A totally ‘80s Winter Carnival

The Winter Carnival committee meets in the Saranac Lake Elk’s Lodge on Tuesday, where they selected “Totally ‘80s” as the theme for the 2022 Winter Carnival. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Put on your parachute pants, do your hair up big, and get ready to listen to some Madonna. Saranac Lake is about to step back in time, because the theme for the 2022 Winter Carnival is “Totally ’80s.”

The Winter Carnival committee voted for the theme at its first meeting of the year on Tuesday. 2022 will mark the 125th year of Winter Carnival.

Winter Carnival Committee Chair Jeff Branch said the 80s theme has been pitched annually for around a decade.

“The ’80s theme has come up year after year and it always gets voted down. Maybe this is the year to bring it,” Beryl Szewd said before the vote.

The votes

There were 24 people in the Elk’s Lodge for the committee’s meeting on Tuesday and 16 of them voted for Totally 80s.

The committee voted based on the top three theme suggestions from a Facebook poll — Totally ’80s, Wizards and Dragons and Lumber Jacks and Jills.

Wizards and Dragons was a close second, but Milt Adams, the man who’s been pitching the theme for around 15 years now, said he wanted to hold off for a year where the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t threatening to mar a full Carnival.

Because of this, some people changed their votes, too.

Others worried that Lumber Jacks and Jills was too much of a Tupper Lake thing. Branch pointed out it would resonate with Paul Smith’s College students and alumni. Ultimately, it was the least voted for of the top three and was eliminated.

Instead, the committee chose to celebrate Carnival in the decade of disco, leg warmers and the last Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

There were pros and cons to each possible theme.

“I don’t know anything great that came out of the 80s,” Branch said.

He said the 80s make him think of recession, war and bad hair.

“And just for the record, the really great 80s music was actually from the 70s,” he added.

Fiesta controversy

The theme “fiesta” was in the top five again this year, kicking up a controversy which started in 2017 when it was selected to be the 2018 theme. After criticism that the theme would be insensitive, the theme was changed to “Adirondack Festival” that year.

The revival of the theme suggestion in an online poll this year frustrated some, who felt the theme should not be considered because it could lead to racist costumes, floats and actions. This response has also frustrated committee members and leaders, who feel the theme is harmless and that opposition is overblown.

“I don’t think we should ever allow again, a handful of people to dictate to us,” Branch said. “It wasn’t us who was being divisive, it was those people who were being divisive.”

The trouble, some committee members theorized, is that any theme that seems innocuous at first could be offensive if looked at the right way. Branch said someone told him Lumber Jacks and Jills was not inclusive enough to gender-nonconforming people.

But the pushback to fiesta was so strong, it has soured the idea, even among its supporters.

Committee member D.J. Fowler said she did not understand the opposition but also did not want a “divisive theme.”

“I don’t want to go through that again,” Fowler said. “I had a pit in my stomach for quite a while. I was really upset. I just don’t want to go there.”

She said since last year’s Carnival during COVID-19 was a “bust,” this year’s should be fun and bring people together.

At the Saranac Lake village board meeting on Monday, Trustee Melinda Little asked if the board should suggest the fiesta theme be “taken off the table,” but never put the topic to a vote.

Little said the theme has a “high potential” for racism or cultural appropriation, and because of Saranac Lake’s mostly white population, was concerned about harmful stereotypes.

She said this summer she’s seen more people of color walking around town and did not want the village to “backtrack” on all the progress it has made.

New Carnival event

Diane Miller, who owns Perscription Sewing in Saranac Lake, successfully pitched a new Winter Carnival event at the meeting — a contest for creating ice suncatchers. These translucent circles of frozen water catch sun rays and glow in the light.

Miller said they are easy to make — they can be made with a cake pan and cold weather — and can be decorated in numerous ways.

She suggested having a contest with three divisions — professional artists, amateurs and youths. She said attendees could vote on winners and all the creations could be put on display — outside, of course.

Other Carnival news

Barb Martin said she is leaving the committee to be the curator of the Winter Carnival Mobile Museum, a new addition to Carnival this year.

Her vacancy was quickly filled by Katrina Dearden, a camp director at Eagle Island Camp. Other committee members were excited to see a younger person join their group.

The rest of the committee members remained the same.

In his first action as the newly re-elected committee chair, Branch tendered his resignation — but he’s got three Carnivals to finish first. He said he’ll retire at the end of the 2024 Carnival.

He wanted to give people time to prepare to step up and take the reins. He said he hopes to elect a vice chair next year who can shadow him for a year before he leaves.

“It doesn’t have to be a man, either,” committee member Dean Baker said.

Cherie Racette said she and her husband Steve are stepping down as the organizers of the Winter Carnival characters, the kids who dress up in costumes in the parade and at the Ice Palace.

Branch said Carnival needs a new influx of volunteers.

“We have a lot of holes to fill,” he said.

He said people interested in joining in on the organizing can attend the next Winter Carnival meeting on Sept. 28.

Branch asked Dean Baker, director of the Ice Palace Workers 101 volunteers, for an Ice Palace report.

Baker stood up and said, “There will be an Ice Palace,” to thunderous applause.

Cory Hoffman asked how the ice is looking.

“It’s looking pretty thin right now,” Baker said.

(Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Beryl Szewd’s name. The Enterprise regrets the error.)


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