100 years of history for the MTU Winter Carnival

Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 11:11 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - The MTU Winter Carnival started as a one-day circus-themed Ice Carnival 100 years ago in 1922.

“They had students that were dressing up in circus themes and animal costumes and they had performances,” MTU archivist and Ph.D. student Lindsay Hiltunen said. “There were also some ice skating and speed skating contests.”

The event sparked a multi-day production with numerous competitions, and months of preparation and school spirit. More and more traditions gradually picked up through the years.

“We actually didn’t have queens until 1928,” Hiltunen said. “They started the queens’ competition along with a parade that would go downtown Houghton in 1928.”

The popular snow statue competition didn’t arrive until a decade later.

“I believe they began in 1936 and it wasn’t just students at Michigan Tech,” she said. “Even community members and local children were involved as well.”

Last month, some MTU students worked with Hiltunen and MTU Wikipedian in Residence Cynthia Hodges to update the Winter Carnival entries on Wikipedia. Blue Key Honor Society member and MTU junior Katie Smith was one of the students.

“My main thing that I worked on was uploading the logos from past Winter Carnivals, which was super interesting,” said Smith, a chemical engineering student from Grand Rapids, Mich.

Smith is looking forward to seeing more snow statues this week.

“My favorite part is looking at the statues and all the ideas everyone has when they’re building,” Smith said.

However, this historic event had its challenges. When the Great Depression hit, the economy wasn’t the only thing that dropped.

“So there was a hiatus in the early 30s during the stock market crash,” Hiltunen said. “Then in 1934, Blue Key decided they wanted to bring this event back because it had been so popular.”

As the event continued, some traditions came and went. For example, the university used to give students in the south a rare chance to have a snowball fight.

“They actually would ship hundreds of pounds of snowballs down to a sister university in Texas; what is now Texas State University,” Hiltunen said.

That event started in the 60s and was discontinued in the 70s. Even so, no matter what events continue today or what traditions have ended over the years, Hiltunen said what stays with everyone are the memories.

“It’s a way to engage people on an emotional level and that gives them something really strong to hold on to; making great memories,” she said. “It’s something our alumni come back to us all the time and talk about their beloved Winter Carnival memories.”

The 100th Winter Carnival starts Wednesday with the all-nighter statue build, and it continues through Saturday.

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