Witch’s Hat Tower opens once this year

Locals gathered to climb to the historic tower’s observation deck.

At the annual opening of the Prospect Park Water Tower, commonly known as the Witch’s Hat due to its pointed top, one small boy looking down from the tower’s observation deck could not control his excitement.

“I can see the whole world,” he said.

The tower was open for three hours Friday during Pratt Community Educational Center’s ice cream social. The social -better described as a small carnival for the Prospect Park neighborhood – featured live music, carnival food, games, fortune telling, face painting, a silent auction and gave attendees a chance to climb the tower’s 116 narrow and spiraling steps.

“It was scary and fun,” Kennedy Smith, a fourth-grader at the school, said. Her mother, Ethel, said she felt the same way.

“The steps were so small and it was hollow down so I could see the floor,” Ethel Smith said. “And I’m scared of heights.”

The “scary and fun” tower has been around for nearly a century. In 1901, residents of the neighborhood successfully petitioned the leveling of Tower Hill, the highest point in Minneapolis, where the water tower was built in 1913 to improve water pressure in the hilly neighborhood. The tower was used until 1952.

The tower is also rumored to have been Bob Dylan’s inspiration for his “All Along the Watchtower.”

George Harding, who lived in the neighborhood from 1928 until 1956, said he has fond memories of Tower Hill and the Witch’s Hat.

“There was lots of skiing and ski jumping down that hill,” he said. “You had to be careful not to hit a tree, but it was nowhere as wooded as it is now.”

Harding, who attended Pratt School through eighth grade, said the area under the tower was “quite a gathering place” and that “gypsies would camp out” in the neighborhood’s flat areas, which have since been built over.

“We used to go down there and fly our model airplanes,” he said.

The tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The school has evolved into Pratt Community Education Center and is the oldest building in the Minneapolis school system. It is now a school for kindergarten through fifth grade and hosts adult education classes.

“My grandmother lived in this area, and my mother grew up here and went to

the school,” Deb Clark, Pratt’s director of community education and organizer of this year’s social, said. “So I feel a strong affinity to the neighborhood.”

Clark said that Friday’s festivities both raised money for the school and brought the neighborhood together.

“It’s a homegrown neighborhood event,” she said. “It’s a really wonderful community celebration.”

Second-year health administration graduate student Katie Simpson agrees.

“It’s cool to see kind of like a community because you never really see everybody out,” she said.

Graduate student Matthew Kunkel said he had the date saved for a year.

“You can’t beat it,” he said. “There’s the band, there’s cake and ice cream, there’s tons of people here so it’s such a fun atmosphere.”

He said that it’s nice to see a University neighborhood portrayed in a good light because he feels other area neighborhoods have bad images.

“I wish everyone would come to this and see it, because I think that then they would have a different perspective on University neighborhoods,” Kunkel said while waiting in the extensive line to climb the tower.

Pratt holds the social the Friday after Memorial Day every year. To open the Witch’s Hat, Clark receives a permit from the city, which otherwise keeps the old tower closed for safety reasons.