By Jennifer Kotila
An invisible crowd descended on the city of Cokato Saturday to celebrate the patron saint of Finland, St. Urho, with an invisible parade.
St. Urho is the young lad who drove the grasshoppers out of the grape fields in Finland before the last glacial period.
“Coincidentally, the celebration comes before that other day when they celebrate some other minor saint (St. Patrick’s Day),” noted Cokato resident Harvey Barberg.
At exactly noon Saturday, Cokato’s celebration took place with the invisible parade, the only one of its kind in Minnesota, and possibly the world.
The parade lasted no longer than the three minutes allotted, beginning on the northern shores of Silver Lake, and continuing all the way through Cokato to the southern suburbs of French Lake.
(If you're reading this online Friday, you still have time to go "see" the parade.)
This year’s honorary grand marshal was The Marketplace manager, Jeff Weinzetl, a “wannabe” Finn.
Martin Kotila noted that many Finns settled in the Cokato area, and the school district is full of children of Finnish descent.
Others who are not of Finnish descent in Cokato, especially the businessmen along main street, seeing that the Finns were such good people, “wannabe” Finn, Kotila added.
“Some of them don’t want to admit it, though,” Kotila said, noting Weinzetl was one of them until they named him honorary grand marshal of this year’s invisible parade.
Before the early 1970s, the parade being invisible was unknown to all except the Finns in town. However, Barney Barnaal of the Cokato Enterprise, caught wind of this special saint being celebrated by the Finns.
“He began razzing me uptown about what the Finns were going to do to celebrate St. Urho,” Kotila said. “I told him, ‘The same thing as always have a parade, but it’s an invisible parade.’”
From that point on, the Cokato Enterprise covered the event every year through 1985 with fantastic flair.
Since then, the coverage has been sporadic, much like the parade itself. Just like many other small-town events and organizations, it’s been difficult to recruit younger Cokato Finns into organizing and participating in the parade in order to sustain the celebration.
However, Cokato residents are still reminded about St. Urho each year when Barberg makes a trip around town St. Urho’s day wearing purple and green.
He rewards others wearing the colors of the patron saint of Finland with candy, and to those not honoring the day by wearing the appropriate colors, he simply says, “Boring!”
This year, it was decided it would be the year to try to bring the invisible parade back to its former glory, especially since March 16 fell on a Saturday.
The younger generation did its best to out-do the parade floats of their parents and grandparents in years past.
Two notable floats were provided by Design and Fabricating and Chuck’s Floral.
The 12 giant metal grasshoppers Design and Fabricating created were certainly tall, creating a few close calls with the street lamps as they leapt down the parade route.
The situation also got a bit thorny when the float from Chuck’s Floral began distributing dozens of deep purple roses.
Unfortunately, most of the other floats are not worth mentioning because the younger generation did not have enough experience or purple paint and rhinestones to create the fantastic floats of their elders.
It is hoped that after a year’s worth of experience, and plenty of advice from the festival’s originators, the floats will greatly improve next year.
About St. Urho
Before the last glacial period, the grape fields of Finland were being overrun by grasshoppers until a young Finnish boy by the name of Urho came along.
Urho had grown up drinking feelia sour (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup), making him a strong young lad.
One morning, he chased the grasshoppers out of the fields using his loud voice and shouting, “Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, menetaalta hiiteen,” or, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away!”
With his bravery and might, he saved the grape crop and the jobs of the Finnish vineyard workers.
Barberg noted that all 50 states have proclamations recognizing St. Urho’s Day as March 16.
Minnesota’s proclamation was signed by Governor Wendell Anderson in 1975.
History of Cokato's St. Urho's Day Invisible Parade
“Barney’s Blarney” columns, written by former Cokato Enterprise Publisher Barney Barnaal, featuring the invisible parades from 1975 through 1985 are reprinted below:
March 6, 1975
Plans for the invisible St. Urho’s Day parade in Cokato March 16 are taking shape.
Martin Kotila has been appointed grand marshal. His problem now is acquiring a purple and green horse (traditional colors for the day), and matching saddle. Elmo Nikula was named chairman of the float decorating committee.
Kotila mentioned last week that maybe he was not eligible to act as grand marshal. With a look of sadness in his eyes, he said that after digging in the roots of the family tree, he found a Swede among his ancestors.
He was assured, however, that it was not necessary to be 100 percent Finn to qualify.
The Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool has not made formal application for entry, but it is rumored that the foursome will be present for the parade in gaily-colored vehicles.
Time is growing short, only 10 days remain until St. Urho’s Day, so anyone interested is urged to contact the grand marshal, to be assured a place in one of the biggest invisible parades ever to be held in Cokato.
March 20, 1975
The St. Urho’s invisible parade at 6 a.m. Sunday morning was dimmed by a heavy fog. The brilliant colors on floats and uniforms of marching units were turned to a drab gray, but the people in the parade were smiling, despite the dampness.
The invisible spectacle was undoubtedly the longest parade in the history of Cokato. It was impossible to see the end units as the first ones went by. In fact, it was impossible to see the first units, but it was termed a success. A fitting honor for St. Urho, who chased the grasshoppers out of the vineyards in Finland on a foggy morning many years ago.
The photo above shows the lead units in the parade as they crossed the intersection at Third Street and Broadway Avenue in the heart of downtown Cokato.
Now all that is left is to wait in anxious anticipation for a similar event next year. Possibly then the weather will be better, so more details of the floats and marching units will be available.
