When most people think of Cokato festivals, the Corn Carnival usually comes to mind.  But in Minnesota, as the St. Paul Winter Carnival has shown, those cold months of December through February can be fertile ground for some fun times.    So in December 1939, when members of the Cokato Association for Public Affairs (a forerunner of the Cokato Chamber of Commerce) proposed some sort of winter festival for Cokato, nobody found it an odd idea.

Otto Preus, cashier at the State Bank of Cokato, was appointed to lead the committee that put together the first ice carnival, scheduled for February 10 and 11, 1940. Peterson Park was selected as the site for the two-day gathering. The ice rink that local children used to skate on was enlarged to accommodate activities such as broomball games, speedskating, and demonstrations of figure skating prowess by both local and regional skating talent.

Buttons were sold at 25¢ each to help finance the affair. The 1940 button featured a blue silhouette of a figure skater. Almost 1000 buttons were sold by members of the Association, the American Legion, and the Legion Auxiliary.

As the first carnival drew near, the array of talent scheduled to participate was widely advertised. Sixty members of the Minnesota Skating Association were coming to Cokato, among them Charles Leighton, a former Olympian and 1939 North American senior champion, and Audrey Naas, 1939 and 1940 junior girl’s division national champion. Also featured on the first day’s roster were speed skating demonstrations and a hockey game.

The second day’s activities featured "fancy skating" by members of the Shipstead-Johnson Ice Follies troupe, a broomball game between the Knapp Cyclones and Stockholm Bombers, and a hockey game between Annandale and Cokato. Bernie Swanson, sports writer for the Minneapolis Star Journal and John McGovern, all-American quarterback at the University of Minnesota, presided as masters of ceremonies.

That 1940 carnival was a tremendous success. "5,000 See Cokato’s 1940 Ice Carnival" proclaimed the Cokato Enterprise. The warm weather—it was almost forty degrees on Saturday—created difficult skating conditions. Knapp beat Stockholm in the broomball game, and Cokato defeated Annandale-0 in the hockey contest.

The 1941 carnival, February 1 and 2, brought back to Cokato top talent from the Minnesota Skating Association, along with the 36-member Minneapolis Arena Figure Skating club. Speed skating contests, a broomball rematch between Knapp and Stockholm, and a hockey game between Cokato and Granite Falls rounded out the festivities.

The weather cooperated, providing the Enterprise-estimated crowd of 5,000 spectators with a dazzling array of talent. Members of the Arena Figure Skating club, who ranged in age from 13 to 60, amazed onlookers with their intricate and tightly choreographed routines. Cokato tied Granite Falls 1-1 in the hockey matchup, with Paul Samuelson providing the home team’s only goal.

With another successful year complete, the Cokato Association looked forward to planning for the 1942 carnival. But mother nature was not to be as cooperative as she had been the previous two years. While preparations for the ‘42 festival forged ahead, persistent warm weather throughout the month of January prevented crews from creating the large ice sheet needed for activities.

In late January, carnival chairman Otto Preus announced the carnival had to be called off. There was simply not enough time to put down a good-quality ice sheet. Preus stated that anyone wishing a refund on their button purchase could do so. (While the museum has several 1940 and ‘41 buttons, we have none from 1942. Persons willing to donate a spare ‘42 should contact the museum.) Funds left in the carnival account were used for improvements to the park. The minutes of the Cokato Association for late 1942 and early 1943 showed an apparent lack of interest in reviving the ice carnival. As a result, the Cokato Winter Ice Carnivals have become a long-forgotten memory.

©Cokato Historical Society, 1998.