CAMDEN — Winter carnivals have a long and glittering history in Maine. From Jan. 4 through 30, visit the Camden Public Library’s Picker Room to learn about the rich history of winter carnivals in Maine with a special exhibit curated by the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum. The exhibit will be complemented by a memorable online presentation by Glenn Parkinson, president and historian for the Maine Ski and Snowboard Museum, Thursday, Jan. 27, at 6 p.m. Parkinson will share the fun and excitement of Maine’s winter carnivals from the 1920s to the present with a look through program books, newspaper articles, and film from the events. The link to register for Parkinson’s program on Zoom can be found on the “What’s Happening” adult events calendar at librarycamden.org.

Rumford’s Sixth Annual Winter Carnival event poster from 1929. Courtesy of the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum

 

The 1920s were a period of excitement, scientific advances, and robust optimism. Cities and towns across Maine hosted elaborate winter carnivals held over several days. At Portland’s 1924 Winter Carnival, people were invited to skate on the pond in Deering Oaks, “underneath the electric lights,” which were then a novelty. There was always a “Ball” over which the King and Queen of the Carnival presided. Ski jumping dominated the sporting events. In 1924 the Portland Press Herald wrote, “When a crowd of over 5,000 people gather in one locality to witness an event, something must be going on. That’s how it was at the Western Promenade when ski jumpers of international fame lifted howling masses of humans into the heights of excitement and ecstasy.”

A skating exhibition on Hosmer’s Pond in Camden at the Winter Carnival in 1939. Courtesy of the Camden Public Library

 

The Great Depression brought these city-wide parties to a stop. Winter carnivals returned in the 1930s, but there were changes. Most had moved to northern Maine locations and featured grueling three-day, 100-mile-long ski races. There was still a Queen and King at the Ball, but the tone was much more athletic and serious. Children had cross-country, downhill, and obstacle races on skis and other ways to compete and enjoy the outdoors.

Fort Fairfield’s Third Annual Winter Carnival event poster from 1930. Courtesy of the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum

In Camden, the 1930s brought the opening of the Snow Bowl and the Toboggan Chute. The winter carnival featured skiing, skating, horse racing, cars of the future and, of course, lightning-fast toboggans on the chute at the Snow Bowl and the ice of Hosmer Pond. The tradition continues today as Camden’s Winterfest and the U.S. National Toboggan Championships.

Fort Fairfield’s Third Annual Winter Carnival event poster from 1930. Courtesy of the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum

The exhibit and Zoom program are part of the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum’s Cocoa Chronicles series, sponsored by Oakhurst Dairy and the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council.

The ski jump was one of the most popular events at early winter carnivals in Maine. Courtesy of the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum Kate Barnes