The Cold Spell of a Fantasy Ice Palace Melts the Hearts of St. Paul's Rugged Citizens

updated 02/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

The good folks up in frosty St. Paul, Minn. would usually welcome a bit of warmth during the winter. But when the temperature hovered at an unheard of 45°F during a four-day stretch last month, it caused panic rather than celebration. In danger of melting was the city's pride and joy—a neo-Gothic ice palace designed for the centennial of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Luckily a bitter chill returned in time for the Feb. 6 opening of the largest ice edifice ever built by man. Located on an island in Lake Phalen, the palace reaches 128 feet 9 inches at its highest point. It includes 10,000 750-pound blocks of ice put into place by more than 700 construction workers and countless volunteers working day and night for seven weeks. Others donated $10 per block of ice to help defray the $200,000 building expenses.

The first St. Paul Ice Palace went up in 1886, reportedly to refute an Easterner's complaint that Minnesota was too cold for any type of human habitation. The current palace will stand barely a fortnight, but nearly one million visitors are expected to shiver before its marvels, which include guardian lions and eagles carved in ice and a skull-shaped cave with a secret passageway. Such wonders provide at east brief respite from St. Paul's frigid reality. "The palace is pure whimsy," says architect Karl Ermanis of his ethereal design. "Form follows fantasy."

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