Why the Witch’s Hat tower is only open three hours a year

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The Witch's Hat allowed pilgrims to climb to its tower last Friday. It'll be a year before they get another chance. Steven Cohen

The Witch’s Hat Water Tower, with its romantic arches and brimmed green spire, is unmistakable. If you’ve ever looked up at the skyline and noticed a stately white tower with a giant green hat-like point, you’ve understood instantly where the name comes from.

It stands in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park, offering a panoramic view of the Twin Cities. Its sorcerer-esque top might provide good kindling for the imagination, but unfortunately, the public can only climb it during a three-hour window on one day of the year.

The Witch’s Hat is only open during the Pratt School Ice Cream Social, which is run by the Pratt Parent-Teacher Organization and the Prospect Park Association. It takes place the first Friday after Memorial Day weekend, with food, live music, carnival games, and a coveted chance to get inside the Witch’s Hat.

A chance, however, is not a guarantee. This year, the big day took place on June 1, and not everybody in line got to take a peek before the tower closed again for the year.

Jessica Buchberger of the Prospect Park Association says people ask her “all the time” about the tower's slim availability. Now that the fated day has passed, people are calling to complain.

“They’re understandably frustrated,” she says. She hopes next year they can keep it open for longer, but that’s something they’d have to arrange with the city. It’s not Prospect Park’s tower -- it’s Public Works’.

Despite what its fancy name implies, the Witch’s Hat is actually a water tower -- one of the few originals of its kind left standing in the Twin Cities. It’s 110 feet tall and has a 150,000-gallon capacity. It was also supposed to be a bandshell, but it only saw one concert. Nobody else wanted to lug their instruments up the dizzying spiral staircase.

Today it serves a different purpose. Minneapolis’ first-responder telecommunications equipment sits snugly in its roof. It’s also a worldwide attraction. In 2014, CAP opened up the tower for two extra days to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and 5,000 people from around the globe showed up to climb it.

The city didn’t respond to inquiries. But some residents argue that it would be in the city’s best interest to make the Witch’s Hat more available -- assuming people would be willing to pay a little for a chance to climb. For now, Buchberger’s glad the tower adds a little incentive for folks to support the Pratt School.

Click here to view a slideshow of what it looks like from inside the Witch's Hat Water Tower


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