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Stories of Yesteryear: Remembering Alpena’s Winter Carnival

Posted on January 8th, 2021
The winter weather has us reminiscing on days gone by. Back between the early 1930s to the 1960s when Alpena hosted a winter carnival during the snowiest time of the year.
1935 Winter Carnival Queen, Mary Meharg

Alpena’s first winter carnival queen, Mary Meharg 1935. Photo courtesy of the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Library, special collections.

Picture this: hundreds and hundreds of people bundled in their warmest winter threads aboard the “snow train” to take them to Alpena, Michigan. Where they will experience the thrill of a toboggan ride, spectate intricate ice-skating performances and speed racing, and cheer on their favorite performers. Families wait in anticipation to see who will be crowned Queen of this year’s winter carnival, creating memories that will last a lifetime!

We were fortunate enough to find several locals in the community who reached out to share their experiences of an Alpena winter carnival first-hand! These are their stories:

“What I remember about the Alpena Winter Carnival of the early ’50s is the famous “Alpena/Detroit Snow Train” that would arrive at the train depot off 9th Avenue, that was a biggie! I remember the “Ice Princess” and her court, the huge ice throne that was erected on the south end of Mich-e-ke-wis ice rink, the national speed skating tryouts that were held here, the figure skaters from around Michigan and Canada that performed on the large ice rink (it had bleachers on both sides of the rink and they were packed during the carnival), and the Alpena Flyers hockey games played on the hockey rink behind the big rink. It had chicken wire around the outside protecting spectators from getting hit by flying pucks. The most fun was sliding down the waterworks hill, you’d almost slide to State Street! And, of course, who can forget going to “Pushem’ Up Tony’s” for one of his famous burgers after a cold day at the carnival! The carnival brought people from all over the area including Detroit, Bay City, Flint, and other parts of Michigan. It was a great era & time for Alpena!” – Ken Connon

The toboggan during the 1942 Winter Carnival. Photo courtesy of Presque Isle Lodge Bed & Breakfast Inn.

“I remember meeting the snow train with my Dad that came from Detroit. Alpena people coming home for Carnival. Also, we had a professional figure skater that came coached the girls putting on a skating show. Costumes and all. My sister & I were in it for 2 years.” – Anne LaLonde O’Neal

“I grew up on McKinley St, just a block from the train depot. I remember cars being parked all the way up McKinley to Washington Ave and up & down 9th St as people came to greet the snow train during the Ice Carnival. There were so many visitors that came from all over Michigan. Another memory I have is the Ice Queen candidates going door to door for votes – I can’t remember if it was that they asked for a donation (not much, maybe 25 cents?) or if they sold tokens but whoever collected the most was the winner. As a kid, it was a very exciting time and so much fun!” – Judy Hart

We may not have a winter carnival anymore, however, Alpena has always been a “warm and friendly port”, even in the coldest of seasons!

Alpena, Sanctuary of the Great Lakes would like to thank everyone who shared their winter carnival story with us for this blog. If you have a memory you would like to share with us about the winter carnival, please email us at info@visitalpena.com.

(Featured photo above courtesy of the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Library special collections department)

If you skip to the 3:50 mark, you will see the winter carnival speed skating race at Mich-e-ke-wis.

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