March 11, 1976
There will be an invisible St. Urho’s Day parade in Cokato next Tuesday. A dispatch from the FNS (Finnish News Service) arrived at the desk just before deadline Tuesday morning.
Eino Nikula has been promoted from float decorating chairman to ticket sales promoter.
Martin Kotila has relinquished his grand marshal’s position for a somewhat lesser job of ticket collector, according to the report.
Grand marshal this year is rumored to be someone high in county government. What county this official serves was not stated. In an election year, this is truly an achievement.
Despite the late planning and publicity for the event, undoubtedly it will surpass the parade of last year in immensity and elegance, and only be surpassed by the event scheduled for March 16, 1977.
March 24, 1977
St. Urho’s Day in Cokato this year created considerably more commotion than usual. Besides the invisible parade at 5:59 a.m., a visible parade followed shortly after 2 in the afternoon. It consisted of 10 1/2 Finns, a friend of undetermined ethnic background, and a recruited Norwegian.
All gathered, wearing purple and green, badges, and other apparel of like colors, on the sidewalk in front of the Enterprise office. They also carried a box, from which a cloud of steam was floating skyward. The delegation was orderly and seemed to be discussing something. Soon the mystery was resolved.
This writer emerged from the Enterprise office with the natural curiosity of a newspaper person. Almost instantly, I was given a bowl of Gulla Moyhka (fish soup), and proclaimed honorary visible parade grand marshal. The soup qualified me for the honor. About three years ago in Iowa, the necessary sauna had been taken. Now, without a doubt, I was qualified.
Dr. Purtilo, co-chairman of the invisible parade, had organized the 10 1/2 Finns and a friend for an honest-to-goodness parade. He also informed me after handing me the bowl of soup that the eyes had been removed from fish heads for the occasion, because they realized a Norwegian would partake of the delicacy.
It was delicious, but I noticed several small globes floating on top of the pot from which he was serving. I convinced myself these were peppercorns.
Following the soup ritual, the group formed on the corner of Millard Avenue and Second Street, turned on a tape recorder, raised a placard high, and proceeded. The paraders marched to the alley behind the bakery, took a right turn up the alley to behind the Gambles store, and after a second right turn, down the alley between the Enterprise and Forsberg Tax Service, to the point of the original gathering a distance of 252 feet, 3 and 7/16 inches. This many not have been the first Finnish parade in Cokato, but undoubtedly this parade route had never been used before.
The entire parade, as indicated on printed programs handed out prior to the start, was scheduled to last 16 minutes, including the Gulla Moyhka fortification, but the time was cut short. Wyman Nelson, who was scheduled to read the Ode to St. Urho, was unable to be present. Something was muttered about being too busy with other duties and the operation of government taking precedent. The entire event used up 11 minutes and 32 seconds.
Included on the program was an apology from members of the Finnish community unable to attend the parade. Special mention was made of the Sucker Creek Car Pool, whose members would have done anything to be a part of the parade . . . but couldn’t miss work.
A paragraph at the bottom of the program included a word of thanks from Dr. Purtilo and an indication that he will readily relinquish his parade title to “another Finn or friend next year.” He feels that the honor of holding a position of such magnitude should be limited to one year.
Accompanying pictures were taken by Randy Barnaal of the Enterprise staff.
The invisible parade went smoothly under direction of invisible co-chairman Curtis Sanborn. The float from the Annandale Advocate led the long line of elaborately-decorated units, and also won the grand prize.
The Advocate staff had jacked up a small bay of Clearwater Lake, put it on wheels, and pulled it to Cokato. The ice layer had not been disturbed, and on it was a lone sauna building with a large hole in the ice nearby.
At frequent intervals, figures were seen dashing from the building, jumping into the lake, and then returning to the sauna.
Other floats in the parade almost defy description. One towed by a large grasshopper was titled Finnebago home. It was made up of a wash line, a woodstove, two tubs and a washboard, carefully mounted on a snowmobile trailer. Following this was a sauna mounted on a pickup truck, an accessory to the Finnebago.
Time and space do not permit further description of entries in the parade, or comments on its success.
However we know that as each year passes, St. Urho will not be forgotten in Cokato, nor will the tongue-in-cheek stories that accompany this event. They will keep us laughing at ourselves, something that is of increasing importance in this day and age, when too many people are laughing at someone else.
March 23, 1978
St. Urho’s Day passed quietly in Cokato. Several hundred Finns assembled with 19 floats for the invisible parade. Larry Pokornowski, grand marshal, rode in the lead vehicle, a purple Cadillacinen with green upholstery.
Grand prize winning float was sponsored by the Sucker Creek Car Pool. It was a huge grasshopper with six saddles. Near the front saddle was a large map of Minnesota with the route from Cokato to Minneapolis clearly marked by a row of grapes.
The energy-conscious members of the pool have a straight line trail to Wayzata and then follow the freeway. A sign carrying the number 167 indicated the number of hops from Sucker Creek to the pond at General Mills on Highway 12. This is a watering stop prior to a complicated rider distribution system in the metro area.
Cost for feed and saddle rental comes to 50 cents per day per rider, and according to a spokesman for the group, there is a long waiting list of prospective commuters.
Noticeably missing from the parade was the Playboy Bunny float usually entered by the Winsted Journal. The publisher made a trip to Cokato to personally apologize for being unable to participate this year. He then muttered something about rabbits being on strike and the high cost of salaries and insurance.
