When I was growing up Mom always said that Bemidji was known as “The Icebox of the Nation.” Well, now, imagine my surprise to learn that International Falls, MN. not only claims this title but in fact holds the trademark to it! Mom would be disappointed. Now International Falls is located about 100 miles north of Bemidji, right up on the border between Canada and the U.S. and is a very cold place indeed. The coldest temperature recorded there was in 1909 when the thermometer registered -55 degrees, but since Bemidji’s coldest recorded temperature was -50 in 1950 there’s not much use in quibbling over which place is the coldest.
Bemidji Winter Carnival, 1932
Bemidji, which incidentally was settled in the late 1800’s, sports a few monikers of its own: “The Curling Capital of the U.S.A.” and “The First City on the Mississippi,” are a couple and while not quite as spiffy as “The Icebox,” they’re still quite respectable.
When my brother and sister and I would complain about having to walk to school in the wet Pacific Northwest winters, mom reminded us that her school experience in Bemidji included walking about three miles to school in -30 degree weather. We eventually joked that she walked 30 miles to school in -3 degrees.
Mom getting around in Bemidji
The “Village of Bemidji” as it was first known is now the City of Bemidji and is watched over by none other than Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox. They stand down near the lake for their vigil which includes greeting visitors to the city.
During the early 1900’s my grandfather Walker was Station Agent for the Minnesota and International Railroad, later to become part of the Northern Pacific. Mom remembered that the family lived above the depot for about seven years. As you might guess, the snow sometimes caused train wrecks, and in 1912 the newspaper reported: “1 Dead, 13 hurt in Wreck on M. &. I at Farley, Southbound passenger running two hours late hits switch point. Day coach and sleeper crashing on edge of 10 foot embankment; Rescuers work in temperature of 52 below; passengers hurled from seats into debris of broken glass, limbs being broken, ears torn off, scalps cut, and internal wounds inflicted.” Amazingly, only one person died from this wreck. Grandfather Walker wrote the following in his report: “There is one thing, it couldn’t have been possible that the train was running at 50 miles an hour, or anywhere near that speed at the time, because the train had to stop at Farley. Farley is a regular stopping point. Anyhow, 50 miles an hour is a faster rate of speed than is permitted on that stretch of track.”
So there you have it. A snapshot of Mom’s Home Town of Bemidji. When my husband and I visited there about 20 years ago it was fun to look up some of the locations mom had talked about such as the headwaters of the Mississippi located not far from Bemidji, and the old courthouse whose records provided my first inspiration to pursue the family history. I’ve never looked back, except to muse about the Walker family and their life in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Written April, 2008 for the Carnival of Genealogy, Susan J. Edminster