Heikki Lunta is Driven From Town

In the mid-1980s, Library Bar and Restaurant owner Jon Davis of Houghton gave Heikki Lunta a new look, and a new festival, when he founded the Heikki Lunta Society.  Fed up with the tendency of local businesses to close down during strong storms, Davis chose to keep the Library Bar open, offering happy hour prices for the duration of the storm.  Patrons who braved the snow were admitted to the Heikki Lunta Society and received pins. 

Heikki Lunta Society Parade participants, 1985.
Images by the Daily Mining Gazette.

Davis told of how Heikki Lunta was sent away for the season in a 2004 letter: “for several years, on the first day of spring, we had a ‘drum out winter parade’ which featured anyone who cared to attend with washtubs, buckets, drums and any other noisemaking device and starring Heikki at the front of the queue bound hand and foot and being ‘drummed out of town.’”  Participants were encouraged to wear costumes including “bizarre combinations of swim suits and long underwear.”  Following the parade, a picnic was held outside of the Library Bar.  Participation was particularly strong among students at Michigan Technological University.

Davis got the idea for this event from a friend who traveled to Switzerland.  One morning, he awoke to such a percussive parade, and learned that it was the citizens’ attempt to symbolicly drive the winter out.

What Bob Olson did for Heikki Lunta’s legend in the 1970s, Bob Skuggen did in the 1980s.  As the editor of the Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Skuggen publicized Heikki Lunta Society events held at the Library Bar and Restaurant.  Running photographs of the parades and publishing tongue-in-cheek press releases about the events helped to make them popular in Houghton, and especially among Michigan Technological University students.

During his time as editor of the Gazette, Skuggen wrote the first published legend of Heikki Lunta.  Heikki is fashioned by Skuggen as an angel who, dissatisfied with God’s decision to fill all of the seas with salt, is permitted to create his own sea of freshwater.  He creates Lake Superior, which the other angels love.  Feeling that too many angels enjoy the lake, Heikki sends first great rains and then great snows to thin the crowds out.  As Skuggen said, “A few angels, those of Finnish descent, like the climate Heikki created and stuck around.”  These hardy angels, too, become tired of the strong snow that Heikki continues to create and so one day they begin to parade through the streets, banging on “drums, hollow logs, and pots and pans, and anything else that would make noise.”  Eventually, a balance is created where Heikki only dances when the other angels pray for him to, and when they have the parade, he knows to stop dancing and allow for the spring to start.

The Library Bar event lasted only a few years, and by the late 1980s, there were no more Heikki Lunta events in the Keweenaw, or anywhere else for that matter.  In a few short years, however, Heikki Lunta would explode into Upper Michigan and Finnish-American consciousness, creating a permanent place for himself in the regional folklife.

COPYRIGHT:© Hilary Virtanen 2006
Accessibility concerns to sjziemen@wisc.edu