Apparently, events of the afternoon parade were not enough to satisfy some of the boisterous members of the younger set. About one-half dozen rode up and down Linden Avenue, past our home, on the roof of an automobile. This was about 10 p.m. They were chanting something, believed to be the Ode to St. Urho.
The next morning, a banner decorated our front lawn, staked in the snow. Hand-lettered in several colors on the 2-by-4-foot strip of paper was the first sentence of the ode, “Ooksie kooksie ccolama vee, Santis Urho is the poy for me!”
We wonder if this is the planned celebration for Cokato mentioned early last week in the St. Paul Pioneer Press?
March 22, 1979
The Friday St. Urho’s Day invisible parade came off at 12:03 p.m. without a hitch. Well, almost without a hitch. The only problem was a flat tire on one of the floats. This was remedied, however in a short time. The wheel was turned over so the flat side of the tire was at the top, and the problem disappeared.
Leading the parade was a float, carrying Grand Marshal “Butch” Amundsen. It was drawn by two giant grasshoppers and carried a grape press operated by two anonymous figures clad in purple jumpsuits with green boots. An attractive young lady in a plaid formal served products of the press to spectators.
Further along in the parade appeared the Winsted Journal float. It carried the publisher of that newspaper, along with several members of the staff. Central figure of the display was a printer turning out purple $100 bills that were tossed in the wind for all to gather. According to a report, over $100,000 was tossed from the float. Quite extravagant and spectacular!
We gathered up several of the pieces of currency and found they were redeemable only toward the purchase of stock for part ownership of the bear leg bone, discovering in northern Finland centuries ago bearing the story of St. Urho. It gave everyone a chance to have their own authentic personal piece of Finnish history.
The lake in Finland where all the grasshoppers drowned was depicted by a 5-foot-long creation covered completely with purple and green rhinestones. The sparkle of over 1 million jewels was blinding.
Through sidewalk negotiations, a spectator purchased the float and towing vehicle with the currency distributed by the Winsted Journal entry. The seller, a representative of the Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool, accepted the money with a smile, before learning that the purple medium of exchange was not negotiable.
The Association for the Advancement of Finnish Culture again built their float on a chunk of ice from the heart of Cokato Lake. It carried the usual sauna, recently remodeled and modernized, and a hole in the ice for cooling after the traditional bath. Immediately after the parade, it was returned to the lake, and replaced for opening day of fishing. This is done to prevent boating accidents later in the season.
Prizes for the most extravagant float went to the Winsted Journal, the most elegant to the rhinestone-studded creation of the Sucker Creek Car Pool, and the most practical to the Norseman grape juice machine.
A total of 37 entries covered the parade route. Among the most unique was the Hannus Plumbing and Heating entry. It was a huge map of Finland made entirely with plumbing fixtures. John Hannus, creator and fabricator of the float finally named it midway through the parade. He dubbed it “The Finnish Plumbers Dream,” and added that every Finnish plumber in the country dreams of a spring vacation in Finland, especially during St. Urho’s festivities.
Following the tour of the parade route, the float was dismantled and placed back in stock. “We’ll have a big demand for these particular fixtures,” he said, “because everyone wants a memento of the invisible parade as a part of their home or business.”
Another St. Urho’s Day has passed in Cokato, a record crowd viewed the parade, and planning for the event next year is already taking place. Friday afternoon, in an official communique, Pharmacist Tom Keaveny was named grand marshal for the 1980 invisible parade. The only stipulation was that he change his name for that day to Tomo Keavenan. This prescription should be easy to fill.
March 13, 1980
St. Urho’s Day is Sunday, and all is ready for the invisible parade through downtown Cokato. There are only two problems, or maybe we should say one problem and a “put-down.”
The problem as usual is with the Sucker Creek Car Pool float. It seems their unit was impounded in St. Paul for non-payment of vehicle license and will not be released until late Sunday night. But, we have good news. It has been entered in the Kingston parade Monday, so all the efforts of the group will not go to waste.
The “put-down” was by the lack of action on the part of the city council to issue a proclamation for the event. This was done last year, and everyone was again looking forward to the recognition. It is believed that the council was too wrapped up in sewage disposal or street improvement, and forgot all about it. Wait until we confront Rokala, Harmala, and Nikkola. May a grasshopper land in your grape juice.
On the positive side is a message from Henry and Dorothy Lehtola, who are basking in the sun in Florida. A postcard, colorfully decorated with bikini-clad shapely lasses, stated that they had told the Lantana Finns about the parade, and a large organization will be flying here. Of course, it will be in an invisible airplane.
Dorothy’s only concern was for a landing site. She was not sure if the ice on Cokato Lake was sufficient to hold an airliner filled with passengers, but added that if there was enough kalamojakka to eat, “everything would be fine.”
Earlier in this column, we mentioned festivities at Kingston Monday. The celebration has been postponed there from the regular Sunday date. This means that St. Urho activities will take place on St. Patrick’s Day.
Many were skeptical if this was legal. However, that point was cleared up last week, when St. Urho and his wife came to Cokato to confer with Wyman Nelson, attorney, about legal ramifications of this plan. After considerable research, Nelson came up with the answer from an old law book pertaining to grasshoppers and grapevines.
It stated that “If St. Urho’s Day falls on a Sunday or legal holiday, it should be moved to the same day as St. Patrick’s Day.”
