Snow me the way to go home like in the old days

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Review

Remember Grandma telling us how the winters in her time were much worse than they are now? Every year the snow was up to the top of the barn and you had to dig a tunnel through the snow to get to the hen house. Not only was the snow deeper but it was much colder. Old timers talk of one winter that was so cold that when you talked to someone outside your words froze and fell to the ground. The person you were talking to then had to scoop up the frozen words, take them into the house and then thaw them out on the kitchen stove to hear what you were saying.

The great humorist and writer Mark Twain once said “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it”. Weather records indicate that the warmest Christmas ever recorded was 59 degrees in 1982! The following year we recorded the coldest Christmas ever with a low of -14 degrees below zero, a difference of 63 degrees from the previous Christmas! As for snowfall , the snowiest winter that we have had in the last 100 years was the winter of 1978-79 when we had a staggering 98.5 inches of snow! The winter of 1903 and 1904 wasn’t too bad either with 94 inches of snow. However during the winter of 1936-1937 we had a mere 5.31 inches of snow all year!

Winter can bring monumental snow storms at times but none can top the gigantic blizzard of March 2nd 1881 when the city and county were struck with an unbelievable series of snow storms that lasted for the better part of two weeks. When it was all over it was estimated that the snow depth in places was an astounding 12 feet in depth. Tunnels had to be dug under the snow to go from house to barn so that farmers could care for their livestock. On 8th street in Sheboygan drifts reached to the second floor of many buildings. Store owners also dug tunnels so that customers could enter their establishments. The city of Sheboygan hired an extra 200 men to try and clear drifts from the downtown area, some of which were over 20 feet high. Some homes in the city were almost completely buried. Home owners had to enter their homes by crawling through a second story window. Because all the windows in many homes were blocked with snow preventing light from entering residents had to burn lamps night and day. In the county snow was as high as the telephone poles and in many cases they were buried. With all landmarks covered by enormous drifts people who had lived in an area all their lives got lost a few miles from home. It was reported that the last of the snow finally disappeared in July of that year!

In 1913 our area and much of the Midwest were struck with a “white Hurricane” A “white hurricane” can be described as a storm of Hurricane force winds combined with a blizzard. Today this storm is largely forgotten. The monster storm, which was a combination of two storms, raged across the lake from November 7 to November 10, 1913 and killed over 250 people. On the great lakes 19 ships were sunk and 19 others were driven aground, suffering heavy damage. Property loss was estimated at over 100 million dollars. Many of the ships that were lost were carrying iron ore. The loss of iron ore was so great that for months afterward the price of iron and steel was driven upward.

Here in Sheboygan County barns were blown down, trees were uprooted and county roads simply disappeared under huge snowdrifts. As the raging giant moved across the county shrieking winds were clocked in some places in excess of 90 miles an hour. Property damage in Sheboygan County was beyond estimation.

For weeks after the monstrous storm roads were blocked and farmers were marooned.

After the 3 day rampage of the “white hurricane” debris from the many ships that were smashed to pieces drifted ashore, along with bodies of the many seamen who were lost when their ships went down. The bodies of sailors from the Charles S. Price were found on the beach wearing life jackets from the steamer Regina which was also lost with all hands. It became quite clear that the hapless survivors of the Price had been picked up by the Regina which in turn was also lost.

Fortunately, a “white hurricane” in our area is extremely rare, but they do occur. When the great storm of 1913 was over the Midwest lay in shambles. Snow depth from the storm varied but was not less than 17 inches in any area. In our area the gales of November have passed us by, let’s hope they do so next November.

Even as I write this I am looking out of my study’s window, guess what? Its snowing! I hope not 12 feet, I love snow but that’s a bit much!

Today’s Snippet: Due to the violent nature of weather on the Great Lakes in November, insurance companies in the past refused to insure ships beyond October 31st.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for a future column please feel free to contact me at 920-458-2974 or email

Most recent cover pages:

Copyright 2009-2019 The Plymouth Review, All Rights Reserved

Contact Information

113 E. Mill St., Plymouth WI 53073
Local: 920-893-6411 Toll Free: 1-877-467-6591
Fax: 920-893-5505