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Fred and I Made Some Snow Shoes. Their Wasn't School.

By Wethersfield Historical Society on January 26, 2011 1:16 PM

To some it was the most famous winter storm in our nation's history - the "Storm of the Century".  To others it was just another snow day.

"Writing in the Monday, March 12, 1888 issue of the New Haven Evening Register, a reporter used the alliterative adjectives 'bewildering, belligerent, blinding' to describe the late-season snowstorm that had been pounding Connecticut since Sunday evening.  By the time the storm ended on March 14, 1888, the reporter could have added two more adjectives to his description: historic and deadly."(XXXIX)
Meanwhile Walter E. Crittenden, age 10 years 11 months, recorded this in his 1888 diary. 
"Tuesday March 13 - The storm crept on with all its fury.  Fred and I made some snow shoes.  Their wasn't school." (XL)   
They called it "the Great White Hurricane" and "The Great Blizzard" and it generated up to fifty inches of snow in the Middletown, Connecticut area.  Most of the state had at least twenty inches.  The winds of up to sixty miles per hour winds moved the fallen snow into twenty to forty foot tall drifts.  Temperatures, which had been close to seventy degrees during the previous week, plummeted to ten above zero.  The entire northeast was at a standstill.  Over four hundred people died of storm related causes.

top10_Fred and I Made_1880sBlizzardphoto-thumb-320x185-206.jpgSunday March 11 was spring-like.  Crocuses had begun to appear in some places.  Then snow began that evening and continued unabated into Wednesday.  Land transportation, mostly horse-cars & stagecoaches at that time, came to a halt.  Trains were stranded, and several were derailed.

In those times only the wealthy had telephones.  Telegraph lines were down "All people could do is wait for the storm to end while wondering and worrying about what was happening in the rest of the world". (XLI)

Many were injured or killed trying to get to/from work.  The New York Times reported "hardy men have died from the exposure.  Horses and cattle have perished.  Dwellings and barns have broken down." (XLII)

The snow cleanup relied upon plows/rollers drawn by horses or oxen, or digging out by shovel.  People were trapped in houses by drifts that blocked doors.  In Hartford, residents showed their displeasure with the storm by hanging an effigy of writer John Whitaker Watson, author of "Beautiful Snow", and pelting it with hundreds of densely-packed white orbs constructed of the white precipitation.

O the snow, the beautiful snow!
How the flakes gather and laugh as they go!
Whirling about in its maddening fun,
It plays in its glee with every one.
Chasing, Laughing, Hurrying by,
It lights up the face and it sparkles the eye;
And even the dogs, with a bark and a bound,
Snap at the crystals that eddy around.
The town is alive, and its heart in a glow,
To welcome the coming of beautiful snow.
But eleven year-old Walter E. Crittenden of Wethersfield, reflected a slightly different perspective in his daily diary. 

"Friday, March 9 - Spring day.  Plad ball with the boys.
Saturday, March 10 - A very pleasant day.  Went downtown and bought a suit of clothes.
Sunday, March 11 - A cloudy day.  Snod all night.
Monday, March 12 _ A very stormey day, wind began to blow hard early in the morning.  Children were sent home from school at half past 9.  Pappa came home looking like a snow man, books in the pocket.
Tuesday, March 13 - The storm crept on with all its fury.  Fred and I made some snow shoes.  Their wasn't school.
Wednesday, March 14 - Storm ended today.  School let out at half past 9.  Badly drifted.
Thursday, March 15 - A pleasant day.  Travil is resumed through this street and many others.  Papa was the first to open this street.  Went to school as usual.
Friday, March 16 -  A pleasant day.  Made some forts and had a snowball battle, a number of boys and myself.
Saturday, March 17 - A pleasant day.  Went to Mr. Ives shop with Fred.  My clothes came that I orded last satterday. (XLIII)

Eighty years later on March 13, 1968 Walter E. Crittenden recalled the storm for his family.  Eunie Crittenden Wells, his granddaughter, created a transcript of his reminiscences.
On Sunday night the family had decided "it maybe a good-sized storm and we had better do everything we can tonight before we go to bed to be ready." (XLIV)
They made sure that the pair of horses and the wagon were all "snug in the barn ready for tomorrow's work" (XLV), and Walter found the cat that lived in their barn and ensured he was fed and safely ensconced in that outbuilding.

The next day the teamsters came to get the horses for delivering grain and "went on about their work" (XLVI) in spite of the heavy snow.  By mid-morning Walter's father decided that the delivery schedule should be accelerated.  That afternoon deliveries were halted and the horses put safely away in the barn.

Tuesday the horses and wagon were kept in the barn and school was cancelled - "the signal consisting of factory whistles had blown... [and] a bell that rang to tell the children to stay home." (XLVII)  Sledding were taken out and sliding began.  Snow covered the windows. 

Walter found "some of the card boards which had been used on the freight cars to hold the grain in" (XLVIII) and made himself some snowshoes.  However when he went out the snow was deeper than he expected.  He sank and ended up crawling to the horse's hitching post where he pulled himself upright.  The horses were afraid of the snow and would not leave the barn, so they hitched them up to a mule that led the way out.

"During the first day after the storm the sidewalks were cleared in order to let the milk wagons deliver milk, for they could not get down the street the way they usually did.  The people who had horses and wagons added to the effort.  The snow was carried for several days to the New Haven Green where the pile grew higher and higher until it was like a mountain....In spite of the early spring sun's warmth, this huge pile of snow on the New Haven Green did not melt away for quite a few weeks." (XLIX)
Diaries are not intended to be historical texts.  But some events are just so large that they are best explained by a simple account by the people who were there.  Even when, or maybe especially if, the historical scribe is an eleven year old boy just doing his chores on the farm and enjoying a day off from school because of some unusually heavy snow.

(Please click on the underlined name to go directly to that chapter or the WHS Website Home Page)

1. The 17th and 19th Century Floods
2. The 1727 Earthquake
3. The 1787 Tornado
4. The 1831 and 1834 Fires

6. The 1936 Flood
7. The 1938 Hurricane
8. The 1973 Ice Storm
9. The 1978 Blizzard
10. The 2009 Tornado


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