned the participation in the competition of the Norwegian Turn and Ski Club, “Vikings club” and “Der Norske Twin Forening.”  The Tribune estimated that 3,000 spectators watched the competition held on the back of Kenwood Hill facing the St. Louis Railroad yard. Every tree had a dozen or so men and boys clinging to the branches, while others found that perches on freight cars in the rail yard provided the best vantage point.

The caption for this photo from the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resource Database claims the photo is from the winter of 1887, but was almost certainly taken at the ski tournament held on Kenwood Hill late that winter in February, 1888.

The competition consisted of skiers taking turns speeding downhill and soaring off a jump or “bump” made of snow on the hill. Points were awarded for distance and for style points from judges.

The winners of the competition were reported as M. Himmelsvedt, St. Croix Falls, whose best jump was 72 feet, and 14-year-old crowd favorite Oscar Arntson, Red Wing, who didn’t jump nearly as far, but jumped three times without falling. Red Wing was a hot bed of ski-jumping, along with Duluth and towns on the Iron Range. (The winner was perhaps Mikkjel Hemmestveit, who along with his brother, Torger, came from Norway to manufacture skis using highly desirable U.S. hickory. The Hemmestveit brothers are usually associated with Red Wing skiing, however, not St. Croix Falls.)

A Rocky Start

Despite the enthusiasm of the Tribune and the crowds, skiing then disappeared from the pages of the Tribune until 1891, when on March 2, the paper reported on a gathering of thirty members of the Minneapolis Ski Club at Prospect (Farview) Park. “This form of amusement is as distinctively Scandinavian as lutefisk, groet, kringles and shingle bread,” the Tribune reported. “With skis on his feet a man can skim swiftly over the soft snow in level places, and when a slope is convenient the sport resembles coasting in a wildly exhilarating and exciting form,” the report continued. The article also described the practice of building snow jumps on the hill, noting that “one or two of the contestants were skilful enough to retain their equilibrium on reaching terra firma again, and slid on to the end of the course, arousing the wildest enthusiasm.”

The enthusiasm didn’t last once again. The Tribune’s next coverage of skiing appeared nearly eight years later — but it came with an explanation:

During recent winters snow has been a rather scarce article. A few flakes, now and then, have made strenuous efforts to organize a storm, but generally the effort has proven a failure. The heavy snow of yesterday was so unusual that it is hardly to be wondered at that there arose in the breasts of local descendants of the Viking race a longing for the old national pastime, skiing…The sport of skiing was fostered to a considerable extent in the Northwest, and particularly in this city, a few years ago, but the snow famine of late winters put a damper on it.
– Minneapolis Tribune, November 11, 1898

The paper further reported that the “storm of yesterday had a revivifying effect upon the number of enthusiasts” and that the persistent Christian Ilstrup of the Minneapolis Ski Club was arranging a skiing outing on the hills near the “Washburn home” (presumably the orphanage at 50th and Nicollet). The paper also reported that while promoters of the club were Norwegian-Americans, “they do not propose to  be clannish in the matter.”

Within a week of that first friendly ski, Continue reading

Glenwood Toboggan Slide II: 1887

Since posting a newspaper photo of a toboggan slide on “Glenwood Hill” in 1887, I found this photo in the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resources Database. This photo is purportedly of the same toboggan chute on the same hill in the same year, but they are obviously different places. The photo clipped from a newspaper had trees right up to the sides of the track.

The North Star toboggan chute on Glenwood Hill, 1887. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Looking up the hill instead of down, gives a completely different prespective on the possible location of the slide. I doubt that the slide in this photo is in the same location as the ski jumps that were built after the park board acquired land in the vicinity. Any guesses as to the location of this toboggan slide? Or the other one? Which one is the real “North Star” chute?

In the same wonderful photo collection, I found this picture of the St. Paul toboggan slide in front of the State Capitol, which I referred to in my earlier post.

A 1957 photo of the toboggan slide I rode as a kid, a few years later, in front of the State Capitol. (Minnesota Historical Society)

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

This is why we love our parks: Powderhorn Art Sled Rally

Creative use of space. It is the true gift of parks. If anyone ever needed convincing of the incredible benefits of public spaces, they should have been at Powderhorn Park yesterday for the 4th Annual Art Sled Rally. Thrills, chills and plenty of spills. Marvelous creativity. Wacky fun. It’s what a creative community can do when it has a place to do it.

