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Ice cream social at the Witch's Hat tonight!
Pratt Ice Cream Social
WHEN: Friday, June 1 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tower Climb 5 to 8 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Pratt Community Education Center, 66 Malcolm Ave. S.E., Minneapolis
TICKETS: Free and open to the public (612) 668-1122
But a borough doesn't have to boast names like Harlem or Montmartre to be remarkable. And long-winded, historical walking tours or kitschy, locally-themed amusement parks need not be necessary, either. In order to celebrate a vibrant past, some hoods make do with an old-fashioned community favorite: the ice cream social.
The Prospect Park neighborhood in Southeast Minneapolis is indeed a proud hood of sorts; every year they throw a gigantic jubilee called the Pratt Ice Cream Social to celebrate their roots and continued sense of community. And every year, according to Co-Chair of the Pratt Ice Cream Social Committee Greg Simpson, the event draws thousands of revelers and neighborhood folk.
Located on the street between Tower Hill and the Pratt School, the ice cream social isn't your typical block party, with tater-tot hot dishes and McGruff mascots galore. It's practically a low-budget carnival, boasting a cakewalk, fortune telling, a moonwalk, fish pond and face painting. Music and dance acts, from a South High garage band to band Machinery Hill to a variety of dance acts, are scheduled to perform. It also wouldn't be an ice cream social without the necessary culinary delicacies - from gallons of ice cream (of course) to Ethiopian food, egg rolls, bratwursts and root beer.
Tucked away just east of the viscous sea of construction and frat houses that is University Avenue, the Prospect Park neighborhood consists of tangled, hilly roads that circle around Tower Hill.
Shady bungalows, butterfly gardens and arts-and-crafts-style cottages crowd the sleepy avenues. It's a perfect urban fairy tale kingdom, just a stone's throw off a smoggy corridor.
Then there's the defining feature of the fabled neighborhood protruding out of a hilly moat of brush and foliage: the "Witch's Hat" water tower. Perched at 970 feet above sea level (the highest natural point in the city of Minneapolis), the tower - according to legend - was the inspiration for Bob Dylan's song "All Along the Watchtower." Although it's closed to the public 364 days a year, the tower will open its doors for folks to climb for 3 hours during the ice cream social.
Tony Garmers, a long-time resident of the Prospect Park and East River Road neighborhood, is the designated "tower guy" for the event. He finds volunteers to man the tower and enforces what he calls the "pool hall rules" - one foot on the floor at all times - up on the observation deck. A child of the 1930s, he grew up playing under the water tower's shadow. To this day, he still visits the tower's base, "mostly to check the weather and watch sunsets."
"It's a neighborhood fixture, a landmark," Garmers exclaims.
The tower, built in 1913 by local architect Frederick William Cappelen, was erected to facilitate better water pressure in the neighborhood, whose comparable elevation to that of the city's waterworks strained the area water pumps.
The tower was designed in late gothic revival style, with a conical Spanish tile roof and concrete white base. It is colloquially referred to as the "Witch's Hat" tower because of its resemblance to, well, a witch's pointed hat, and local myths (often told to children) mention a witch who lives in the tower's trap door. Many think it resembles a tower chunk from Cinderella's quasi-fairy-tale castle at Disney's Magic Kingdom (which was itself modeled after King Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany). The tower is best visible from the 94 expressway, where it juts out of a leafy canopy like Rapunzel's tower.
The neighborhood itself cropped up late in the nineteenth century as a suburb - accessible by trolley line - to the Minneapolis downtown area. Children used to be able to sled from the top of Tower Hill all the way to the Franklin Avenue Bridge. A gypsy encampment, according to local legend, was rumored to live at the base of the tower. And the Pratt School, built in 1898, has long been a staple community gathering place. The ice cream social, however, has a more obscure past.
"The origin of the ice cream social is kind of lost in the mists of time. It's at least 35 years old," explained Simpson, another long-time resident of the neighborhood.
"It's a truly unifying event," Simpson said.
However, the prized jewel of the day is sure to be the mythical tower tour, so be prepared for long lines. But even a lengthy queue doesn't faze the good-natured residents, who continue to encapsulate the spirit of the neighborhood - and make the best of the wait. As Garmers said, "It's a good time to talk to the people next to you in line, and to get to know your neighbors or someone new."
©2007 Minnesota Daily