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'The Legend of King Isbit': DL's ice palace to be inhabited by a very special royal guest

This painting of the legendary character, King Isbit, was created by Detroit Lakes artist Hans Gilsdorf. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
This fenced-off area of Little Detroit Lake will be the spot where approximately 1,500 blocks of ice will be harvested to build "King Isbit's Ice Palace" on the City Beach. *(Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 2

By now, most of northwest Minnesota knows that Detroit Lakes will soon be getting its very own ice palace — courtesy of the first ice harvest to be conducted here since the early 1970s, which will take place this Thursday and Friday, Jan. 11-12, on Little Detroit Lake near the Pavilion.

But have you heard of the jolly spirit who will be inhabiting the halls of said palace? A close friend of Polar Fest's official "spokes-bear," Polar Pete, King Isbit comes with a legend all his own.

Without further ado, here is the tale of how King Isbit came to be:

"A long, long time ago, a young man went searching for adventure. He traveled to the East and it was shiny and coastal, but it didn't feel like a place he could call home. He traveled to the West and discovered beautiful mountains, but again, he didn't feel comfortable. Likewise, he went South and while the heat was nice for a while, it didn't suit his personality. Others told him to try going North, as stories of the great people of the Northland were abundant. "He stopped in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The hustle and bustle of the Cities intrigued him, but he was drawn to the lakes and heard stories of bigger and more beautiful lakes farther north. And, so he kept adventuring northward in Minnesota. His travels led him to a place known as Becker County, and he immediately fell in love with the beauty of the landscape and its bold and jovial people. "One winter day while out exploring, he stumbled upon a clear stream leading into frozen Big Detroit Lake. He took this opportunity to bathe and play in the crystal water. A special resident of the area, Polar Pete, happened upon our young adventurer and with a hearty belly laugh, Polar Peter said "You are truly a spirit born of this area," and nicknamed him "Isbit," which meant "ice cube" in Polar Pete's native Scandinavian tongue.

"Isbit and Polar Pete became close friends and immediately began to celebrate winter with the people of Detroit Lakes for 10 days. They enjoyed games and merriment in what came to be an annual event known as Polar Fest. Over the years, Isbit continued to inspire events and festivities in the area and embraced his new nickname. He affectionately came to be known as King Isbit, the King of All Seasons for All Reasons. His many celebrations — WeFest, Water Carnival, Art in the Park, Festival of Birds, Street Faire, to name a few — continue to bring people from all areas to enjoy his beautiful home and joyous people. In fact, over the years, King Isbit's costume has come to reflect all these festivals and is adorned with other aspects of his beloved lake town."

In honor of King Isbit's dedication to the lakes area, the people of Detroit Lakes are building him a proper palace — made out of 1,500 giant "ice cubes," of course — which will be unveiled at the start of this year's Polar Fest celebration in a Grand Lighting Ceremony set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8.

Construction of the palace will begin this week, with the harvesting of these "giant ice cubes" from the fenced-in area of Little Detroit Lake near the Pavilion. Motorists along West Lake Drive have no doubt noticed the large sign emblazoned with with the words "Future Home of King Isbit's Ice Palace."

The ceremonial cutting of the first ice block is set for 11 a.m. on Thursday. Inside the Pavilion, the Becker County Museum is also busy setting up a series of exhibits and interactive displays detailing the history of ice harvesting in Detroit Lakes, as well as the science behind it. These exhibits will be open for viewing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 11-13 — and the windows on the south side of the Pavilion will also provide a perfect spot from which to view the ice harvest on Thursday and Friday, as well as the beginnings of the ice palace construction on Friday and Saturday.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454