Our Blizzard

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Photo from the Chicago Tribune. The caption on the Trib site doesn’t give the location, but I’m pretty sure this is looking north up the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive near McCormick Place, which burned the morning the storm started. Note the railroad on the left–the Illinois Central.

A nice touch on the Chicago Tribune’s website: a 24-frame slideshow of the big snow of 1967. (See it here: Worst snowstorm in Chicago history). That was our generation’s blizzard, a snowfall so enormous that it defied imagination even as you watched it happen. The official total for January 26-27 was 23 inches. We got a couple feet where we lived, just outside Park Forest. The storm started on a Thursday morning; we went to school despite the heavy snow that was already falling and were hustled back home at midday as the district realized its buses might not be able to get all the kids back home as the snow piled up. As it was, some students were stranded in schools and some had to seek shelter along the road as buses were marooned. The domed roof of the high school gym, a local oddity or marvel depending on your point of view, collapsed. My dad was stuck at work in the city for two days and had to hoof it back home from the Illinois Central train station in Richton Park along three miles or so of unplowed roads. We were out of school for about 10 days, at first because the roads were impassable in our mostly rural school district (Crete-Monee District 201-U) and then because the heating plant at the high school failed. The experience was so total, so completely diverting, that the major news that swept the nation at the same time–the deaths of the first three Apollo astronauts in a launch-pad fire in Florida–made only a brief impression. And it kept snowing after the blizzard, too, and for a while the winter of ’66-’67 stood as the snowiest in the city’s history. The Park Forest Plaza, our local proto-mall, had piles of plowed up snow that didn’t melt completely until–well, I want to say May.

Other links:

Caught on film: How Chicago dealt with the big snow 44 years ago (WBEZ)

The Chicago Blizzard of 1967 (Chicago Tribune)

The Blizzard of ’67 (Unknown Chicago)

The Great 1967 Chicago Blizzard (WTTW, via YouTube)

The Great Chicago Blizzard of 1967, 44th Anniversary (Chuck’s Adventures)

7 Comments

Filed under Chicago, Current Affairs, History, Weather

7 Responses to Our Blizzard

  1. jb

    What a mess. That was before people could look at at video and satellite feeds from all over the country and just say, “f**k it, I’m staying home”. McCormick Place was a hell of a mess, all the steel support columns bent up like noodles from the heat of the fire and Pop stuck on the south side for several days.
    I remember that well. I also do remember that it was the same day as the Apollo 1 fire. Grissom, Chaffee and White. That did make quite an impression on me, because I was a fan of the space program and had follwed the missions of Grissom and especially Edward White.

  2. jb

    Thinking about it now I remember waking up at about 4:30 that morning, going upstairs and looking out the window into our backyard. The ground was bare but there was a crystalline frost on everything. I thought it looked kind of beautiful and went back to bed. When we got up a couple of hours later to catch the school bus it was snowing heavily and there was already a few inches of snow covering the same ground I had earlier looked at. We got to the bus–as I recall–and to school but it was an ordeal for the driver to get there through what amounted to a white-out. I think we made it to three or four periods before we were sent home. And that *was* quite a ride home, walking up Oakhill Drive through the snow. And we were probably doing what we always did back then, dressing in light clothes, wearing spring-type jackets without gloves or hats. I went out that evening, walked to the Thoeming’s house by crossing the ball field next to the Robinson’s where there was something like two feet of feet snow, drifts of something like three or four feet. It was an adventure and I admit I use that experience as the measure of all that big snowstorms I have seen since. There was a good one here in NYC in 1979 or ’80 when the city came to a halt for a day or two. Dad was in town on business and he and I walked up Broadway–in the middle of the street–from below Houston St. to Greenwich Village. Not a car was out there. And the snow storm we had in Thredbo, NSW was a good one. You would remember that one. We had that great walk up Mount Kosciuszko the next day. I have some photos of that one. I’ll try scanning them to send you copies. but the one in 1967 was a big event. Everything was shut down for days.

  3. Dan

    John, that’s much the way I remember the onset of the storm, too, although I think it had just started snowing when I got up that day; the way I remember it, it was nearly windless at first and the snow was coming straight down in big flakes. And yes, it accumulated so fast that I think the township or county crews we counted on out there were overwhelmed from the start.
    At school (you were with me at Hubbard Trail, right? I think Chris and Ann must have been at Talala School in Park Forest), I remember being preoccupied with the snow, and I think a lot of other people were, too — so much of it, and it wasn’t slowing down at all. By the time they turned us loose, right around lunchtime, the bus drivers had their hands full. I don’t have any memory of the trip home, but I remember the way the route was laid out we would have been among the first to get off the bus. I do remember walking up the road from the bus stop with Reva Everhart, who was wearing a short skirt and some sort of shoes with heels, and the snow was way over the tops of her shoes. I was too shy to talk to her most of the time, but we commented to each other on how amazingly deep the snow seemed after so short a time. And at that point, the storm was really only beginning.
    Crete-Monee’s “Warrior Dome” collapsed later in the afternoon–probably one of the most famous moments in local history. But it went down when perhaps less than half of the total snowfall had arrived; I don’t remember it being particularly heavy, wet snow, so now I wonder whether that place was just flimsily built, an accident waiting to happen (I wonder how the replacement dome, which is still there, has fared this week?).
    I remember those other snows you mention–that walk with Dad sounds like an adventure. And that ’67 snow is still a yardstick for me, too, though living in the snowless lowlands of coastal California, and having left the Chicago area before the Bilandic Storms in the late ’70s, I’ve only seen a couple snows since then worth mentioning.

  4. Who amongst our circle could (or would) forget the collapse of the mighty CMHS dome? To this day my mother will recount how she thought, while waiting for me to get home that day, that at least she’d sent me off to school with my galoshes. Then I came home from early dismissal, leaping from step to step because of the depth of the snow, galoshes looped around my neck instead of on my feet. We had an old two-tone Chevy station wagon that died in the sloped driveway which was consequently covered in snow over its hood.

  5. Dan

    Herr Doktor, were you all still living in Park Forest at that point? Did your mom ask what possessed you not to be wearing your boots?

  6. jb

    In my(1967)constellation of great architectural wonders the Warrior Dome rated with The Empire State Building and The Prudential Building in downtown Chicago. It was a shock to hear that it had caved in during the big snow, almost like hearing that the Great Wall of China had fallen over. The school bus passed it every day and it was emblematic of having “arrived” to be allowed in the place. Fortunately for me Warrior-Dome2.0 was ready for my freshman year and I have fond memories of sadistic bombardment games, wedgies, shouting (overweight) gym coaches and stinkish locker rooms. The Warrior Dome…

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