History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, January 3, 2014

Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota in 1940: grim

Armistice Day blizzard photo from "Sprick family" blog
One of the persons with whom I exchange Christmas cards lives in Missouri. St. Charles MO. I once heard that midsummer in Missouri with its humidity was like Minnesota winters in terms of the challenges presented. I haven't asked her about this.
I do know that as I write the first draft for this post, the wind howls outside. It howls and roars as if evil spirits are out and about. Is it a blizzard? Some of the forecasters offered that word. It is surely not a blizzard. It's merely a spell of unpleasant weather that causes us Minnesotans to follow the ritual of "stocking up on groceries." We hunker down in case the worst happens.
We don't seem to get the kind of blizzards that I remember from years ago. Is it global climate change? The kind of climate change that gave us a (light) hailstorm in October? We have to be prepared for some new wrinkles in the weather now, it seems.
Reflecting further, maybe my perception has just changed. Maybe we can deal better with the bad winter weather because of better resources for doing so. We are thus less inclined to notice the severity. One appreciates this theory when reading about the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940. We lived in a much different world in 1940. We were vulnerable in the face of weather adversity.
Think about the year: 1940. November. We were about a year from entering World War II. Young people all over America were about to have their lives changed profoundly because of the war effort that was quite suddenly thrust upon us. But in that November of 1940, people were skeptical about being dragged into the overseas conflicts. Life remained peaceful here.
The famous blizzard happened on November 11, 1940. A lengthy misty rain preceded the real onslaught of weather. The sleet finally gave way to snow. Snow had been forecast but not to a degree prompting alarm.
Armistice Day was a time to remember "the big war" which at that time was World War I. That was "the war to end all wars," a phrase we might remember with a shake of the head. So, it was a day of some mourning. But also, it most surely was a day for hunting. The hunters probed the woods for deer and went to the rivers for ducks.
November 11 was a Monday. If you weren't hunting you might be going to work. The day began with no feeling that something serious or catastrophic might be afoot. Slowly that began to change. The winds increased to 30-plus MPH with gusts much higher. People at their jobs in the Twin Cities began worrying about getting home. Many didn't make it. Drifts built up with suddenness. Cars became stalled which blocked roads.
The extent of the crisis was clear by late afternoon. Public transportation became grounded. Suddenly there was a feeling all around Minnesota to "hole up" and simply get through it all. People made do wherever they were. Years later, people were known to tell stories about where they were and how they coped with this hellish unleashing of the elements.
The temperature fell to near zero by Tuesday morning. The hellish episode covered a wide swath of the Upper Midwest. High winds were even reported along the Eastern seaboard. Icy squalls were reported in the Rocky Mountain region.
We'd be better protected today
What if it happened today? It would surely be memorable and challenging, but most certainly to a lesser degree. We are much better equipped to deal with rampaging weather. The weather forecasting is more reliable, and if anything tends to "over-warn" us, sometimes making an approaching storm seem more serious than how it turns out.
All aspects of transportation are far better developed. Let's cite the road-clearing vehicles - more of them and better ones. There was no Interstate Highway system in 1940.
We take for granted the very effective outerwear we have today. Such outerwear reflects a scientific understanding of how clothing can insulate us from the weather. Synthetics accomplish this. Outerwear are heat-efficient and water-protective. The finest wool hunting clothing of the '40s could easily leave us feeling cold and miserable.
Water resistant hats and jackets are a precious asset today.
People in the midst of the Armistice Day blizzard knew it was bad, but they'd wait a day or so before getting news reports reviewing the scope and toll of it all. The snowfall was staggering, a record for 24 hours, coming in at the range of 16-plus inches, greater in some places like Collegeville which had 26.6 inches!
There was tragedy. Two days after the storm, there were 37 known deaths in Minnesota. That figure got pushed to 59. It was revised down to 49 by a researcher in 1983. Nationally it appears the death toll was 144. So, Minnesota had about 40 per cent of the total dead. Indeed we were at the apex.
People took refuge wherever they could. Stories abounded. For the hunters, the crisis became especially grim as conditions worsened. In the Winona area alone, in southeastern Minnesota, the bodies of 14 hunters were found Tuesday night. Seven died from drowning, seven from freezing.
Adversity on heels of the Depression
Damage to property had to be staggering. Engine blocks were frozen solid. Crashes left cars totalled. The hellish wind gusts uprooted trees. One reading in Duluth was 63 MPH! All this weather adversity was thrust upon us as we were struggling to emerge from the Depression. Jobs were still far from plentiful. Disposable income was anything but plentiful.
Houses were primitive in many ways. Many had no central heating. They might lack storm windows, weather stripping or even insulation. Some remote areas might not even be blessed with electricity yet, or telephones, or even running water in the house.
Franklin Roosevelt fresh from re-election
The great Armistice Day blizzard happened just six days after the presidential election. FDR turned back Wendell Willkie. FDR was thus embarking on his third term, a matter of concern to many. He had defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932 and Alf Landon in 1936. Now with Willkie put aside, FDR would have to lead the USA through the grave challenges of World War II. And he would run again for president, and win, in 1944 over Thomas Dewey.
FDR died in office. No other president won more than two elections.
