Perhaps you read the Legend and now you understand what we do? Or perhaps you haven't and you simply started with the question of "Where did the Vulcans come from?" We would like to take a moment now to talk about the true story of our founding and the last 100 plus years that make up the history of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival's famous Vulcan Krewe.
First there were two kings
The Winter Carnival was traditionally a Winter Sports festival ruled over by a Winter King. According to our founder, Bill Sampson, "thjings started way back with Louie Hill in 1885 and stopped after the Kaiser War". While we may joke and quip about Boreas's strength as a king, in reality Vulcanus only exists because of the want of an ending.However after many days during the first carnival, the organizers struggled to find a way to bring it to a conclusion. It was decided that there would be a Summer King - a strong figure to drive out winter and usher back the warmth. Fire King Coal had been born and the two Kings faced off for the next 4 years. After that things were scaled back and whiel various carnivals came and went during Winter, there wasn't another pair of Kings until 1916 and 1917. It was during this time that Fire King Coal took on a new name - one to endure through the many years - Vulcanus Rex. The "human embodiment of the fire god". However that round was also short lived as the first World War, the social turbulence and affects of the Great Depression weighed in. It wasn't until 1936 when Luke Crawford, Carl Gray (head of the railroad) and Eldridge of Hilex Company decided to reactivate the carnival with the help of the Junior Chamber.
"In 1935, we had what was called 'Winter Sports Week' with some skiing and a little monkey business. It sparked this thing." said Bill Sampson on recollecting those events for an interview in 1972. "So in 1936 this committee got together that I'm telling you about, and I was on the committee with Crawford, Gray, Eldridge, a major from Fort Snelling and about ten of us. We met for about two weeks at noon at the Athletic Club and we planned a parade. We had a guy who was doing promotions for the St. Paul Civic Opera who sat in on the meetings and he'd feed the stuff to the newspapers." Arrangements were made for national syndication on NBC and there were over 2,500 people in the parade plus floats, balloons, and all the color and chaos you would expect such a big event to be.
The first vulcan krewe
The first Vulcan krewe was the brainchild of the 1940 fire king, Ernie Reiff. Up until 1940, every year the fire king was a last minute orchestration and according to Bill Sampson, somebody said "So the next year somebody said, "this Vulcan operation ought to have some kind of a serious system to it. It ought to be more than an after thought at the last minute. Something has to be put together. So Bernie Reiff, who was the president of St. Paul Casualty Company, devised the uniforms to look like devils, the knighting ceremony, the black smooching, the fire engines to run around in. So under Bernie Reiff, the Fire King and his krewe was established and the ceremonies that we now follow today, the fire engines, the knightings, and that good stuff."
That's right - the Vulcan krewe was born and largely remains the same as it was 80 years ago. In that year there were 6 vulcans who ran with the fire king - a tradition that would hold until 1970 when the Prince of Soot was added to the roles.
The founding of fire and brimstone
The idea of Fire and Brimstone was floated around 1950 when former members were looking for a way to mobilize the members and give them a sense of identity. At first it was a social group that would have some fun, throw a few events during the winter (and later the summer) and help with the carnival. Over the next 10 years they kept adding to the program and eventually came out from obscurity as an official organization. (Although it wasn't until 1984 that the organization would register as a non-profit with the State of Minnesota.) It was during these formative years that the uniform, the traditions - in fact the very groundwork was laid for what is today's modern organization. In the early years, each member contributed individually to help drive events, procure uniforms, hand outs, and today the tradition continues as much of the success Fire and Brimstone sees is on the merits of individual contributions from its members.