Kenny Svenson of Traprock Valley as Heikki Lunta, Heikinpäivä Festival, Hancock, MI, ca. 2001 (www.csumc.wisc.edu)
If people aren’t from the U.P., they've probably never heard of Heikki Lunta. In fact, if you're not from certain counties in the northeastern U.P., you still might never have heard of Heikki Lunta. As it turns out, the U.P. is the only place in the country where a number of counties have a concentration of people of Finnish ancestry. Houghton County, with 47% Finnish-Americans, is one of those places. And that's where the modern legend of Heikki Lunta, the Finnish Snow God, was born.
There's a little town called Atlantic Mine about five miles away from Houghton where they hold an annual snowmobile race every winter. In 1970 the race was at risk of being cancelled because there wasn’t any snow. The race was sponsored by radio station WMPL in nearby Hancock. With no snow in sight, one of the station’s salesmen, David Riutta, composed a song called the "Heikki Lunta Snowdance Song." It took him about twenty minutes to invent the lyrics. "Heikki Lunta," it turns out, means “Henry Snow” in Finnish, and Riutta chose the name because his favorite musician was country western singer Hank Snow. Heikki Lunta was said to live in the back woods of a Finnish farming community south of Houghton, and he reportedly had the ability to do a dance which would cause snow to fall from the skies. Riutta’s song asked "Heikki Lunta" to do his dance to make it snow in time for the snowmobile race. They started playing the song on WMLP, it immediately became a local hit, and, lo and behold, it soon began snowing. According to local lore, it snowed and snowed for days. So much so that they had to cancel the snowmobile race.
Carl Pellonpaa, Finnish-language TV host, as Hankooki Heikki (2004)
Quite a few townspeople believed that Heikki’s snow dance song had caused the excessive snowfall, and there was a lot of public outcry. Riutta was chagrined when a huge lumberjack, infuriated by the amount of snow, threatened to “clean Heikki’s clock.” In an interview one of Riutta’s radio station co-workers said, “It was getting dangerous for Heikki and Dave…people started throwing rocks at them…well, not really rocks, but snowballs filled with rocks.” In response to the uproar, Riutta recorded a new song, "Heikki Lunta Go Away," and it became the flip side of the record. The song apologized for the big mess, and Heikki promised to quit dancing unless he was called upon again. Here’s the first half of the original Heikki Lunta Snowdance Song (1970):
Now I’ll sing my song
To make the snow come down
And I’ll do my snow dance
Whoops! I almost lost my pants
I’ll holler and yell,
And really give it---
It’s Heikki’s snow dance song, Heikki’s snow dance song
We gotta have some snow by the 4th of December
“Heikki Lunta, make it snow!” say all the Range Club members
The races are only three weeks away
And if I don’t make it snow, I’ll go back to making hay
It’s Heikki Lunta’s snow dance song,
Heikki Lunta’s snow dance song.
Snow, snow, snow!
Melvin Kangas, Finlandia U. Prof., as Hankooki Heikki (2010)
Heikki Lunta’s fame spread, and the snow dance song was circulated to radio stations around the country. Heikki Lunta’s story was aired on “The Today Show” and The Tonight Show,” and David Riutta was invited to events as far away as California to sing his magical song. Heikki became the focus of many festivals and events throughout the Upper Peninsula, especially in Finnish-American communities, and he’s still around as an important local presence. We’re going to keep an eye out for him on our next trip to the U.P.
“Not Just Talking About the Weather: Tradition, Social Change and Heikki Lunta”, Hilary Virtanen, www.csumc.wisc.edu/exhibit/HeikkiLunta/index.htm
“Heikki Lunta – A Modern Copper Country Folk Hero,” Jim Kurtti, www.pasty.com/heikki/heikkilunta.html
“Heikki Lunta”, www.wikipedia.org
Photos: Google Images