Longfellow wrote the Song of Hiawatha loosely based on Ojibwe and other Native American legends. Longfellow incorrectly translated his heroine's name, Minnehaha, to mean laughing waters. He took this translation from an earlier book called Dacotah by Mary Eastman. The correct translation, from the Dakota language, would be water (mni) waterfall (haha).
The source of the falls is the Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi River which runs from Lake Minnetonka in the west to the Mississippi River 22 miles away. The creek meanders its way through several Twin Cities suburbs as well as south Minneapolis before if plunges 53 feet, shortly before it joins with the Mississippi. Much of the land around the falls was purchased by the state of Minnesota. It was originally intended to be a state park but the state decided to give it to the city of Minneapolis to form a city park instead. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the park was kind of a spectacle with a carnival, zoo and even horse racing. Now the park is mostly grass fields or open wild area where people can walk, hike, run, bike, swim, bird and enjoy the view. At this time of year the creek and falls are mostly frozen but they still have a magical property to them.