the eleventh of March, 1888, when Dad came in to breakfast
from helping with the morning chores at the barn, he commented
on the amazing mildness of the weather-the unseasonableness
of conditions in nature. The sun shone brightly and the temperature
at 8 am was 62 degrees fahrenheit. Here and there a few small
patches of dirty, slushy snow remained, all the ponds were
open and no traces of ice bordered the streams.
the marshes swamp peepers (Hyla crucifer) were in full voice
and male red-winged blackbirds were sounding a chorus of "Oak-a-lees"
from the swamp maples. Pussy willows were uncovering their
furry coats as from a lofty perch a song sparrow sang lustily
his "Cheer-cheer-very-merry cheer-'tis springtime all
the year" Which was misleading, to say the least.
was a flash of blue as the male bluebird swifty passed and
came to rest on an old nest stub calling wistfully his oft
repeated, "chur-wi." Sap was dripping freely from
bark lesions on the old bride-maples, and streamlets in the
gutters gurgled gaily. Spring was definitely in the air bringing
along with it evidence of Spring Fever. Dad became interested
in seed catalogues and Spring planting while a desire to push
housecleaning along, gripped my mother.
10 am Mother ordered one of the horses brought from the barn
as she felt the urge to hurry to Danbury to start her Spring
shopping. When she left she was wearing a winter coat but
by noon the temperature had climbed to close to 70 degrees
and she shed the coat for a light wrap. So often she spoke
of the mildness, quiet and beauty of that day.
morning-how different! Over night there had been a radical
change. The sky was overcast with heavy, sullen clouds, the
mercury had catapulted to low levels and the air was filled
with large snowflakes, blown in a vigorous breeze out of the
north-east which was speedily increasing in velocity. The
voices of birds and peepers, so evident a few hours before,
were silent. There was no more open water. The surfaces of
the ponds and streams were now congealed with a sheath of
ice growing thicker as the cold increased.
Few valuable meterological instruments were at hand to help
in forecasting weather at that time, so even the weather bureau
was entirely unprepared for the violence of the storm which
was coming in out of the northeast. That morning men had gone
to work as usual and children had attended school but before
noon teachers became alarmed and closed the schools, shops
shut down and many teamsters left the highways and sought
shelter for man and beast. Children, men and horses were everywhere
struggling against the driving, blinding, drifting snow. The
power of the wind was terrific and those striving to face
it were unable to breathe.
Several Redding people were unable to reach home. Many were
taken in and furnished shelter while others were lost in the
storm. One of our neighbors tried to get to his house near
the Center from his place of employment in Sanfordtown but
lost his way. His anxious wife started from home to find him
but she, too, became lost. The bodies of both-more than a
mile apart-were found under the snow during the spring thaw.
Flood, local blacksmith was struggling against the storm in
his effort to reach his home a short distance below the Center
when he was overcome. He sought shelter in the lee of a tree,
but from her window Mrs. Wakeman-wife of the local doctor-saw
him plunge forward, face down into the snow. Unconscious he
was dug out from the drift by the doctor and a young roomer
there and carried into the Wakeman home where he was cared
for until after the storm.
nearly three days the blizzard raged. People dying during
the interval were wrapped in sheets and buried beneath the
snow until they could be properly cared for. The winds reached
terrific gale force and temperatures along the limestone ridge-upon
which Redding rests- reached 42 degrees below zero.
accounts at that time quoted weather experts as saying that
the storm spent its most violent efforts along this ridge.
Window panes were frequently broken or blown in, shingles
and clapboards were commonly ripped off, and snow drifted
through every crack and crevice in any building in the town-homes
included. Many stock barns, believed to be weather-tight,
contained destructive quantities of snow.
the modern, well constructed and cared for Rumsey Dairy Farm
snow was found to be so deep in the stables that cows and
horses stood to their middles in it and many cows on this
and other farms had to be slaughtered because their bags were
frozen. After the storm drifts reaching second story windows
were frequent, in orchards just the tips of the upper branches
of the apple trees protruded from these small mountains of
snow and the telegraph service was crippled, as everywhere,
wires were down. There were no telephones in those days.
one farm a large flock of sheep was buried under the snow.
