- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Towering palaces of ice, those glittering symbols of northern spirit that have enchanted winter festival-goers for generations, have been noticeably absent from the frosty landscape here for more than a decade.

The annual St. Paul Winter Carnival, a popular embrace of all things frozen, hasn’t built a palace since 1992, when costs soared, leaving the project with a $600,000 deficit and the festival without its ethereal centerpiece.

But it has been even longer — 62 years, to be exact — since awe-struck visitors could not only regard the icebound fortresses, but also stroll through their rooms and corridors.

A version planned this year, with multiple rooms that visitors can tour inside 75-foot-high walls spanning 240 feet, would be an homage to the grandeur of palaces and festivals past.

Hazel Wallace and Inez French remember those days.

“You kind of had the feeling of being closed in. Most people went in, got a look and left,” Miss Wallace recalled. “It’s not like they hung pictures on the wall. It was one ice cube on top of another.”

As Miss French remembered, “It was so beautiful — but cold inside.”

Favorite son F. Scott Fitzgerald, in a 1920 short story, seemed inspired as well as terrified by the ice palaces, which are built here and in a handful of cities worldwide.

“It was magnificent, it was tremendous!” one of his characters thinks upon entering one such castle. But later, after getting lost in a dark and chilly maze, she laments: “It was an icy breath of death.”

“People call us every year and ask, ‘Will there be a palace this year?’” said Robert Viking, the executive director of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation.

With the help of local businesses, trade unions and architects, there will be. In all, 55,000 hours of volunteer work, about $7 million worth of contributions and more than $1 million in donations from businesses and individuals will go into building the palace.

Organizers still were working to raise an additional $250,000. Visiting the palace in downtown St. Paul also will cost $5; in 1992, it was free.

It will take 27,000 blocks of ice — each one 500 pounds and roughly the size of a bathtub — to build the castle.

But for it to be ready for the carnival’s Jan. 22 opening, construction must start by Friday. Longer delays could mean a scaled-down palace on the downtown site. The site has been wired for lights, and eight concrete archways and scaffolding have been erected.

Ice palaces have a storied tradition here. The first, legend has it, was built in 1886 to show up a New York writer who compared Minnesota to Siberia and declared it unfit for humankind.

This year, the palace compound will feature a skating rink, a merchandise tent and thrones for the King and Queen of the Snows, crowned at the height of the carnival. Parades will wind through downtown streets.


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