Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950


My father-in-law after the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950. 

The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950 is one I don’t remember. I was not yet on the scene. The storm I remember was the Blizzard of 1978, probably because I was stranded in a dorm in Bowling Green for five days. I remember my parents talking about the 1950 storm and my wife shared this picture of her father in the aftermath of that snowfall.

The snowstorm was the biggest in Ohio history, and one of the most unusual weather events to ever occur in the United States. It snowed in the Youngstown area from late on Thanksgiving evening, November 23 through the 27th, dropping a total of 29 inches of snow on the Youngstown area. The 24 hour snowfall record in Youngstown of 20.7 inches was set over November 24-25 during that storm. Some areas got it worse. Steubenville received a total of 44 inches, the record snowfall for Ohio.


Snowfall totals through the Ohio Valley, National Centers for Environmental Information

Two low pressure systems, one from the Great Lakes and one from the south concentrated just west of the Appalachians over western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where the heaviest snowfalls occurred. For this reason it is also known as the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. There were some weird occurrences. For example, at 2:30 pm on November 25, Pittsburgh had blizzard conditions and temperatures of 9º F while in Buffalo 150 miles north it was 54ºF with the hurricane force winds that prevailed over the east coast and New England. Perhaps weirdest was that this low pressure system slowly tracked west over the next several days before dissipating, blocked by an intense high pressure system over New England. That contributed to the massive accumulations.

According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, Thanksgiving afternoon and evening was almost spring-like. Weather forecasts for Friday were for “snow flurries.” Snow began overnight but wasn’t overly heavy Friday morning. It snowed steadily all day and by Saturday morning the Valley was buried in blizzard conditions. A state of emergency was declared in the city. The National Guard was called in and it was a priority to rescue those whose homes were facing roof collapses, and pregnant women due to deliver. All businesses were closed and estimated losses from lost wages, production, and snow removal totaled over $20 million. Regionally, over one million people lost power, 22 states were affected, and 353 people lost their lives.

Not everything ground to a halt. In Columbus, the annual rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan was played at Ohio Stadium in what became known as the “Blizzard Bowl.” I found this video clip of game highlights. Michigan won 9-3, gaining only 27 yards and not getting a single first down. Temperatures Saturday morning were 5ºF with 40 mile per hour winds. I don’t know how they played that game!

Bulldozers were used to clear the roads. Ohio’s governor declared Monday a legal holiday. Schools remained closed on Tuesday and many remained closed on Wednesday. The Vindicator did not publish for three days, getting a paper out on Tuesday. By Tuesday the 28th some of the main streets of Youngstown were dug out. As you can see from the picture above of my father-in-law, in residential neighborhoods often all they could do was clear a narrow path, just enough to allow emergency services in, or to get key personnel like doctors out.

All over Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, there are people who remember that storm. Youngstown was just about in the epicenter where the two lows merged. It was a Category Five storm on the Regional Snowfall Index, the highest category (the Blizzard of ’78 was also a Category Five, the only one with a higher max RSI, though less snow). I kind of hope these two storms remain exceptional, having lived through the latter and from all I’ve read of the former.

If you remember the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950, I would love it if you could share your memories!


37 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950

  1. I love a good storm! Like you, and for the same reason, my only memory of the Thanksgiving storm of 1950 is hearing my parents talk about it. I remember the blizzard of 1978 well, because my oldest daughter was born in Cleveland just as the snows began. Good times! My most recent experience with big snows was in January of 2016, when Winter Storm Jonas (when did they start naming blizzards?) dumped over 3′ of snow on us in Western Maryland. Ohio missed that one. My husband and I are back in Ohio now, in Findlay. What might winter have in store for us here in the Great Black Swamp? I look forward to finding out.

    Thanks for the reminiscence, Bob. I always enjoy your posts, whether for edification or nostalgia. I pretty much always enjoy snow, too, but I hope you won’t hold that against me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was in NW Ohio for the Blizzard of 78. Problem there was in flat open spaces the snow drifts. In a snow storm you always paid attention to which way the wind was blowing because roads perpendicular to the wind could get big drifts. Thanks for writing!


