Tom Schultz

Tom Schultz

Ice is out on riverThe ice is officially out on the Rock River in Watertown! That pronouncement this week is a sure sign that spring is indeed here.

The ice officially went out on Tuesday afternoon as the temperatures rose to the 60 degree mark and the fast current in the river helped to break up the sheets of ice.

The ice is officially declared as “going out” when there is a clear path of open water between the upper and lower dams.

This year the ice breakup came quickly. On Monday much of the river was still covered in a sheet of ice, although it was getting thinner and thinner. Then in a matter of hours on Tuesday, the open path of water between the dams was seen.

The ice went out on the same day the Yes!Watertown’s Frieda the Ford Freestar went through the ice. As the Daily Times reported on Thursday, the van took the plunge at 4:32 p.m. and netted Lee Bely of Watertown a $500 prize for having the date closest to the plunge as part of a fundraising event for the Yes!Watertown group.

Tuesday’s date for the ice going out was rather typical, according to records dating back to 1942.

The dates for the last five years when the ice went out were:

2021 — March 9

2020 — March 2

2019 — March 16

2018 — Feb. 28

2017 — Feb. 17

By far most of the “ice out” dates have come in March with a few in February and there was also a few rare years when it went out in April.

The April dates were:

1959 — April 3

1964 — April 4

1965 — April 4

1972 — April 1

A few times the ice went out only to have a cold snap follow and the river refroze. That unusual situation took place in 1964, 2002 and 2006.

Looking back at the statistics, one of the most unusual years was 1992, when the ice didn’t form between the two dams until Jan. 19 and then went out just 34 days later on Feb. 22.

The Yes!Watertown group’s fundraiser that saw the van sink was a big success and raised some money for this group to pour back into local projects.

It also helped to put a little focus on one of our community’s strongest assets — the Rock River.

I was a bit surprised when the DNR agreed to allow the sinking of a van, but as Yes! members told me, there were a lot of procedures to follow to get approval. Things like removing all the glass, fuel, oil, etc. were necessary and, of course, the vehicle had to be chained to the shoreline so removal of it would be easy and efficient.

Carla Wallenda diesThe Daily Times and newspapers across the country carried stories in the past week of the death of Carla Wallenda, a member of “The Flying Wallendas” high wire act had died.

There’s a significant Watertown connection to her passing. It was back in 1989 and again in 1994 that she came to our community and put on several shows at the Riverfest celebration.

I can remember her act well, and there were huge crowds watching her high-wire antics.

Diane Graff, a longtime member of the Daily Times staff, talked with me this week and said she remembers well when I assigned her to get an interview with Carla.

As part of the interview, Carla invited Diane to climb the ladder to the top of the 110-foot high wire.

Diane said, “When I looked down from that distance, I recall breaking out in a sweat and it wasn’t a hot day.” Well, that underscores that Carla must have had nerves of steel to do that aerial walk 110 feet from the ground.

Carla died in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the age of 85. She was the last surviving child of Karl Wallenda, who founded the troupe in Germany before moving to the United States in 1928. She was also the aunt of aerialist Nik Wallenda.

The shows were highly dangerous and several members of the family lost their lives while performing a high-wire act. But, that never discouraged Carla.

Diane wrote a colorful story from that interview with Carla, which no doubt also helped to bring the large crowds to the festival. Another long-time Daily Times staffer, Christina Brey, covered the shows that weekend and she was also impressed by Carla’s high-wire walks.

Over the years, Watertown Riverfest has welcomed some incredible performances both in the musical area and with other types of entertainment but the Carla Wallenda show was one of the best.


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