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Spicer's Ice Castles

Though ice harvesting ended for Engwall Brothers in 1971, their ice machinery was reactivated 16 years later. In January 1987 Gideon Doty, a nephew of the Engwalls, and his friend, Mike Lint, dreamed up an idea of building an ice castle. The St. Paul winter carnival's ice palace in 1986 inspired them to attempt a smaller scale project. When they first shared their idea with fellow residents, there wasn't much response.

But Charles deCathelineau offered the use of his crane. Doty, a crane operator, knew he could lift ice blocks in place for Bruce Barber, a bricklayer. Then the Engwall ice equipment and Carl Engwall's expertise were brought out, and community enthusiasm began to grow: a 15-20 man volunteer construction crew materialized, all working not for money but for fun. They built a castle that really put Spicer on the map.


Mayor Swen Rime in front of the 1987 Spicer Ice Castle.

Irv Hanson, a local author, wrote: "The Engwall ice castle by chance or de- sign is a perfect shadow of Hamlet's castle by the sea in Elsinore, Denmark." The Engwall castle, 27 feet high, contained 1,500 blocks of ice. Each block, 15 inches thick and 24 inches square, weighed 250-275 pounds.

The procedures were similar to those of old-style ice harvesting: men cut blocks of ice and shoved them to the conveyor which pulled them up and sent them to the man who caught the blocks with ice tongs and directed them to a spot where the crane picked them up and set them down where the "bricklayer" built the wall.

With Engwall's advice and direction garnered from his 40 years of experience, plus his rusty machinery, the eager volunteers erected the castle in a week's time. Mass media-radio, television, newspapers-reported the accomplishment nationwide, along with pictures of the imposing structure, shining in sunlight by day and gleaming in spotlights by night. Onlookers appeared from near and far, even from statewide, to watch the construction and to gaze admiringly at the finished stronghold.

The builders of the 1987 Spicer Ice Castle.

A month later, in mid-February, unseasonably warm weather collapsed the castle. However, unknown to any, the young builders stored many ice blocks in sawdust and hay. In Spicer's July 4 parade emerged a float that resembled the ice castle, its blocks commemorating the castle in which they first appeared.

The volunteer crew built another ice castle in January of 1988 with arches, keep, tower, and flying pennants.

For more information on the latest Spicer Ice Castles, check out the latest news at http://www.spicermn.com.