The Finns set St. Urho’s a day ahead of the Irish St. Patrick’s Day, but we suppose, if you can’t beat ‘em tie ‘em. If you can’t be first, at least get half the honors.
March 20, 1980
A record crowd was on hand to view a record number of units passing in review at the annual St. Urho’s Day Invisible Parade. The popular event began again at high noon and continued for a longer duration than usual. The three-minute schedule was extended 42 seconds this year by a Burlington-Northern freight train passing through town. It crossed the parade route on Broadway Avenue and held up the units in the last minute part of the procession.
Loiis Eriicksonen, parade grand marshal, was in the lead vehicle. It was a Finnish model Chevrolet (Impaala) with a grapevine-green interior. Exterior color was a sparkling concord purple. Loiis’ sequin-covered gown sparkled as a few snowflakes descended, but her spirit was not dampened by the flurry.
Despite reports that the Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool float would be delayed, it was in the parade. A special dispensation by a government official, who wished not to have his name revealed, released the float from its place of impoundment in St. Paul for non-payment of license. The most impressive part of the unit was a shiny, new license plate.
The Association for the Advancement of Finnish Culture once again built their float around a block of ice from Cokato Lake. It carried the usual sauna with an adjacent cooling hole cut in the ice. This year, it was imperative that the block be replaced immediately in the lake. The airliner, returning visitors from Florida, was scheduled to take off at 12:12. According to Dorothy Lehtola, tour guide for the group who had made a special trip to the land of citrus groves to arrange the flight, it got off on schedule. All the passengers were pleased getting on the aircraft with a bowl of fish soup in hand.
A total of 57 entries made the parade route from the gathering point at Sucker Creek on South Broadway Avenue to Temperance Corner on North Broadway.
This year, not a single mechanical problem was encountered. Last year, a flat tire on a float created a small catastrophe, but through engineering refinement, this did not happen this time the unit had steel wheels.
There were so many elegant and unique floats in the parade Sunday, that there isn’t time to expound on all. However, we will say that this year’s sponsors apparently spent more time and money in their creations than ever before. It was an unforgettable event.
To climax a perfect day, a prominent local citizen provided refreshments to most people associated with the parade, and also to any Irishmen who happened to be in the area. The main course was corned beef sandwiches on bagels.
March 5, 1981
The annual St. Urho’s Day invisible parade date is rapidly approaching. The event is scheduled for March 16 this year and plans seem to be going smoothly.
Nominations are in for grand marshal, and Al Lorentz has been selected for the honor. He reluctantly accepted the responsibility. He was less concerned when told that he would be assisted by grand marshals from the past two years, Loiis Eriicksonen and “Butchanen” Amundsenen.
Lorentz will be known as Alreino during the event, and everyone is supposed to forget he resides in Howard Lake. He will be an honorary citizen of French Lake for the day.
Rollinen Floatenen states that float entries are arriving daily, despite the fact he didn’t tell anyone there was going to be an invisible parade. The Winsted Journal, winner of the “Best Float from Winsted Award” last year, will again have an entry for the fifth consecutive year. Editor Floyd Sneer promises to design another winner.
A few years ago, his entry was refused. The bunny girls riding aboard the passionate pink, velvet-covered unit was considered in bad taste. This year, it will be a “family” float, suitable for viewing by all.
Of course, we can’t forget the Great Sucker Creek Car Pool entry. This organization has had floats in every parade. Most have been quite unique. It is rumored that this group is importing a pickup-truck load of grapevines from Finland for the event. The driver is expected to complete the Atlantic crossing by Friday this week.
It is expected that again this year, the city council will issue a proclamation recognizing the importance of the event, and will also issue necessary parade permits without the usual yardage of government purple tape. The Finnish majority should rule. After all, we have Rokala, Harmala, Warneraurienen, and Bangala, beside having past grand marshal “Butchanen” Amundsenen presiding.
Rollinen stated that he is also expecting a float entry representing the city. Last year, Mayor Rosenquist had to build the float alone for the Swedish minority on the ruling body. He received contributions from as far away as New Jersey. The New Jersey Swede Club sent a fourth wheel for his tricycle carriage unit.
The countdown for the invisible parade starts Saturday at 10, dropping one each day, with the parade occurring on one rather than zero. There is no prestige to zero.
March 19, 1981
The annual St. Urho’s Day invisible parade went off almost without a hitch. The 31 floats, beating the number of 30 in the Maple Lake St. Patrick’s Day parade passed before a large crowd, standing in a pickup-truck box at the corner of Third Street and Broadway Avenue, in the allotted three minutes. It started promptly at high noon as is the custom and the final broom and dustpan brigade unit crossed the intersection at exactly 12:03 p.m.
This final unit in the parade was necessary this year, due to the energy shortage. Many floats were not powered by the usual number of high-powered Briggs & Stratton engines. In the interest of energy conservation, gray mares were pulled back into service. The dustpan brigade was kept busy and it wasn’t all dust.
There was also some talk of limiting the parade to man-powered wheelbarrows next year. This was suggested to save even more energy and also took into consideration a grievance by the Amalgamated Brotherhood and Labor Union of Finnish Dustpan Brigades. Hopefully, this will be resolved by next March 16.
The Association for the Advancement of Finnish Culture won first place in the sophisticated category.
