Big Smokey Bear
International Falls, Minnesota
In the middle of the summer, it's hard to appreciate how cold it can get in International Falls, the coldest spot in 48 states. The self-proclaimed "Icebox of the Nation" lies on America's northern border, across from the chemically insensitive Canadian burg of Fort Francis. Canada has thoughtfully set up factories along this section of the Rainy River, spewing nonstop bad odors. Paper mills on the US side are no better. No wonder they like it cold here. The air is heavy during our July visit, as we searched for Smokey Bear and the World Largest Thermometer.
International Falls erected a 22-foot high thermometer "as a tribute to the local climate." The current World's Largest Thermometer is actually in Baker, California, a hot spot in the Mojave Desert. The International Falls Chamber of Commerce no longer makes the claim, though occasionally the mayor forgets and cheerfully refers in speeches to his as the biggest. At any size, the thermometer kept International Falls on the map, a weather PR darling referenced in countless national TV weather reports.
In January, the town conducts its Ice Box Days festival, featuring such events as the "Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run," and the "Frostbite Falls Frozen Foot Broomball Tournament," and frozen turkey bowling.
The Smokey Bear statue was built in 1954, is 26 feet tall, holds a shovel, and protects two adorable cartoon bear cubs. So why Smokey the Bear in International Falls? Well, this is a heavily forested logging area, attested to by the giant piles of sawdust outside of town. There are many beautiful fishing and sporting resorts even further out, and a stray match in the dry season could end it all. Good-bye Cold Spot. Canada would have quite the show.
Update: International Falls officially trademarked their claim as "Icebox of the Nation" in 2008, after a frosty tussle with Fraser, Colorado. Fraser had swooped in and grabbed the title after International Falls let theirs lapse. I.F. could trace their use of the name back to 1948, and won a judgment from the US Trademark office.
Unfortunately the big thermometer, which leant substance to the claim, is gone. It stopped working in 2002 and was dismantled.