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St. Paul Park, Newport residents remember their own winter carnival

Diana Gerry and her husband, Harold "China" Gerry," hold the scroll she received when she was named "Princess of Knowledge" for the 1950 winter carnival in St. Paul Park and Newport. The Gerrys live in St. Paul Park.

There was an ice palace, a festive parade, drum and bugle corps, a royalty court with a king and queen and bevy of princesses. There even was a ragtag crew of Vulcans.

St. Paul has its annual winter carnival, but six decades ago civic boosters from St. Paul Park and Newport brought a similar mid-winter celebration to south Washington County. The small-town carnivals of 1949 and 1950 were scaled-back versions of the saintly city's big-time festival.

But to those who wore crowns and royal outfits, and to others who had a hand in the St. Paul Park and Newport winter carnivals, the local festivals captivated the community spirit, if only for two mid-winter weekends.

"It was a really neat thing," recalled Diana Gerry, who in 1950 was a teenager plucked from nearly three dozen royalty candidates to be named "Princess of Knowledge." Now, 61 years later, the story behind her title escapes her.

"I must have answered a question right," she joked of the coronation contest.

Cities shared the fun

The winter carnivals were the work of Jaycee members of St. Paul Park and Newport. The civic organization was led at the time by Greg Haseley, the Jaycees president and Park High School principal.

The two communities shared festival activities. In 1949, a miniature ice palace was built in St. Paul Park, near the site of what is now the Friends in Need Food Shelf. Despite the proximity to the Mississippi River, the large ice blocks were acquired from a local ice company. A year later, an ice palace was built in Newport's Pioneer Park, according to the South Washington Heritage Society.

Just as St. Paul has its carnival royalty, the Newport and St. Paul Park winter carnivals crowned kings and queens and princesses. Local business owners sponsored queen candidates, and the Masonic Temple in St. Paul Park was the site of the coronation banquet.

Photographs of the royalty candidates and carnival events jogged old memories for participants such as Delores Shaver.

"That's me," Shaver confirmed with a smile recently as she looked at a photo taken of her and other carnival royalty atop the ice palace. Shaver (then Delores Peterson) was named queen for the 1949 carnival. A St. Paul Pioneer Press article from Jan. 30, 1949 declared that "blond Delores Peterson, 18, of Newport, was named ruler of the snow-time festival." The article went on to note that Peterson was the victor over six other "lovelies" from the area.

Shaver lives in Cottage Grove with her husband of nearly 60 years, Jerry. She recalled no childhood dream of being a queen of the snow. Instead, she was working for a bank in Newport when one of her friends had been asked to be a princess in the local winter carnival. Before she knew it, young Delores Peterson also was a queen candidate.

"It really wasn't my thing," Shaver said in a recent interview. "I was pretty shy."

Shaver's sponsor was the proprietor of the Red Rock Night Club in Newport. She said he took her all over town selling tickets for the carnival. He even brought the young royalty candidate to a St. Paul tavern. Upon her visit, she heard "The Freckle Song" being played, with its blush-inducing lyric: "She's got freckles on her, but she's nice."

"It was very embarrassing," Shaver said, shaking her head now at how that lyric sounds without proper punctuation.

Shaver said she thinks she was named queen because she sold the most carnival tickets.

A local insurance agent and one-time St. Paul Park mayor Al Wilkie held the honor of king one year. His son said recently that he did not recall the local carnivals; he was a youngster in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, he suspected his father's role was a civic contribution.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that's the reason he (did) that," Al Wilkie Jr. said.

Sledding and Vulcans

There was other competition at the carnivals. A toboggan track was forged on the hill adjacent the Newport Cemetery. Organizers built a rope tow powered by an engine taken from an old farm combine, said Harold "China" Gerry, Diana's husband and a longtime St. Paul Park firefighter.

The steep hill lent itself to high toboggan speeds. A St. Paul Pioneer Press clipping from Feb. 3, 1950 features a photo of three youngsters wearing fearful expressions as their toboggan "flashed by the finish line at 60 miles an hour." Pictured in the background is Haseley, the then-Jaycees chief, holding a torch.

A hot feature of the carnivals were the Vulcan crews. Local firefighters played the role of the red-clad winter spoilers who by legend overthrow the carnival royalty, toppling King Boreas and the winter season.

"We made our own red capes," China Gerry recalled.

The Vulcans cruised around town aboard a 1926 Dodge fire truck, keeping people alert with their ever-looming offer of a "black smudge" on the cheeks of ladies young and old.

"People didn't want us around," he joked.

Residents turned out for the winter carnival parades that traveled down Broadway Street. Some spectators watched from inside storefront windows, shielded from the cold.

Fred Goth's boys and girls drum and bugle corps entertained the crowd. Priscilla Nauer of St. Paul Park, Fred Goth's daughter, said her father's music troupes participated in a number of community festivals in the region.

By a few accounts only a handful of the carnivals' most active participants are still alive and living in the area. Some of those former civic boosters and royalty candidates do not know why the celebration ceased after just two years. They figure the carnivals disappeared because they were a lot of work and it is tough to find people to organize such community events.

"It was a big deal then, but it just kind of fizzled," Diana Gerry said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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