Upon the float over 50 feet long was a huge bookshelf. On the shelves were 15,000 volumes pertaining to the evolution of the grasshopper and the resulting impact on Finnish Society. By the time the unit reached the end of the parade route, there were only three books remaining on the shelves. Knowledge-hungry spectators checked out all the volumes. It was a rare opportunity to acquire information on such an important topic.
The Winsted Journal, disgruntled because the float sponsored by that newspaper two years ago was disqualified from competition due to the scantily-clad Playboy Bunnies, played it safe this year. The weren’t awarded a prize, but disqualification was out of the question.
For their unit this year, they engaged the services of the Ladies Salvation Army Drum and Bugle Corps. The ladies were bedecked in granny dresses and shawls and rode on a Schwartz Mfg. flatbed trailer pulled by a 1928 John Deere tractor.
According to an article last week in the Winsted Journal, “We hope to win the trophy for the float best depicting the efforts of St. Urho who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland. When they hear those babes play, they’ll know they could drive anything out of anywhere.”
Using such a strong theme was more than the judges could digest, much less make a decision. The unit didn’t win, but it didn’t lose either.
Again this year, Wiljo Olavi walked the parade route. He is the author of the Finnish History and speech that will be, or has been used when the dedication to the statue of St. Urho takes place. From listening to the Finnish grapevine, this should be soon. Planning has been going on for years. But then nothing of monumental magnitude ever happens in a hurry.
The biggest disappointment this year was that Attorney Wyman Nelson was missing from the throng that gathered for the parade in the pickup. He arose early Monday, donned his bright purple and green necktie and went to the office. The pressing events of the morning made him forget everything else, including the parade. Well, next year, he will have to go twice to make up for it.
Last week, this writer was honored by receiving a lifetime membership card in the Royal Order of St. Urho. The organization is sponsored by the Finnish Club of Coleraine, MN, and boasts of no dues, no committees, no officers, no meetings, and no organization nothing but fun. The honor is overwhelming.
If anyone else wishes to be honored, the fee is 50 cents. Send two quarters or five dimes to Blarney, Drawer G, Cokato, MN 55321, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Honors come cheap. Deadline is March 27.
March 11, 1982
St. Urho’s Day is Tuesday, and, as usual, the invisible parade will take place on time, regardless of weather or other problems. It will be informal, and the rules will be the same as the past. Probably, it will be more informal than usual.
This is because the Polish shoe merchant, G. Toivo Yankianenen, who is grand marshal, refuses to wear a tuxedo. He stated early this week that as close to the purple tux as he can come is a blue pair of bib overalls. Besides that, he wants to wear his orange shirt. However, he consented to put on his green clod-hoppers and purple socks for the event.
Deadline for positioning floats and other entries is noon. For those who wish to bring floats to town earlier, they may park them on Lantha Avenue in the southeast part of town anytime between now and Tuesday noon. All invisible floats must be covered with invisible canvases and be parked as close to the curb as possible.
The concession of parking entries prior to parade time was made by a city official residing in that part of town, but not on that street. He then mumbled something about not wanting to affect property values on his street. This was puzzling.
Highlight of the parade this year will be a solar-powered unit sponsored by the Cokato Lake Sauna Club. From rumors we hear, the group purchased almost every mirror in this part of the country to build the power unit, and some for the sauna, too.
From what we can gather, the entire rear portion of the float is covered with mirrors and the front is painted a dull black. Reflection of the sun on the rear and absorption of light from the front should propel the unit. Fortunately, the parade route is from south to north, an important factor for this design.
In the exact center of the unit is a sauna with mirrored floor, tinted glass sides, and no roof. Apparently, the theory behind this is to tan from the bottom up and cook from the top down. A unique idea.
Expected lapse time for the invisible parade will be three minutes. From the second the first unit crosses the four-way stop intersection, float No. 51 should be at the same spot at 12:03. There is some concern if the solar unit will be able to make this deadline.
At the Monday night city council meeting, Administrator Martin Jokinen recommended that the council pass a resolution to close Broadway Avenue during the time of the parade and to request assistance from the sheriff for crowd control. The resolution was approved. For the three-minute period, the avenue will be closed from the southern suburb of Silver Lake to the northern suburb of French Lake.
March 18, 1982
The invisible St. Urho’s Day parade in Cokato came off without any problems . . . almost.
Parade grand marshal G. Toivo Yankianenen led the event, but because of the snow had to follow huge orange snowplows down the avenue. This was a blow to prestige, as usual the grand marshal is always number-one. Besides that, he had to cover his bright green clod-hoppers with four-buckle overshoes.
This is the first time in history that snowplows had to precede the parade. There had been rain and fog past years, but never the white stuff. However, it added to the contrast of the brightly-colored units. Purple and green go well with white.
The major problem was the solar float. At high noon, there was no sun, thus no power to move the huge unit down the street. Fortunately, the Knaus Sausage House entry pushed the non-sun-powered machine across the finish line.
The Knaus float was in the shape of a huge grasshopper, constructed entirely of purple summer sausage. Four wheels rolled on huge rings of baloney. It had almost unlimited power. Being energy conscious, the sausage firm produced a huge engine that operated on lutefisk juice left in barrels after the holidays. They had a PCA-approved emission system on the exhaust, not so much to prevent pollution, but to diminish the odor of vaporized lutefisk juice.
By the time this unit reached the finish line, there was nothing left but the engine, frame, and rims. Hungry spectators completely devoured the huge sausage grasshopper and even stripped the baloney tires and ran into the bakery for Finnish flat bread for sandwiches.
The Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool showed up with the fuselage of an old C-47 transport plane. The wings were neatly folded back to the tail to resemble a grasshopper, and chains had been applied to the propellers to get traction in the snow.
Barnstormer Divanen Loopala was at the controls, and skillfully completed the parade route with only one engine. The other engine had been stolen by the Cokato Lake Sauna Cub for the solar float, but to no avail, they forgot to steal a gasoline tank to fuel the unit.
Hannus Plumbing, a perennial entrant, had again developed an exquisite float made entirely of highly-polished chrome plumbing fixtures. Nearly six weeks had been spent getting a perfect gleam on every piece. Then came the Monday 10 p.m. weather report . . . snow and rain for Tuesday. Hannus immediately hooked up his float to the company truck and headed for Cokato.
He made the parade route at midnight Monday and never showed up Tuesday. When queried, he said that after all that polishing, he was not about to have it water-spotted by snow or rain, and has it back in the climate-controlled, dust-free garage.
New to the parade this year was the “Hopper Stomper” 120-piece band. Wiljo Olava received the message from an oak tree in the woods and forwarded it that the band was coming. Each member was attired in a purple jumpsuit with a green grasshopper hat. Boots were of leather, turned up to points at the toes.
Their selection as they marched down Broadway was “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
The Norseman Restaurant float, a purple Viking ship, was modified just before entering the parade route. Rather than rolling in on wheels, it glided smoothly on 24 cross-country skis that were hastily installed. The engine planned to drive the unit was never started. Instead, the huge square sail was hoisted and filled with the breaths of spectators. It completed the three-minute run in record time.
There were so many impressive floats in the parade, that we can’t begin to describe any more. However, we will say that the Winsted entry was unique. It turned out to be absolutely nothing.
Philip Johnson, local machinist, furnished the gift for the grand marshal, a can of St. Urho’s Polish Pop from Menahga. This was a fitting reward for the Polish show merchant who gave so freely of his time and effort for a Finnish tribute.
Below is a photo of the snowplow as it moved down Broadway Avenue ahead of the parade. Also below is an artist’s concept from the Lake County News Chronicle newspaper in Two Harbors. The Cokato event was well publicized along the shore of the Big Lake on the fringe of the main habitat of the jackpine savages.
We must commend the artist. Although the buildings and streets do not resemble those in Cokato, the concept of the invisible parade is perfect.
March 10, 1983
Next Wednesday is St. Urho’s Day, and as sure as the sun clears the horizon, the invisible parade will take place regardless of weather, snow, sleet, rain, or more than likely sunshine. Again, rules governing the event will be informal. Each year, the rules have become more so, and there is no reason to change now.
This year, the grand marshal, Steino Haagla, is going to wear a purple suit and green boots, and this will be an improvement. Last year, Polish shoe merchant G. Toivo Yankianenen refused to wear a suit and came instead in a pair of bib overalls. He did don purple socks and green clod-hoppers and this added a little.
Twelve noon the customary time the past nine years is again when all floats and other entries must be in position. Entries arriving the previous night, if not exceeding 50 feet in length, may be parked until invisible parade time at the Carl Rokala residence on Prairie Avenue.
Last year, Councilman Rokala suggested the floats be parked on Lantha Avenue, a block further west, but complaints from residents there have made this change necessary. The previous arrangement apparently caused traffic problems, and there was also some talk regarding property values. Again this year, invisible floats must be covered with invisible canvas to make them less noticeable on the residential street.
The Cokato Lake Sauna Club had a solar-powered float last year, but this year are going back to the basics . . . a wood-powered unit. Rumors are that a wood-fired boiler will be mounted near the rear, with a huge duct the length of the unit carrying steam to a discarded jet turbine from FinnAir.
Besides furnishing steam to power the front-wheel drive, there will be seating inside the duct to accommodate a dozen persons for sauna. This will enable those who normally take a sauna Saturday evening to gain four days on their schedule.
The Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool once more is using the airplane theme. A spokesperson for the group stated earlier this year they were planning to get a 747 airliner for conversion to a giant grasshopper. Now we understand they were only partially successful. From what we gather, they will use only half of a 747 and title the entry 373 1/2. It’s better than nothing.
Expected lapsed time for the invisible parade this year will be three minutes and four seconds. This is four seconds longer than usual, but the extra time will be needed for the smoke to clear from the Cokato Lake Sauna Club boiler.
Starting time will be high noon at Fourth Street and Broadway Avenue, with the final entry crossing the finish stripe at the Burlington-Northern Railroad tracks at 12:03.4. This will be entry number 52, sponsored by the Menahga Maulers, professional football team of the new NBLFA (National Bush League Football Association).
Although it was not included on the published agenda of the Monday night city council meeting, it is expected Administrator Martin Yokinen and Councilman Carl Rokala will recommend a resolution to close Broadway Avenue for the parade and arrange traffic and crowd control with the sheriff.
With the crowd expected, the thoroughfare should be cleared from the northern suburbs of Silver Lake to the southern fringes of French Lake. Hopefully the crowd will not extend beyond those boundaries.
For those who are not familiar with the purpose of the parade, it is to honor St. Urho, the patron saint of Finland who was discovered by a professor a Bemidji State University 27 years ago, and is as invisible as the parade. St. Urho is the champion of vineyard owners in Finland and archenemy of grasshoppers the world over.
