Minneapolis Park Memory: Lake Harriet Hijinx

My favorite story of the Mpls parks was one autumn weekend night in 1968, when I was in 11th grade.  The standard place for “couples” to go and “make out” was around Lake Harriet on the east shore.  There was a lane for parking and the cars would line up as soon as it was dark.  I was with a couple of buddies and we had a few M-80’s. We drove around the east shore until we saw a couple having at it in their car.  Then the M-80 was lit and rolled strategically under their car and we waited for the explosion.  The ensuing few seconds in the car of the “parkers” was always indescribably hilarious.  Well, after surprising a couple in their car we peeled out and headed to our favorite spot “Porky’s Drive-In” on 58th and Lyndale Ave. So.

About two hours later there was a noticeable “buzz” at Porky’s.  We asked what was up and we heard the story.  Apparently someone had lit an M-80 around the east shore of Lake Harriet and part of the explosion flew across the street and started a fairly large brush fire on the slope that surrounds the lake on that shore.  It was about three blocks long by about 40 yards wide.  There had been “numerous” fire trucks called to put out the fire.  OOPS.

Name withheld by request, Washburn High School, Class of 1970

Editors note: Our parkways have served many useful purposes!

The Minneapolis city council banned fireworks in the city, without a permit, in 1873. At the same time the council passed an ordinance banning the firing of guns, pistols and cannons within the city. Prior to the Fourth of July in 1890 the police chief noted that it was impossible to “rigidly” enforce the anti-fireworks ordinance, but urged his forces to prohibit the shooting of fireworks in “alleys, backyards or other restricted spaces.” At a time when most structures were made of wood, and so were sidewalks, that was probably prudent.

The first newspaper reference I can find to fireworks at Lake Harriet was in the Minneapolis Tribune, August 10, 1887. An article on the Knights of Labor picnic the day before, which was attended by an estimated crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 despite light rain, noted a “brilliant display of fireworks” from 9 to 9:30 p.m. This was the second annual picnic by the largest labor organization of its time, but the first at Lake Harriet. The inaugural K of L picnic had been held at Lake Calhoun — but had also featured fireworks.

Even in the late 1800s, fireworks were associated primarily with the Fourth of July. The first newspaper reference I found to Fourth of July fireworks at Lake Harriet was in a July 5, 1890 Minneapolis Tribune article on festivities around the city, which concluded with a tragic note. A. L. Wellington of 629 Sixth Street South died of injuries he suffered while superintending the fireworks display at Lake Harriet the night before. Fireworks had exploded prematurely on the raft from which Wellington worked about 500 feet from shore.

Do you have a fireworks story from a Minneapolis park? Were you in the car the M-80 was rolled under? Any other story of Minneapolis parks? Help us write the popular history of our parks. Tell us your story (see post from September 30.)

David C. Smith, minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

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