Cheers to South Sixteenth Hijinks for the idea and energy. Be sure to click the link above to learn more about the event and organizers. Especially check out the sponsors and please support them.

I didn’t see all the sleds, but among my favorites were the bear from Puppet Farm, (picture this bear sliding on its stomach, and, yes, there was a child seated on top of the bear sled, too) and a wild dinner table on a sled, which I believe was called “Dinner at the Carlisle’s.” Other favorites were a couple of dragons, a dragon fly, a bunch of eyeballs and a London Bridge, which did indeed fall down. Some pictures are already posted on artsledrally.com from Dan Stedman. I hope others will soon follow.

The greatest tribute to the event and the people who made it happen: as we walked away my daughter asked, “Can we make a sled next year?”

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Glenwood Toboggan Slide: 1887

It’s an old, wrinkled photo clipped from an unidentified newspaper, but it’s also the oldest photo I’ve seen of a toboggan slide in Minneapolis.

A privately run toboggan slide on "Glenwood" hill in 1887, years before the park board acquired land in the area.

The newspaper caption calls it the “North Star” chute and puts the date at 1887. That was two years before the first land (64 acres) was acquired for what was then Saratoga Park. The park was renamed Glenwood Park in 1890 and was renamed for Theodore Wirth in 1938. The majority of the land for the park we know today was acquired in 1909. I suspect that this hill was a part of that acquisition. Although I’m not certain, I think this slide was located near where the ski jumps were later built.

At different times the park board operated toboggan slides at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Glenwood (Wirth) Park, Columbia Park and Minnehaha Park. I don’t believe any of them were operated after the 1940s, but as always its difficult to discern from park board records when such services or programs were stopped.

The only toboggan slide I remember from growing up in the Twin Cities was the long slide erected on the approach to the State Capitol in St. Paul. I remember it being operated as a part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. It was one of the highlights of winter life as a boy in St. Paul.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Powderhorn Park Speed Skating Track: Best Ice in the United States

Many years before Frank Zamboni invented his ice resurfacer (in California!?), Minneapolis park board personnel had to prepare the speed skating track at Powderhorn Park mostly by hand for international competition and Olympic trials. They were very good at it.

Olympic medalist speed skater Leo Friesinger from Chicago (whom you already met in these pages here) had this to say after he won the Governor Stassen trophy as the 10,000 Lakes senior men’s champion in the early 1940s:

“It is a pleasure for me to return to Minneapolis and skate on the best ice in the United States.”

That was high praise for Elmer Anderson and Gotfred Lundgren, the park board employees who maintained the track at Powderhorn using this sweeper, a tractor-drawn ice planer and a bucket of warm water.

The ice sweeper that cleaned the Powderhorn speed skating track in the 1940s. Elmer Anderson (left) and Gotfred Lundgren kept the track in top shape.

They began to prepare the track 3-4 days before a meet by sprinkling it with water a few times. Then they’d pull out a tractor and a plane — a 36-inch blade — to smooth out any bumps from uneven freezing. The biggest problem was cracks in the ice. So the day before the race, Elmer and Gotfred would spend 8-10 hours filling small cracks by pouring warm water into them.

At times their crack-filling work continued right through the races. When large crowds showed up, and for some races attendance surpassed 20,000, the ice tended to crack more often. If Elmer or Gotfred spotted a crack during a race they’d hustle out with a bucket of water after skaters passed and try to patch it. The sweeper was used to remove light snow from the track.

Elmer and Gotfred, who began working for the park board on the same day 18 years before this picture was taken, agreed that the most speed skating records were set when the air temperature was about 30 degrees, which raised a “sweat” on the ice and produced maxiumum speed.

(Source: an undated newspaper clip in a scrapbook kept by Victor Gallant, the parkkeeper for many years at Kenwood Park, Kenwood Parkway and Bryn Mawr Meadows.)

It’s no wonder that speed skating (as well as hockey) eventually moved indoors to temperature-controlled arenas. But wouldn’t it be fun to see a big race at Powderhorn again?

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith