Though not as prolific as Ancient Greece or Rome, the Upper Peninsula does boast its own mythology. Maybe we don’t have a slew of gods and goddesses, but we do have Heikki Lunta, the Finnish snow god.
The name is now often associated with an annual winter festival in Negaunee, but it’s creation is linked to an annual snowmobile race held in Atlantic Mine. In 1970, the U.P. was having one of those winters where it doesn’t snow as much as we might like, which was threatening the success of the race. To increase support, radio salesman David Riutta wrote the “Heikki Lunta Snow Dance Song.” This song created the fictional Heikki Lunta as a creature that lived in the backwoods of Tapiola, twenty miles south of Houghton, and would perform a dance to make it snow. The song went on U.P. airwaves and was a success, and incidentally it did snow that year, causing the snowmobile race to be postponed on account of too much snow.
The song gained popularity enough to be mentioned on “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show,” and the radio salesman was even invited to sing the song for winter events in California.
As anyone who has been through an Upper Peninsula winter knows, the snow can become relentless, and by the end of that winter, Riutta wrote “Heikki Lunta Go Away,” which is now often paired with the initial song.
The name Heikki Lunta comes from the Finnish translation of the name Hank Snow, like the popular country and western singer.
Today, Heikki Lunta is more than just a song. It’s considered the Upper Peninsula’s snow spirit and has become the subject of various U.P. pop culture references to talk about this aspect of U.P. culture. The band Da Yoopers even created their own version of the Heikki Lunta song that also references the Heikki Lunta dance.
As winter comes and people consider the possibility of massive snowfalls, some are singing the “Heikki Lunta Snow Dance Song” and others sing the second, wishing it to go away.
Heikki Lunta Snow Dance Song by David Riutta
Heikki Lunta Go Away by David Riutta
Heikki Lunta by Da Yoopers
Guess Who’s Coming? by Conga Se Menne
Heikki Lunta: A Modern Copper Country Folk Hero by Jim Kurtti
The Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
This post was contributed by Lucy Hough, a freelance writer from Marquette. She’s also a master’s student at NMU. You can also follow her on Twitter at @yes_lucy.