Heikki Lunta - A Modern Copper Country Folk Hero

By Jim Kurtti

The unusually mild and snowless December the Copper Country of Michigan is experiencing this year, is reminiscent of a similar winter in 1970. That year it took the extraordinary efforts of the mythical character, Heikki Lunta to remedy the situation.

In 1970 the Range Snowmobile Club of Atlantic Mine, Michigan had planned a snowmobile race for the fourth of December, a time of year when there is nearly always ample snow on the Keweenaw Peninsula. The members of club had been working hard to make the event a success, but the most vital commodity was lacking – snow! A Hancock radio station, WMPL, was sponsoring the event, and station staff was also very concerned. In an attempt to rally community support despite the conditions, a radio-time salesman, David Riutta, concocted the character "Heikki Lunta", getting his inspiration from the well-known county/western singer Hank Snow. In twenty minutes Dave wrote the words to the now legendary "Heikki Lunta Snow Dance Song." The tune to which Dave applied the lyrics had already been with him for awhile, so the entire composition took less than one hour.

Dave returned to the radio station and with the assistance of the station owner, Bob Olson, another well-known Copper Country persona, the legend of Heikki Lunta was born. The fictional Heikki Lunta was said to live in the back woods of the Finnish farming community of Tapiola, Michigan, twenty miles south of Houghton. Furthermore, he was reported to have the ability to perform a dance, which would cause the snow to fall from the skies. The talented radio team took to the airwaves and caused a sensation throughout the Copper Country community. Heikki Lunta was an instant hit, and miraculously it began to snow-and snow and snow! Ironically the snowmobile races had to be postponed because there was too much snow.

Heikki Lunta's fame grew, and the snow dance song was sent via UPI to stations around the country. The exploits of Heikki Lunta were mentioned on "The Today Show " and "The Tonight Show." Riutta was invited to winter events as far away as California to sing his magical snow song. Family responsibilities and his employment, however, prevented him from making these trips. A recording of "Heikki Lunta Snow Dance Song" was produced, and the first 3000 copies sold in a short time.

As with any sudden success story, there was a downside. Perhaps Heikki Lunta danced too much, because the snow kept coming. Strained relations began to appear between the pro-snow and the anti-snow camps. Riutta recalls one incident where he was confronted by a large lumberjack, who was so irked by the amount of snow Heikki Lunta had brought, he expressed the desire to "clean Heikki's [Riutta's] clock". It became apparent that there were others in the community who actually believed the playing of the snow dance song would produce snow. When the winter seemed to be getting a bit too long, Riutta felt compelled to compose a sequel tune, "Heikki Lunta Go Away," which became the flip side to the second pressing of the record.

During the big snow years of the late '70s Heikki Lunta was almost forgotten. Now the sunny days of the December 1998 call for the magic of Heikki Lunta.

For the price of $10 (or $13.85 for priority mail) one can purchase the two Heikki Lunta songs — "Heikki Lunta" and "Heikki Lunta Go Away" on a CD from: WMPL, P.O. Box 547, Hancock, Michigan 49930.

More about Heikki Lunta can be found here.