Frozen Minnehaha: Baby it’s cold outside

It is the January thaw in Minneapolis, currently in the 30’s F. After being in the deep freeze the temperature usually rises for a week or two and then goes back into February, the coldest month. During this time you see a lot of people out and about. One big attraction is Minnehaha Falls. It freezes in winter and provides a spectacular view and photo opportunites.


A local paper ran a photo series of the Falls recently forcing the Park Board to issue a statement on how disappointed they were in the article since everybody in the photos as well as the photographers were trespassing. They asked that everybody view the falls from a safe location. The paper promptly issued a revision mentioning the “No Trespassing” signs put up by the Park Board.

Minnehaha is the Dakota word for waterfall. After the publication of the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1855, the falls became a big tourist attraction. However, Longfellow never made a visit. In the story Hiawatha falls in love with a Dakota maiden. In the poem he translates Minnehaha as “Laughing Water”. This came from a translation by Mary Eastman in the book Dahcotah, which she published in 1849.

There the ancient Arrow-maker
Made his arrow-heads of sandstone,
Arrow-heads of chalcedony,
Arrow-heads of flint and jasper,
Smoothed and sharpened at the edges,
Hard and polished, keen and costly.
  With him dwelt his dark-eyed daughter,
Wayward as the Minnehaha,
With her moods of shade and sunshine,
Eyes that smiled and frowned alternate,
Feet as rapid as the river,
Tresses flowing like the water,
And as musical a laughter;
And he named her from the river,
From the water-fall he named her,
Minnehaha, Laughing Water.
  Was it then for heads of arrows,
Arrow-heads of chalcedony,
Arrow-heads of flint and jasper,
That my Hiawatha halted
In the land of the Dacotahs?
  Was it not to see the maiden,
See the face of Laughing Water
Peeping from behind the curtain,
Hear the rustling of her garments
From behind the waving curtain,
As one sees the Minnehaha
Gleaming, glancing through the branches,
As one hears the Laughing Water
From behind its screen of branches?
  Who shall say what thoughts and visions
Fill the fiery brains of young men?
              -excerpt from The Song of Hiawatha


In 1889 the area around Minnehaha Falls became a Minneapolis City Park. A sculpture of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha sits on a small island within the creek and bears the inscription “Over wide and rushing rivers In his arms he bore the maiden”.

The sculptor, Jacob Fjelde, was a Norwegian immigrant who settled in Minnesota around 1887. The sculpture was originally exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893. The Expo celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World.

Longfellow’s poem is purely fictional. At the time it was published it was very popular, and although there were also racist negative reviews, it endured to become a part of American culture spawning musical pieces, artists renderings, parodies, and Disney cartoons.

In Minneapolis you will find Minnehaha Falls, Minnehaha Park, Minnehaha Creek, Minnehaha Academy, Minnehaha Avenue and Hiawatha Avenue. And not far from Minnehaha Falls is Lake Nakomis, named after Hiawatha’s grandmother.

Minnehaha Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning it is thought to be worthy of preservation. It is a beautiful place to visit.