  2. I was fifteen and a neighbor had a new baby. It took me almost an hour to walk about one mile to an Islay store which fortunately was open. I bought 2 quarts of milk and returned home in my own footprints. Our street in Brownlee Woods was not passable for almost 4 days. I remember listening to Dan Ryan on WBBW giving updates on what roads were open and what stores were opened and had provisions.

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  3. Like Paul explained, my Dad also walked from our home on Midland Ave to the Isaly store on Mahoning Ave. He was buying milk for me, a year old baby. He often commented on this enormous storm in 1950.
    My husband and I survived the 1978 storm 😄 in Boardman.

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  4. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Great Flood of 1913 | Bob on Books

  5. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top Ten of 2018 | Bob on Books

  6. I was 6 years old at the time, living at the corner of Howard and Vermont on the south side of Youngstown. That storm provided some great building material for a wonderful “underground” hut that I remember to this day in 2018.

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  7. Our family knows the 1950 Blizzard quite well. My younger sister was born at South Side Hospital on Nov. 23, 1950. My father told us of being at the hospital when she was born. But, he worked as a mechanic for the Youngstown Street Dept. and the blizzard conditions meant around the clock snow plowing and slagging and the vehicleshad to be maintained. He wasn’t able to get back to the hospital for three days.

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  8. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Blizzard of 1978 | Bob on Books

  9. The Big Snow

    “Look at the size of those flakes, Dick.”

    “Yah, you can’t even see Dad’s tire tracks in the drive,” I whispered as we lay there at the ends of our beds looking out the window. We were supposed to be going to sleep. It had been snowing for two days straight.

    Our beds were old army bunks set end-to-end along the outside wall of our upstairs bedroom with their feet ends almost meeting by the window. The footboards were painted tan. Mom said they were not tan, they were muckledown gray. The boards had the letters “U.S.A.” carved into them just under where Wally and I always whispered our private thoughts to each other. I pressed my cheek against the side window and peered out towards the crossroads in front of our house. The lighted sign by Woody’s gas station across the street showed the snow falling straight down making the sign look like it was a plane taking off.

    Whenever we could, Wally and I would move our pillows to the window and talk until we fell asleep. That night the snow hypnotized us. The light on one of telephone poles that held up the basketball backboard gave us a good view of the driveway area in front of the garage. (Dad always had a good supply of telephone poles that he could get from the phone company he worked for). Dad and Mosey had just left a few hours before. They were headed for hunting camp in the mountains and we could see their jeep tracks heading all the way down the drive to Route 90 out front.

    It was a pretty long driveway, because it wore me out to pedal my trike down and back, or to push Wally through the limestone puddles in the wagon. It wasn’t as long as a lane, even though it had grass in its middle like Uncle Chuck’s lane. Our house sat on only one acre. It was an old farm house, but there was no farm or barn, just a large garage with a dirt floor that could have held two cars if it weren’t for Dad’s tools and tires and everything. One car was enough because whenever Mom needed it, we would take Dad to work.

    Most of the sides of our house were yellow brick, but parts were yellow brick shingle. It had two slate roofs. The high top one over the bedrooms was too steep and high even for Dad to get on. But lower one over the kitchen was my favorite and we could get out onto it from our bedroom. Dad said slate roofs lasted forever, but he still had to fix them when Wally and I threw stones on the roof and broke some slate. That’s why once he yelled at Wally for climbing out on the kitchen roof when our balsam wood glider-plane got stuck on the slate by our bedroom window. I did not get how our farm house lost its farm, but that is just the way it was, and I would have to figure it out some other time.

    While we watched it snow, I was hoping Dad would get a deer this time. He never seemed to get one. Dad was a good shot, but Mom said he was too careful and always wanted to be sure it was a buck. He almost got one twice. He would tell Curly or PapPap or Uncle Bob the story of how he drew down on the big eight-point buck he saw in the clearing in front of him. He slowly squeezed the trigger. But the deer fell just before he shot. He looked left as another hunter walked out from the woods next to him and claimed Dad’s deer. Dad opened his thirty ought six’s chamber and his shell was still there. He came that close to bringing home the bacon, or actually the venison. Dads were supposed to bring home the bacon.

