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Stories of Yetis, Klowns, & Carnival Mysteries

Learn the lore behind the Whitefish Winter Carnival icons like Ullr, the Royalty, Vikings, Yetis, Klowns, Penguins, and more.

The Whitefish Winter Carnival is in full swing for its 65th year: The Greatest Show! After so many years of planning and shenanigans, Winter Carnival lore has grown from a simple story to a complex tale with countless twists and turns that often confuse the casual carnival-goer. But fear not! This month in Stumptown Stories, we cover the lore behind the carnival's popular icons. All Carnival mythology begins far away with Ullr, the god of winter, snow, wind, ice, and high places.


The most accurate tale of what happened with Ullr is recorded by the Carnival:


Once upon a time, there lived a god named Ullr who reigned over winter activities in the Nordic regions. Aiding him were his Prime Minister and Queen, who were skilled in creating the beauties of winter. 


As time went by, however, his subjects became engrossed in exploring the world and its oceans, and they paid less homage to their god-king and the festivities of their winter season, so Ullr became a god all but forgotten, except in dim tradition. 


After centuries of brooding and searching the world for a place to rest, Ullr and his two remaining subjects came to the Flathead Valley. So struck were they by its beauty that they decided to settle there and selected the Big Mountain as their adopted home.


Their rest was short-lived as they soon found their home was also the abode of a fierce band of snowmen called Yetis, who attempted to kidnap their Queen. However, Ullr and his followers being more agile and resourceful, prevailed and learned to live with only occasional skirmishes with... (Read the rest of the story here.)


The story of Ullr and the start of the Whitefish Winter Carnival is well-known, but we want to share the lesser-known stories of the Carnival Royalty, Yetis, Penguins, Viking Divas, Klowns, Goats, and a few groups you have probably never heard of.

 

Meet the Royal Court

The most important people in the Carnival are the Royal Court, which is composed of King Ullr, Queen of the Snows, Prime Minister, Duchess of Lark, Prince Frey, Princess Freyja, and Herald the Hark.


  • King Ullr and Queen of the Snows: King Ullr is chosen on the basis of community interest and service. The Queen is chosen for a combination of the same along with her poise, appearance, and charm. Legend says the Queen has the magical ability to create the shapes of snowflakes and that her hand fashioned all that was beautiful in winter.

  • Prime Minister: This person is selected for his abilities as a master of ceremonies and/or his energy and vigor. The first prime minister traveled with Ullr from the Scandinavian realm long ago and remains a treasured friend to Ullr. Ancient stories whisper that the Prime was once skilled in the art of regulating temperatures to make the seasons. Whether or not this skill lives on in modern-day Prime Ministers, we cannot say...

  • Duchess of Lark: Much like the Prime Minister, the Duchess of Lark is selected for her skill in orchestrating ceremonies along with her vibrancy and love for Whitefish. The Duchess of Lark and the Prime Minister are the keys to running the whole show of the Carnival. Without them, it would descend into chaos!

  • Prince Frey: Prince Frey and his twin, Prince Freyja, are Ullr's children. Frey reigns as the god of sunshine, rain, and pleasure. Warm Winter Carnival Parades are often considered to be his doing. Prince Frey is selected from a Whitefish High School junior and announced during halftime at a home basketball game. His royal responsibilities include protecting the sword and keeping the pillows.

  • Princess Freyja: Like her twin, Princess Freyja is one of Ullr's children. She made her first carnival appearance in 1965 (as did Frey). Freyja and Frey joined the Carnival as a way to get the Whitefish High School student body involved. The selection for Princess Freyja is also from the WHS juniors and is announced at the same time. Princess Freyja rules as the goddess of love and beauty. She is also rumored to have the ability to speak any language including the most important one: Yeti.

  • Herald of Hark: The Herald is a treasured part of the Royalty who proclaims the court's arrival with his dulcet trumpet tones. The first Herald joined the Carnival in 1984 for the 25th Anniversary when Gary Elliott asked Rick Donahue to put his horn skills to use. Rick served as Herald the Hark for 25 years before medical complications from a golf accident caused Rick to set his trumpet down. Rick later put on the crown in his role as King Ullr L. Herald of Hark is the only position on the royal court that remains year-to-year.

