Rural Missouri Magazine

Winter River Festival
Louisiana, Mo.

by Bob McEowen

There’s all sorts of ways to escape the cabin fever that comes with short winter days and long cold nights, but few are as unusual as the activities sponsored by the Mississippi River town of Louisiana.

The Seventh Annual Louisiana Winter River Festival, scheduled for Jan. 30, kicks off with a “Snowflakes and Sneakers” 5K run and continues with an icy plunge into the Mississippi River. Dozens of intrepid residents don silly and outrageous costumes and dash into the normally frozen water to raise money for Missouri Special Olympics.

The most unusual portion of the festival, though, has to be the community’s House of Fire and Ice (shown on our cover). Volunteers construct a fortress of ice blocks near the downtown riverfront. The blocks, many weighing as much as 200 pounds, bear the names of local sponsors and surround a pile of scrap waste from an area sawmill. As the sun sets, the lumber is ignited, producing a spectacular bonfire. A crowd of several hundred onlookers gazes at the melting structure as flames leap 15 to 20 feet into the night sky and blocks of ice collapse into the fire, producing a shower of sparks. Sponsored by the Louisiana Economic Development Committee, the show continues for several hours until the ice and flames are reduced to a pile of wet and dying embers.

The polar plunge — one of 14 around Missouri in January and February — is open to anyone 14 years of age or older who donates or raises at least $50 for Missouri Special Olympics. To register, log onto and click on the Polar Plunge link.

Louisiana is located south of Hannibal on Highway 79. For more information about the Winter River Festival, contact the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce at 573-754-5921, or call Murrel Warner at 573-754-6244.


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