The Forgotten History of Minnehaha Falls

Dive into the world of carnival barkers and liquor bottles with Karen E. Cooper’s new history book

By Ira Brooker

Maybe it’s something about the beautiful incongruity of a full-scale waterfall tucked into a fundamentally urban setting, but there’s something about Minnehaha Falls that inspires rebellion. When’s the last time you saw anyone give a second thought to the various safety barricades surrounding the approach to the falls?

When Minnehaha Flowed with Whiskey: A Spirited History of the Falls, a new book by Minneapolis author and photo historian Karen E. Cooper, digs into the considerably more unruly history of our favorite local cataract. Long before Minnehaha Falls was the domain of influencers in search of waterfall selfies, it was a favorite hangout for thrill seekers indulging in the seedy side of Minneapolis nightlife.

Nowadays it may be hard to imagine Minnehaha Falls as anything but a public space, but Cooper’s book focuses on the period in the late 1800s when private owners cashed in on the majestic surroundings with hotels, bars, and sundry entertainments that made the site a go-to for drunken shenanigans and illegal activities that kept the neighboring communities constantly on edge. Cooper’s thousand-strong library of historical photographs brings to life a wild—and largely forgotten—chapter of local history when the so-called “Minnehaha Midway” rang with the shouts of carnival barkers and the clatter of liquor bottles.

As a local historian who leads walking tours of the falls for the Hennepin History Museum, Cooper is deeply qualified to guide readers through this boisterous passage in the life of one of the Twin Cities’ most cherished gathering spots. She’ll read passages from When Minnehaha Flowed with Whiskey at a September 8 launch party at Icehouse. In keeping with the spirit of the wild days of the falls, specialty cocktails inspired by the book will be available.


When Minnehaha Flowed with Whiskey: A Spirited History of the Falls Launch Party

Icehouse, Thursday, September 8, 6:30 PM, FREE

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