 

The Perfect Combo of Fear and Love: Yetis


If you grew up in Whitefish, you grew up with a healthy fear of the fur-clad beasts that roamed town creating chaos during the Grand Parade. These fearsome beasts, the Yetis, live on today as one of the Carnival's most beloved traditions!


The first Yettis called Big Mountain home long before Ullr and his entourage settled here. The Yettis, descended from the fierce Himalayan Yettis, resented Ullr invading their sacred mountain. However, their anger with Ullr was nothing compared to the rage they harbored when people with axes, guns, horses, and wagons began to settle in town. The Yettis' anger boiled and brewed behind the Big until one fateful day when the villagers from the Holiday Village took things too far - they strapped thin wood boards to their feet and used them to climb up and slide down the Yettis' precious mountain home.


The Yettis' fury exploded and they hatched plans to exact revenge against Ullr and the townspeople. Small Yetti bands raided town causing chaos, stealing food, spilling drinks, and troubling the residents. However, the townspeople remained unfazed. So the Yettis settled on a more barbaric plan: kidnap Ullr's Queen.


During the first Carnival, the Yettis raided the coronation and kidnapped the Queen! Ullr, honored by the townspeople's commitment to snow and skiing, took action and recovered his Queen that very night. Ullr's victory over the Yettis banished them back to their hidden nooks and crannies on Big Mountain forever. They only escape their banishment when the clamor of Carnival gets too loud and lures them back to town where they skulk around trying to evade Ullr and his new protectors: the Vikings.


Some early Yeti trivia and fun facts:

  • New Yettis used to have to serve an apprenticeship during which they were called, "Little Mountain Mettis."

  • Has anyone seen the missing "t"? The early tribe was known as "Yettis" but the modern tribe goes by the "Yetis." While no one knows exactly what happened to the missing "t", rumors swirling through town claim the Yeti council removed it in a ploy to fool Ullr into thinking they were not related to the Yettis he banished in the early '60s.

  • Bob Pallo put the first group of Yettis together and kept their identity a secret until after the first Carnival. The first Yettis were: Bob Pallo, Joe Voermans Jr., Clay Gilchrist, Dow Crum, Lee Brockel, and John Pacheco. (Ed Schenck was made an honorable Yetti in August 1960.)

  • The early Yettis were a take on the abominable snowman. The first descriptions of the Yettis describe them as, "the abominable snowmen of the Carnival."

  • In February 1960, the Yetti tribe traveled to Kimberly via VW Bus and won first place in the comic division of the Snow Fiesta.

  • One month later, Whitefish was shocked to hear that the "snowmen of the Carnival" had not won the 1st place prize - it was indeed the "snowwomen of the Carnival" who had won it! The men had been delayed at the Canadian border (they didn't arrive before the border closed for the lunch hour), which left Pallo in Kimberly with all the costumes and the wives who had gone up ahead of time. The wives donned the costumes and proceeded to take Kimberly by storm!

  • The Yetis have a Queen! Sadly, Queen Igor hasn't been seen in many years.

  • After the first Carnival, the Yettis were broke and needed money for new costumes so they put up a tin for donations outside of the Saddle Club.

  • Sadly, that didn't raise enough money. The next year, Queen Igor demanded payment in furs in exchange for safety from the Yettis. Hunters donated skins and furs in barrels around town.

  • The Yetti's most successful fundraiser came in the form of tiny, burnable Yetti effigies. Mr. and Mrs. Pallo made a batch of Yetti candles in December 1960 that were an instant success around town. Tribal lore says the candles were a campaign meant to take the heat off the true Yettis.

  • The Yettis are credited with some of the most unique ways of bringing the Queen to the Coronation. In 1961, they carried her inside a giant wooden box suspended on wooden poles. The next year, they brought in a similar wooden box and proceeded to harshly abuse it before revealing the Queen from a giant snowman statue that had stood hidden next to the stage the entire night.