March 13, 1985
The St. Urho’s Day invisible parade Friday at high noon came off without a hitch. A crowd was on hand, in 17-degree weather with a brisk northwest wind, to witness the 11th annual event. One was heard to comment that he was glad the parade lasted only two minutes, because he was freezing his grasshoppers off.
At exactly 12 o’clock, the Finnish Chevrolet Impaala crossed the intersection of Broadway and Fourth. The grape leaf-green three-door sport model was decked with purple ribbons and had emerald-studded hubcaps. These were custom-made by Parade Marshal Weino Brandala, with the gems set right here in Cokato during the early morning of the parade.
Security at the event was tight. The Wright County Sheriff’s Department was on hand to protect the grand marshal, and also to keep an eye on the hubcaps. “Impaala” hubcaps are a popular souvenir with many of the younger set. They use them in their bedrooms as “snooze catchers,” as we are told.
Brandala was wearing the customary deep purple tuxedo with grass stains on the knees. His green leather boots and hat complimented the outfit and kept with the color scheme of the day. Besides that, he said he was scheduled for a St. Patrick’s Day parade Saturday, so that way he would not have to change that part of his attire.
The Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool finally changed their float. For the past several years it had been made from parts of airliners, with the climax last year when they had a 373 1/2 jet half of a 747.
This year, a huge bowl of Gulla Moykka (fish soup) was balanced atop a tiny one-wheel trailer. A roaring gas burner kept the soup hot. In the bowl were several people, hot tub fashion, with spoons in their hands.
According to the designer, Outo Luncheonanen, the idea is to take a sauna and eat at the same time. This, he claims, is a great timesaver and allows participants to get more done Saturday nights.
Barnstormer and renowned stunt pilot Divanen Loopala did not make the event this year. According to reports, he started from Sebeka Monday morning, and Friday afternoon he was in Kingston, trying to find his way out of town. Freeways are confusing.
Hannus Plumbing and Heating did it again with another outstanding entry, and it was tough to top the toilet bowl race float of last year, complete with contests Silver Lake-style. He had the entire D-C marching band doing parade competition drills while playing “When St. Urho Comes Marching In.” This was accomplished on seven decks stacked vertically on the back of his pickup truck. This must have taken months of planning and practice.
COFFEE came up with their second entry. This group of six, Cokato Organization For Full Entree Enhancement, had set up a complete restaurant on a large flatbed truck. As it rolled along the parade route, hot grasshopper barbecues were handed to spectators. This was enhanced with cups of Cokato coffee hotter than blazes, blacker than soot, and stronger than Atlas. It was delicious, but it’s best if a person sits down to drink it. Come to think of it, when has anyone seen a coffee drinker standing anyhow?
This year, Sebeka-Menagha-New York Mills (the Finnish triangle) sent a brass band. It consisted of three guitars, two fiddles, a drum, and a zither. They played “Life In the Finnish Woods,” which was as close to a grapevine song as they could get, according to the leader, Beka Bunninen.
Noticeably missing was the Brooten Oil Strike float. Apparently, it went the way of all the oil pumped from the well there.
We could go on and on, describing floats, but the few we have described should give readers who were not on the parade route an idea of the magnificence of the event.
March 13, 1985
Since 1974, Cokato has had something no other community in the world has . . . an invisible parade. It all started that year when the Cokato Enterprise gave away St. Urho buttons from the Kabetogma Community Club to the first 50 people coming to the office March 16.
Somewhere in the course of events that morning, rumors started that there would be a St. Urho’s Day parade and the first invisible parade took place that afternoon. It reportedly was watched by the same number of people that witnessed St. Urho chasing the grasshoppers out of the vineyards in Finland.
In 1975, on a Sunday morning at 6, the invisible parade, the longest one in Cokato history, was dimmed by heavy fog which created visibility problems for float drivers and spectators alike. As a result, descriptions of the parade were sketchy.
The parade of 1976 was overshadowed by the discovery of a thigh bone of a giant bear with the Legend of St. Urho scratched into the surface. It was found in an immigrant trunk that had been long-ignored by relatives. The bear lived in Finland prior to the last Ice Age, and the bone is purported to be over 10,000 years old. This column carried a photo of the discovery on display at the Kettle River Coop Store.
Only one float pre-registered for the 1977 parade, but Curtis Sanobrnala, parade chairman, managed to have 18 in the event March 16 at 5:59 a.m. It turned out as grand as it was invisible. Outstanding units were the Sucker Creek Car Pool entry, and the Finnebago float.
That afternoon at 2, there was a real parade composed of 10 1/2 Finns, one person of undetermined ethnic origin, and a Norskie. The group marched up the alley adjacent to the Enterprise office, following a man carrying a steaming kettle. In the kettle was Gulla Moyhka (fish soup), which was served on the front steps.
The leader of the parade proclaimed the writer of Barney’s Blarney an honorary parade chairman. He said that I qualified because I had taken a sauna in Iowa three years earlier.
More evidence of St. Urho was unearthed in 1978 in time for the parade. A giant grasshopper and a few grape leaves were found beneath the frozen tundra in northern Finland. A photo of the items accompanied the announcement.
Grand marshal Larry Pokornowska headed the parade of 19 floats. The Sucker Creek Car Pool entry came in first. Noticeably missing was the Playboy Bunny float sponsored by the Winsted Journal. It had been scratched from the lineup at the last minute by the Cokato mayor.
