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World’s almost largest ice sculpture crashes in Superior

SUPERIOR -- An ice wall, expected to be the world’s largest ice sculpture, was commissioned by the city of Superior this past summer for $30,000 on the shores of Lake Superior in the Duluth-Superior area and expected to be the focal point of a big late February celebration.

However,  at 10:06 a.m. Tuesday, the 66-foot-tall structure collapsed. Within seconds, it become a pile of ice chunks.

Architect Roger “The Iceman” Hanson said warm weather played a key role in causing the structure to fail.

“Having six days of extremely warm weather, that took away a lot of the tensile strength, or the rigidity, of the core,” said Hanson, of Big Lake, Minn. “It takes time. It takes about four to five days of good, cold weather for the crystallization to actually fuse itself back together again. That didn’t get to happen.”

The compromised internal structure, which Hanson estimated weighed a couple of million pounds, was unable to hold.

The city of Superior was aware of the project challenges, said Parks, Recreation and Forestry Administrator Mary Morgan.

“Roger and I have met weekly, and sometimes more often than weekly, and he has kept me apprised of his progress,” she said. “And with each problem he identified, he solved it.”

She pointed out that the temperature on Christmas Day was 37 degrees; the Saturday before last, it was 45 degrees.

Mother Nature has won this bout, Hanson said, but he’s not throwing in the towel. There’s still a 15-foot base of tumbled ice to work with.

“I’m not done yet,” he said. “I work very hard at this; I don’t give up. If there’s a chance I can make something of this, I’m going to do it.”

He plans to investigate the collapse over the next few days before making any plans, however.

Local officials aren’t ready to call it quits either.

The funds for the project came from hotel and motel tax money, with the city and Tourism Development Fund each putting up $15,000. A festival for the Lake Superior Ice Project, complete with fireworks, was planned for Feb. 28. City officials said they are in the process of deciding what their next steps are.

“It’s unfortunate it happened,” said Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Superior/Douglas County Chamber of Commerce. “Obviously it wasn’t planned, it’s not in anybody’s dream but you know, it’s like any other event that starts off new, nothing goes perfect.”

The wall crumbled in the national spotlight. Angela Jimenez, a freelance photographer from Minneapolis, had driven up 15 minutes before to take pictures for a New York Times article. She started taking pictures, capturing the fall in a series of stills.

“It’s kind of like watching a building demolition that you didn’t expect to happen,” Jimenez said.

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