  • And finally, the Yetis still create chaos around Whitefish. For example, here is a real review from 2024:

 

Big Mountain Pete and His Peabrains: The Penguins

In 1961, a new group waddled their way into the hearts of every person in Whitefish! While they are known simply as the "Penguins" today, they were called "Big Mountain Pete and His Peabrains the Penguins" to start. While Penguin lore doesn't have the mysterious twists and turns of the Yetis or Vikings, one would be hard-pressed to find a group that represents the Carnival spirit more than the Penguins.


The idea for the Penguins hatched on New Year's Eve 1960 at Art and Evelyn LaBrie's house. Ted Lund was at that NYE party and loved the idea of adding a fun costume group to the Carnival. They started making costumes by tracing their bodies onto fabric to make the tuxedo suits. Bill Winter carved the iconic orange beaks out of balsa wood. The beaks moved when the actors' mouths moved, which allowed them to delight crowds by eating popcorn and other snacks.


The Penguins made their grand debut with much squawking during the 1961 Coronation. Big Mountain Pete led the Penguins in rousing, wordless versions of "Winter Wonderland" and "How Dry I Am." The rest of Whitefish met the Penguins for the first time during the halftime of a basketball game where the Penguins performed a routine that included hatching a baby penguin out of an egg. Yettis raided the Penguins' performance and "shot" a gun, which appeared to wound one of the Penguins and kill another. Fortunately, the Penguins quickly recovered in time to snack on some popcorn with the rest of the crew.


The Penguins also have a Queen: Queen Penny of the Peabrained Penguins.


The original Penguin cast included Connie and Ted Lund, Art and Evelyn LaBrie, Bobby Wiess, and Jenny Winters.


 

Brawn and Beauty: The Viking Divas

Ullr's troubles traveled with him when he settled in Whitefish. His nemesis, Loki, followed him here with his band of Vikings in tow. Loki dreamed of overthrowing Ullr and sent his Vikings to stop Ullr however they could. The Vikings roamed the Carnival for years; and marked their territory by putting a "V" on women's cheeks. Ullr outlasted the mortal Vikings and watched as they slowly aged and faded away.


For many years, the Carnival transpired in peace without a single Viking sighting. Everything changed when the Divas came to town. These Viking women, seemingly seeking revenge for all the marks the early Vikings put on women's cheeks, pledged their allegiance to Ullr in his fight to keep the Yetis away from the Carnival. They hold the power to protect anyone from a Yeti by placing a "V" on their cheek and sealing it with a bright red kiss. Yetis have yet to break through the protection from a Viking Diva's kiss.


 

Long Lost Carnival Groups

The Winter Carnival is a celebration for everyone to participate in. Over the years, there have been countless groups that have come and gone. Two of the most notable are pictured here: the Klumsy Klowns and the Great Northern Goats.


The Klumsy Klowns were Safeway employees and created as much delight as they did terror with their costumes. While these black-and-white photos make them look extremely creepy, we're told they looked much friendly in person! The Great Northern Goats were employees of the Great Northern Railroad. No one knows what happened to these two groups. Several stories exist about their disappearance. Some say the Goats boarded the wrong train and have been stranded in Essex for decades. When it comes to the Klowns, old-timers say Carnival organizers banned them from the Carnival after a disagreement over whether it should be spelled "Clowns" or "Klowns."


Other early Carnival groups included the Snow Bunnies (sponsored by Soroptomist), the Swamp Creekers, and the Snow Belles.


 

Some Carnival Groups make you say, "WoW!"

For the final Carnival story in this newsletter, we wanted to spotlight the dedication and hard work of groups like the Working Women of Whitefish (WoW). They do a group costume that is always a crowd favorite. The Stumptown Historical Society preserves one of their costumes every year. Pictured above are 15 of the WoW costumes.

 

Thank you for reading this month's Stumptown Stories newsletter about the lore of Whitefish Winter Carnival. We hope you have the merriest of times at next week's Carnival!

-The team at the Stumptown Historical Society

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