Frozen Falls: Minnehaha in Winter
A frozen Minnehaha Falls has always intrigued people. Many photos exist of the falls in winter, including those published recently in the StarTribune that created a ruckus. Several shots of the ice wall were popular as postcards in the early 1900s, such as the one below.
I recently received a photo from Edward Tobin Thompson of Maple Grove that I like as well as any.
The photo, dated January 15, 1899, comes from an old family photo album. Ed doesn’t know who is standing at the foot of the falls, but it is likely the same man pictured on the park bench below, a photo that carries the same date and inscription on the back.
Ed guesses that the man is one of his Tobin ancestors. The Tobins immigrated from Ireland and settled in Wisconsin about 1846, he says. They later lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before moving to Montana.
Ed also sent this photo of a waterfall without a label from the same album and he wondered if it could be Minnehaha Falls as well. I don’t think so because in hundreds of pictures I’ve never seen the lip of the falls or the pattern of falling water like this, or the pool of water below the falls so large. Any opinions? Are you watching, Karen Cooper? (Karen has to be the world’s leading authority on images of Minnehaha Falls.) If not Minnehaha Falls, what falls? Any other cataracts in Wisconsin or Minnesota like this? Send in your guesses.
Danger Under the Falls
When photos appeared in the StarTribune recently of people behind the frozen falls, it brought to mind a story from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper dated December 25, 1869, which was featured in Minnesota History, the magazine of the Minnesota Historical Society.
The article described a near tragedy when the falls wasn’t completely frozen. The article was illustrated by the engraving at right. This is how the events involving well-known photographer Charles Zimmerman were originally described in the newspaper:
“Wishing to obtain winter views of a place Longfellow has immortalized in his classic verse, Mr. Zimmerman passed under the falls. An hour later, a Mr. Haines, while exploring the rocks, happened to look behind the curtain of water as it leaped from the edge of the precipice to the abyss beneath and was startled by what he saw. A large icicle weighing between two and three hundred pounds, loosened by the thaw, had severed its connection with the roof above, and had fallen on Mr. Zimmerman, crushing him down, and leaving him insensible beneath it. Mr. Haines quickly relieved the prostrate artist, whom he found nearly frozen. Indeed, had succor been delayed half an hour longer, the unfortunate man would have most certainly died.”
The photographer conked on the head by the giant icicle, Charles Zimmerman, became one of the most prolific shooters of scenes in St. Paul and Minneapolis in the late 1800s. Most of his photographs were sold as stereoviews, the side-by-side photos that took on a 3D appearance when viewed through a stereoscope. If Zimmerman had perished that day under the ice of Minnehaha Falls we would not have nearly so thorough or enjoyable a record of life in Minneapolis in the 19th Century.
Don’t Be Left Insensible
I’d recommend that you not climb up under the falls either. (It is illegal!) Maybe you will do something memorable someday, as Charles Zimmerman did, if you live a little longer.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith