Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Book Review: The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
At the time, weather forecasting was in the hands of the Army, and yet, as author David Laskin says "the top priority on any given day was not weather, but political infighting". The people living on the prairies had no idea the storm was coming and many had, since it was such a beautiful day, wore light jackets and walked the mile or more to school for the first time in a long time. When the wall of snow hit the temperature began to plummet and it was then the decision of the young school teachers as to whether to send the children home or ride out the storm in a drafty school house that would likely run out of coal before the night was over.
One Nebraska homesteader described the arrival of the snow "as if it had slid out of a sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terrible cold. Within a few minutes it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one's had in front of one's face."
Eyelashes webbed with ice and froze shut, ice plugs formed inside their noses, ice masks hung on their faces, this is how both human and animal died of suffocation. Even coming from an area that gets blizzards it is hard to imagine this kind of storm. "A sign of the fierceness - and strangeness - of this storm was the eerie electricity that crackled through the air as the temperature began to drop. It was like a lightning storm, only instead of bolts flashing thousands of feet between cloud and ground or cloud and cloud, smaller electrical discharges sparked at the surface." The storm developed so fast that seams and pockets of sharply contrasting temperatures were rubbing up against each other. At the height of the storm people inside their houses felt their hair rise off their scalps, sparks showered off their stoves.
The author does an excellent job of describing the storm and how it built to such magnitude. The book is packed with homesteaders stories, he writes that every pioneer who wrote a memoir included a story of someone who died in the blizzard, it touched everyone's life. One homesteader said he came across a line of frozen cattle that extended for ten miles. The experiences of these homesteaders is worth reading about, for some it was the storm that was the deciding factor in their moving "back home". By the late 1880s the homesteading boom on the northern prairie was over, for many the untamed prairie had won.
The author quotes Austen Rollag who fifty years after the storm wrote "There are those who say that that storm was no worse than others we have had, but those who speak thus could not have been out of the house but sitting around the stove. I have seen many snowstorms in the more than sixty years I have been living here, but not one can compare with the storm of January 12, 1888."
The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin is an excellent winter read, check out a copy from your library or pick one up at your local book store.
Sense of Home / Homemade Living / Book Reviews