By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
In the immediate wake of the 2005 incident, the Vulcans' board of directors decided that the best way to improve the Vulcans' image was to increase their community work. Starting in 2006, the Fire and Brimstone organization gave each incoming Krewe a $500 stipend to put toward a cause of their choice and decreed that each Krewe stay involved with their charity for five years thereafter.
Charity work is the preferred topic of conversation for any Vulcan. No matter how nonjudgmental your tone, any questions delving into shenanigans—even legal, ostensibly harmless ones—are met with evasiveness and a deft change of subject rarely found outside PR flaks.
"What it's really more about is being active in the community, making a positive effect through volunteerism," says John Maslowski, an oval-faced Ramsey County deputy sheriff who made his debut as a Vulcan in 2001 as General Flameous.
Hundreds of Vulcans have gathered inside the Summit Brewery on a late morning for brunch and brews. They'll be overthrowing Boreas tomorrow. Maslowski motions to the sea of red and black.
"These guys come from all walks of life, but what they all have in common is a real strong sense of being involved with the community," says the bespectacled, slightly balding Mike Danielson—2001's Prince of Soot, by tradition the Krewe's ladies' man—from across the table.
Maslowski nods in agreement, looks down at his ale, and appears to ponder this. "Sure, we'll drink and socialize and whatnot, but that's not the main point."
Near the back of the room, 30 feet away, some kind of spectacle is suddenly underway. A closer look reveals Klinker, his omnipresent grin wide as ever, though he's fully clothed this time, standing before dozens of his comrades. A six-foot chain is draped around his shoulders with tennis ball-sized, stainless steel spheres tethered to either end. A line of 30 Vulcans stands before him and, one by one, they approach the giggling newbie, seize the hanging bulbs, and let them swing back down towards his torso. The chain's arc extends just two inches below his manhood.
"That's Klinker's initiation," explains Maslowski with a chuckle. "No one really knows why, but it's fun." He shrugs. "Anyway, like I was saying, Fire and Brimstone has been real active in the Boys and Girls Club over in West St. Paul...."
On the last day of January, more than 10,000 winter-weary Twin Citians descended on downtown St. Paul to watch the Winter Carnival's climax: the Torchlight Parade. The weather is in full cooperation with the carnival's mythological storyline—it's the first above-freezing day of the year and the months' worth of snow and ice have begun to melt.
The Vulcans are the last faction in the parade; giant blasts of fire announce their pending arrival three blocks before you can make out their grease-painted faces. Finally the fire trucks arrive, accompanied by Vulcans on foot, wielding flaming torches. Scattered shouts of "Hail the Vulc!" sound from the sidewalks. A few of the torch-bearers dart into the crowd and playfully dab "V"s on the cheeks of women and children—with their fingers—using the same motion one employs when checking off a box.
Then it's time for the symbolic overthrow of King Boreas. Dozens of Vulcans, still carrying torches, gather at the bottom of the concrete steps ascending to the entrance of the St. Paul Public Library. There, King Boreas, the Snow Queen, and their sentinels stand guard. The crowd cheers the caped meteorological insurgents.
"Hail the Vulc!"
Boreas, playing to the audience, points his wand menacingly. The Krewe charges forward. They're pushed back by Boreas's guards. Another charge. They're repelled again, but this time they take a guard back with them. On the third charge, the Prince of the South Wind defects over to the Vulcans' side, and the Krewe penetrates the perimeter to confront the royal family. At this point, the queen whispers into Boreas's ear that she doesn't want violence to erupt—better to let those debauched warmth-worshippers have their way so the citizens of St. Paul can enjoy their spring—so they retreat back to their Winter Kingdom (in this case, the St. Paul Public Library).
All this pomp and ceremony—more to the point, the self-serious manner with which it's carried out—can come off as a bit silly. Which it probably is. But it's also cathartic in a very real way. After all, who else but Minnesotans would invent a personified caricature of Brutal Cold, then devote a whole mythology to the idea of kicking the oppressive bastard off his throne? Even the way in which the "revolt" unfolds—a violence-discouraging whisper from a wife, a polite stepping aside to allow the new order to attain power—smacks of Minnesota Nice.
A parallel can be found in the Vulcans themselves. By and large, recruits hail from conservative, straight-laced backgrounds (law enforcement, business, engineering). Is it really any wonder that they'd be attracted to a subculture that encourages them to cut loose every once in a while? That grants them fleeting anonymity in doing so? That usurps their given names with those of mythological characters? That not only tolerates mischief, but celebrates it?