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Home    News    February 2002

Karin Emond

News from the Keweenaw Peninsula

February 8, 2002

Heikinpäivä 2002 filled with firsts and fun

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Page 2: More about the lumitalo and other Heikinpäivä events, including the Polar Bear Dive

Although technically not an "official" part of Heikinpäivä (Its construction was not conceived or underwritten by the festival's organizers, the City of Hancock's Finnish Theme Committee), this mid-winter's celebration of Finnish culture seemed the natural day to unveil this unique structure because of its Finnish origins.

Seppo Makinen poses in front of the Hancock snow house.
Lumitalo, snow house, architect Seppo Mäkinen of Oulu, Finland, poses in front of one of his creations, the Hancock snow house, as visitors enjoy its grand opening during the Heikinpäivä Festival. (Photo © 2002 Bill Fink. Printed with permission.) (See Editor's Note.)

The lumitalo is a miniature version of full-scale hotels built entirely form snow and ice in Finland and Sweden called lumilinna, snow castles. They draw hundreds of thousands of tourists.

An overflow crowd of spectators filled the small yard surrounding the structure located on the corner of Quincy Street and Ryan Street in Hancock for the ribbon cutting ceremony that followed the parade. For several hours after the ceremony, a steady stream of visitors filed through the structure or enjoyed good Finnish coffee at tables made of snow and ice surrounded by panels depicting scenes from the Kalevala painted by students from Hancock High School.

For Jo Lorichon, wife of Pat Coleman, president of U.P. Engineers and Architects, Inc. (Coleman was in large part responsible for bringing Mäkinen and the lumitalo to the area), part of the fascination with the snow structure is that it helps folks revisit their childhood -- with one difference: "People can go into the snow drift (fort) they had as a child and this time they can stand up."

Visitors inspect the interior of Hancock's lumitalo, snow house.
Heikinpäivä visitors inspect the interior of Hancock's lumitalo, snow house. (Photo © 2002 Bill Fink. Printed with permission.)*

Those spectators who lined up along the banks of the Portage Canal at the Ramada Inn to watch the Polar Bear dive were not disappointed as the largest field of contestants ever -- 66 in all, nearly a third women -- donned a myriad of creative costumes or exhibited equally creative plunging techniques as they competed to capture the coveted Heikinpäivä medals for most unusual costume, best dive and most unusual plunge.

Karen Storm of Hancock gets back into her fur coat after taking the Polar Bear Plunge.
Karen Storm of Hancock gets back into her fur coat after taking the Polar Bear Plunge.

Roger Wickstrom of Chassell took home the gold for most unusual costume. Drawing on his own Finnish roots in which he recalls his grandmother always calling him "Paskahousu," ("kakka-pants") when he was a toddler, he dressed with an oversized brown-stained diaper, cape and tee-shirt emblazoned with bold letters reading Pikko "Paskahousu" Poika, little "kakka-pants" boy, to take his dives into the Portage.

"I'm just celebrating my Finnish -American heritage," said Wickstrom, who took two dives.

Most unusual plunge honors went to Scott Miles of Hancock who decked out with blaze orange ribbons at his wrists, ankles, head and waist, stopped at the edge of the icy opening in the ice and went through an elaborate ritual of prayer and crossing himself before stepping off into the frigid waters. Best dive honors went to Joe Butsil.

Fire was the final festival first as a kokko, a bonfire built of Hancock's abandoned Christmas trees, lit up and warmed the waterfront of Porvoo Park and the 50 or so spectators who were on hand to witness the end of Heikinpäivä 2002.

Spectators watch the dancing flames of a bonfire made of discarded Christmas trees.
Spectators watch the dancing flames of the kokko, a bonfire made of discarded Christmas trees, the closing event of this year's Heikipäivä celebration.

"It gets bigger and better and more colorful each year," exclaimed Hancock resident Merle Niemi Kindred, watching the flames of the bonfire subside. 

And with the dying flames, Finnish Theme Committee member Jim Kurtti jokingly summed up his relief at pulling together and surviving yet another year of the hard work and planning needed to pull together a successful Heikinpäivä festival.

"The entire Finnish Theme Committee was found face down in a snow bank after the event," Kurtti said; but on a more serious note he added, "It was a big success!"

Editor's Note: See Bill Fink's photos of the Houghton lumitalo in the Feb. 7-8 Winter Carnival story.

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