Apparently feeling remorse the following year, 1979 was the first year the mayor and city council issued a proclamation making St. Urho’s Day official in this community. Maybe it was not remorse, but rather makeup of the council . . . Harmala, Nikkola, Rokala, and Ackermanen, and the fact that the day was now recognized in seven states. Parade time was changed to noon for the benefit of spectators.
“Butch” Amundsenen, grand marshal, rode the first city-sponsored float leading 37 units. Outstanding floats were from the Winsted Journal, the Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool (note impressive name change), the Norseman Restaurant, and Hannus Plumbing. After the parade, Tom Keaveny was named grand marshal for 1980 and dubbed with the monicker, Tomo Keavenan. He accepted the honor reluctantly, saying he was too busy. With the usual efficiency, a parade chairman was named, Rolliln Floatanen, and a marching unit chairman, Walkii Hikenan, to relieve responsibility of the grand marshal.
A few days before the 1980 event, he resigned the position and Loiis Eriicksonen graciously accepted the job. She was the first lady to be grand marshal and led the 52-unit parade in grand style, before a record crowd. Parade time was longer than usual, three minutes and 42 seconds, because a Burlington-Northern train roared through town, blocking the parade route.
Patrolman Nikkola and Deputy Sheriff Leukuma directed traffic and had charge of crowd control, which included a man from New Zealand. The parade route extended from Sucker Creek on the south to Temperance Corner on the north.
When the 1981 event rolled around, a Howard Lake resident had been chosen as grand marshal, Al Lorentz. He had to comply with two things to be eligible for the position: accept the name of Alreino for a day . . . and forget he lived in Howard Lake. He agreed, and led 57 floats in the grand parade.
As is customary, the parade lasted exactly three minutes, with a new entry by the Amalgamated Brotherhood and Labor Union of Finnish Dustpan Brigades, especially impressive. This group sponsored a float because there were a few horse-drawn models the year before. Association of Advancement of Finnish Culture (AAFC) had the winning float and was awarded a guided tour of Kingston.
Barney of Blarney was presented a life membership in the Royal Order of St. Urho of Coleraine. The organization has no dues, no committees, no officers, no meetings . . . only lots of fun.
Polish shoe merchant G. Toivo Yankianenen had the honor of leading the parade in 1982. The most unique float was the Cokato Lake Sauna Club solar-powered unit. The day was cloudy and the unit would not run, so it was pushed over the parade route by the Knaus Sausage House lutefisk-powered machine.
This was the first year the invisible parade was preceded by a snowplow. It was followed by the Greater Sucker Creek Car Pool float, with barnstormer Divanen Loopala at the controls as usual. Music for the event was furnished by the Hopper Stomper band under the direction of Wiljo Olava.
The Norseman Restaurant float won first prize and was also first across the finish line, although it started in the center of the parade. It was sail-powered, and a gust of breath from spectators sent it at a dizzy pace around or over anything in its path.
In 1983, float length was limited to 50 feet, with grand marshal Steino Haagala in the lead. The Cokato Lake Sauna Club gave up on its solar float and entered one powered by stove wood. The unit worked well, but smoke from the fire created a few problems along the route.
Parade duration was three minutes and four seconds, despite the extended length of the route from the northern suburbs of Silver Lake to the southern suburbs of French Lake. In 1982, the parade continued to the northern suburbs on French Lake, but was shortened due to congestion at French Lake Corner.
New entry this year, number 52, was sponsored by the National Bush League Football Association (NBLFA), along with number 51, also a newcomer . . . Cokato Organization For Full Entree Enhancement (COFFEE).
Music for this 10th annual event was provided by the Sebeka String Quartet, featuring a saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and bassoon.
The most unique entry was the Brooten Oil Strike float, a roller-skate carrying a quart oil can holding all the oil that was pumped from the well in that community. The Menahga Maulers football team closed the event at the finish line at 12:03 p.m.
Jeweler and diamond-setter Weino Brandala accepted the grand marshal honor for the quiet 1984 parade. The route had been shortened from Wessman Oil on Broadway to the Bulington-Northern Railroad tracks.
The two most exciting features of the event was that the grand marshal’s twin brother, Reino Brandala, was among the spectators . . . and the Sucker Creek Car Pool had a new float designer, Outo Luncheonanen. And for the first time in history, Divanen Loopala was not at the controls. According to reliable reports, he became lost flying from Kingston to Cokato.
New entry this year was from the Floodwood Finaglers, which took the place of the Brooten Oil Strike float, which was noticeably missing . . . as was its promoter.
Rollinanen Floatinen did an excellent job acquiring entries and lining up the parade. He had spent six months organizing everything.
How did all this invisible parade nonsense start over 10 years ago?
It seems a Bemidji State University professor discovered (fabricated) the Legend of St. Urho 29 years ago and about his successful efforts chasing the grasshoppers out of vineyards in Finland. As the years progressed, the story grew, changed to fit the situation, or whatever . . . and Cokato’s contribution to the international event March 16 is the invisible parade.
The 12th annual invisible parade is shaping up for Cokato Saturday, March 16. Only one float entry has been received to date from the Irish Benevolent Society of Howard Lake. Apparently they want to take a test run before going to Maple Lake for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. We’re glad to have ‘em.
There has not been a single volunteer for grand marshal this year. Usually someone volunteers . . . or is volunteered. Oh well, somebody will surely come forward for somebody else. We’re open for suggestions.