As Minnesotans went about their rounds in that November of 1940, the world's conflicts were not out of mind. Those conflicts hovered quite noticeably, but we were steadfast in not wanting any part of them. Thus the "America Firsters" arose as a major influence. FDR and his party's platform pledged no involvement in the conflicts, unless an attack should happen. Japan attacked and the "Firsters" evaporated out of existence most suddenly. Conspiracy theorists later suggested FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to happen, thus the door could open for the USA to assert itself.
Many critics thought FDR's third term by itself was a threat to democratic government. The law prevents this today (or we might still have Bill Clinton, which might actually be a good thing, IMHO).
The "war in Europe" seemed a looming specter for us. Adolph Hitler was this odd dictator whose voice we heard on the radio. Hunting might have been an outlet, an emotional release as it were, for people to put aside concerns about macro affairs for a day. We learn that the weather had been "deceptively mild" leading up to Armistice Day. The Weather Bureau on the day before, didn't suggest anything truly alarming. We got that term "snow flurries."
Deer hunters liked the snow forecast because they could expect being able to track. (I see no appeal in the sport of hunting today.) Duck hunters expected that birds would be easy to find. The hunters' enthusiasm would turn out to be deadly for many of them.
My late father Ralph E. Williams had an account of how he got through the famous blizzard. I have to confess I have forgotten the details. My father passed away in February of 2013. At the time of the blizzard he was 24 years old. He was a Glenwood native and graduate of the University of Minnesota.
Our family came to Morris in 1960 and established our permanent residence on the northern edge, where we can really feel the blasts of northwest wind in wintertime. We do have a shelterbelt of trees in back.
We remember some significant blizzards since moving out here. I can only try to imagine what the Armistice Day blizzard was like.
Two "adventures" for me in blizzards
I have been stranded out of town twice in blizzards. The first was in the 1970s and I got holed up in Westport, a fly speck of a town east of Glenwood. It's along that seemingly endless stretch of highway between Glenwood and Sauk Centre. It seems endless because there seems to be nothing there.
My 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado - what a car, I wish I still had - just couldn't plunge forward any further in the face of Mother Nature. I rapped on the front door of a private home where the people were most helpful. The times seemed more innocent then, with people tending to be more trusting. My "host family" had relatives visiting. We watched "The Tonight Show" which I remember had the Smothers Brothers as guests. The Smothers Brothers weren't just comedians, they were a little edgy and controversial at that time, as noted by one of the people in the room.
Bottles of beer were available. Drinking was a more accepted pastime then. We were supposed to appreciate alcohol when it was offered to us. I most heartily appreciated my hosts.
Finally the winds subsided and it was time to head out, and I remember the feeling of camaraderie I felt with other motorists who were getting out on the roads at first opportunity. I exchanged a wave with one, as if we were both saying "good luck" or "Geronimo!" or whatever. I was en route to St. Cloud. Finally I got to the Interstate Highway which always seems to be stable.
My second time of getting stranded was years later when I drove the van for the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper. I shouldn't have even left Morris en route for Lowry. I should have refused. It wasn't worth it to face that risk. Much to my relief, visibility improved noticeably as I got east of Cyrus. My panic was over but it was still unsettling.
The gang at Quinco Press in Lowry was a little surprised when I pulled in. We printed the newspaper as usual and I got it all packed into the van. Then I headed out for Starbuck. Again I could have said "Geronimo!" In Starbuck I found the road to Morris was literally closed. Law enforcement took care of that. So I checked into the motel and called home where I found the family was quite anxious. I had survival clothing in the van. I jokingly referred to it as my "Mount Everest clothing" as I felt it would be good enough to allow me to climb Mt. Everest. I even had goggles for the eyes.
That storm was nasty and very cold. That night, feeling bored, I tested my "Mt. Everest clothing" and decided to walk to the Water's Edge, which actually was a fair distance. A couple cars honked as they approached me, saying in effect "hello" or "you're nuts, guy." I arrived at the Water's Edge which was open and had a handful of patrons, in no hurry to leave obviously. I dined nicely, then trekked back to the motel where I watched a TV special starring country singer Martina McBride.
I would later be annoyed that my boss at the newspaper nit-picked the telephone bill from the motel. He should have been thankful I survived. It seemed this was one of those phone bills where the motel guest gets gouged, but it should have been small potatoes. None of my phone time was for the purpose of idle chatting. I got updates and communicated on my status, and maybe spent a few seconds "shooting the breeze" with people like Gene DeGier, husband of our office manager. Finally the conditions became less severe and I could step into the driver's seat of the van again, gamely, ready to get back to Morris ASAP. The newspaper wasn't worth it.
Today the Morris newspaper only comes out once a week, compared to twice then. Today I consider the Morris newspaper to be garbage. It is no longer locally owned.
My adventure reflected the commitment we felt in those days. I'm sure the adversity I confronted paled in comparison to what my father Ralph saw on November 11 of 1940. But the adversity of war would follow not long thereafter. My father enlisted in the Navy. He visited Tokyo as an officer in the immediate aftermath of the war. Finally he settled into a career in music: composing and educating. Certainly he never forgot the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940. The wind roared.
Today we can deal with it so much better.
Today we have presidents limited to two terms. Central heating is the norm. Life moves forward.
And in Missouri, they face the travail of midsummer humidity as if it, too, is a serious challenge to be surmounted. I hope my friend Donna in St. Charles keeps dealing with it well.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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