Known in its time as “The Little Switzerland of America,” the Winter Wonderland Festival of Little Falls was created in 1945 in order to help foster peace and cooperation in the community. The history of Winter Wonderland began when two men arrived in Little Falls with a goal. Father Edward Ramacher, a newly ordained priest, and his superior, Monsignor Leo Keaveny, had been dispatched to the town for a very specific mission. At one point, there were four Catholic parishes in Little Falls, 2 Polish, 1 German, and 1 French. It was going to be the duty of Father Ramacher and Msgr. Keaveny to unite the French and German parishes into one cohesive and unified parish that would be named St. Mary’s.
However, there was an immediate issue that arose from the unification of the two parishes. The various Catholic communities in Little Falls were culturally distinct and were somewhat opposed to being forced together, which left Msgr. Keaveny and Father Ramacher with the task of figuring out a way to help bring together the different groups and unify the community. Father Ramacher decided that what Little Falls needed was a festival, a Winter Wonderland, that could bring together the different cultural groups of Little Falls and give all of them a shared positive experience.
For the first Winter Wonderland Father Ramacher led, around 100 people came together in 1945 to spend an afternoon sledding down the snowy hills. The event was held on land owned by a local farmer, Andrew Jarosh, 4 miles southeast of Little Falls. As each year passed, the festivities of Winter Wonderland grew to include a variety of diverse activities, ranging from dozens of toboggan and ski slides, a contest to crown a “Miss Wonderland,” where the contestants were judged while dressed in their ski suits, and a free concession stand, among many other attractions, such as the “Ski Esta Inn” lodge, built by volunteers from the community. The festivities lasted for four years, from 1945 to 1949, culminating with over 22,000 people visiting Winter Wonderland, and Miss America, BeBe Shopp, being present to crown Jean Lindell from Brainerd as the last “Miss Wonderland.”
The Little Switzerland of Little Falls eventually came to a close in 1949, as Father Ramacher had to leave Little Falls to answer his new role as the first pastor for the St. Francis Xavier Parish of Sartell. Without his guidance, the Winter Wonderland of Little Falls disappeared, with its goal of forging a bond for the new community of St. Mary’s and of Little Falls as a whole completed. Nevertheless, it lived on in a new way, as Father Ramacher took what he learned from his time in Little Falls to repeat the experiment, to great success, in Sartell, with the creation of the Winter Haven.
While the story of Winter Wonderland ended in 1949, its effect on the community has had an impact even into the modern day. Father Ramacher’s experimental plan to bring together the young and old, the French, Germans, and Polish Catholics, as well as the local Protestants and others, through a fun, shared experience of a festival was a great success, and people from across Minnesota and even the wider United States, knew of its existence and came to share in the hard work of the men and women of Little Falls, who came together and volunteered to help build their community together. While that time has long since passed, when the snow drifts down on Little Falls in the winter, the echoes of its impact can still be heard among the fields and hills, and in the bond between all who call Little Falls home. Little Switzerland is a reminder that everyone, no matter their culture or history, can work together to help build something greater that can positively shape the community for decades to come.
– Ray Mulvey
MCHS Writing Intern
This article first appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2020.