The living animals were located by breathing holes on the
surface. Many of the flock were dead but the several had survived
by eating wool from the backs of their dead companions. In
fact, all over town such animals as sheep, pigs and goats,
buried under the snow, were located by surface breathing holes.
This resulted in "hibernating" domestic animals
of the above types, with turkeys, chickens, geese and even
a few calves, being dragged into house cellars to thaw out.
well recall an old lady telling me when I was in my teens,
that during that storm her husband dragged into their cellar
three unconscious pigs, a calf, a goat, chickens, ducks, geese
and turkeys that appeared to be dead. She related that before
morning they commenced to wake up and were hungry. Their racket
was equal to that of a zoo on fire.
presented a terrific problem. As there were no telephones
communication was entirely on foot or on snowshoes. Every
farmer owning a yoke of oxen and an ox sled, helped to "break
out the roads." It required three yokes of oxen and six
men on a sled to form a crew.
a strong, heavy pair of Devons were chosen as the "lead"
pair and they, with persistent urging, floundered into the
drifts as far as they could possibly go. When they stopped
the men dug and many drifts had to be tunneled. Later, when
thaws came roofs of these tunnels caving in caused more trouble
and plenty of shoveling. Everywhere wagons with horses removed
were left along the highways remaining until dug out by these
volunteer road crews.
trains were running between Boston and New York or south of
Pittsfield-they were all stalled along the line. People traveling
on these stalled trains related tragic tales of suffering
from cold and lack of food.
stuck in Branchville
the storm arrived late, snow melted very slowly that year
on the Redding hills and lingered long in the shadow of overhanging
cliffs and in sheltered ravines. On July 4th of that blizzard
year, my father gathered enough snowy ice from a sheltered
ledge in what was then, Redding Glen, to make a five gallon
freezer full of ice cream.
old timer born before 1800 declared that he had never before
on land or sea (he was a retired sea captain) seen a storm
a severe as this one. "But," he added, "in
many ways the year known as '1800 and Freeze To Death' had
it beaten." That was the year 1816 when the weather was
worse because every month of the year had a killing frost
and the August freeze up was so severe that the trees, after
losing all their leaves, were unable to grow another crop.
As a result by Spring numerous trees were dead.
that as it may -the storm of March 12, 1888 was a record breaker
even if my dad did say that he once went for a sleigh ride
on May 2nd-but he never added that he came home on bare ground.
However Banks Gorham often told that on May 16, 1854 he hauled
wood on an ox sled from his wood lot in Redding and didn't
see a patch of bare ground all day.
Information on the Blizzard:
most famous snowstorm in American history, the Blizzard of
1888, has acquired an almost legendary status. Although there
have been many heavier snowfalls as well as significantly
lower temperatures, the blizzard's combination of inclement
conditions has been unmatched in 110 years.
U.S. Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm with winds
of more than 35 miles an hour and snow that limits visibility
to 500 feet or less. A severe blizzard is defined as having
winds exceeding 45 miles an hour, visibility of a quarter
mile or less, and temperatures of 10 degrees F or lower.
"Great White Hurricane," as it was called, paralyzed the East
Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. Telegraph and telephone
wires snapped, isolating New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and
Washington for days. Two hundred ships were grounded, and
at least one hundred seamen died. Fire stations were immobilized,
and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million.
Overall, more than 400 deaths were reported.
days leading up to the blizzard were unseasonably mild, with
temperatures in the 40s and 50s along the East Coast. Torrential
rains began falling, and on March 12th the rain changed to
heavy snow, temperatures plunged, and a ferocious wind began.
The storm continued unabated for the next 36 hours. Sources
vary, but National Weather service estimated that fifty inches
of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts and forty inches
covered New York and New Jersey. Winds blew up to 48 miles
an hour, creating snowdrifts forty to fifty feet high. The
resulting transportation crisis led to the creation of the
New York subway, approved in 1894 and begun in 1900.
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