    The other time he came close to getting one was when he was checking a deer with his scope to be sure it had antlers. Someone else shot it before he could get off a shot. I did not think I would like being a deer. But I liked deer meat and Dad seemed to want one badly, so I kept hoping.

    Anyway, it was still snowing hard. Wally and I fell asleep right there by the window.
    Every once in a while, we would stir and look out and see that it was still snowing. We were still half asleep and not sure if we were dreaming. It was not going to stop, so we decided we could back to sleep.

    In the morning, when we woke up, it seemed very quiet, and the window looked weird. At first, we tried to see if we cold rub the white frost off the window. The window always iced up in winter and we could melt little spy holes in Jack Frost’s leafy paintings by holding our thumbs on the icy pane. My thumb would get numb enough to pinch or bite without it hurting. But this white stuff, we quickly noticed, was actually piled up outside against the window. The wind had blown a huge drift on the roof against the entire bottom pane. It was dark grey-bluish looking, not bright white like most snow. It was as if we had a secret view inside the drift where the light did not shine. He snow muffled the outside noises too. Wally pushed the window up and snow came pouring in. We made snow balls and went to show Mom. She was on the phone downstairs. She talked a lot on the phone.

    I heard her say to the other person that we were snowbound, but we had lots of food and not to worry. She put her hand over the phone, and screamed a whisper, “Get that snow out of here before it melts all over the place.”

    So Wally and I went to the kitchen and pulled opened the blue painted wooden door, and tried to push open the storm door but it was stuck. Wally pushed the door, and I pushed him. We got it open far enough to throw out our snowballs. But more snow fell in around our bare feet than went out. So we made a few more snowballs and threw them out too. That was fun until I missed and hit Wally on the back of the head sometimes and he plastered me in the face with a handful of half made snowball. I yelled loudly.

    After I realized Mom was not paying attention to my howling, and was still on the phone, I finally quieted down. She did not pay as much attention to my crying anymore as she did to Norman’s. He was just a baby, and I guess if he cried, he really needed her. When I cried, sometimes it was because I wanted her, but I probably did not always really need her. I think she could tell the difference by the way I cried.

    I asked Wally if he could see the milk bottles outside. The milkman always came before we got up for school. On cold days if we did not bring it in right away, it would freeze and push the cream right through the paper tops. I hated the taste of frozen milk. It smelled funny. It was almost like trying to drink cold scalded milk like Mom made poached eggs in sometimes.

    I always admired how neatly folded those paper tops were, pleated like my cousin Judy’s Scottish skirt, and like the end of a loaf of Wonder Bread. Each loaf was wrapped in a paper package folded neatly, and held together on the end with a big star sticker with a big 8 on it (for building your body 8 ways). I could not figure out how they got the paper to stick on the bottle as you could never put it back on the bottle. It didn’t seem to have glue on it either because you could easily peel it open with your fingernail. The top of the bottle looked like the end of a baseball bat. When I asked Wally why they made the bottles like that, he said, “So you can pour the cream off the top to save it, or to hold it well when you want to shake it up to mix in the cream.” We usually did that. We also saved those little round cardboard inserts with the built-in pull tab that you needed to pull on slowly to pop the top. If you jerked that tab and tore it off, you couldn’t unplug the milk bottle without using a knife to gouge it out. I liked yanking those tabs off until Mom yelled at me. Those discs plugged up the bottle when you put it in the fridge. I knew you had better hold your thumb or finger on it when you shook the milk or you would make a mess. I knew because I made a huge mess once and cried. Wally said you should not cry over spilled milk

    Wally didn’t see any new bottles, but he spotted two snow lumps that he bet hid the empties we had put out the night before. Just to be sure, he leaned out against the partly open door, reached in to the snow and dug his hand down into the first bump. Presto! He produced an empty Petersburg creamery bottle– or mostly empty, because there was a lot of snow inside it. No milk. No cereal for breakfast either. Maybe we had some milk still in the fridge. We looked. We had a full quart bottle and one half full. Whew, that was a relief!

    So we did get to fix our breakfast as usual. I liked Rice Krispies and I always made Mom put the milk on first before the teaspoon of sugar so I could taste the sugar from the start. Once, I caught her putting the milk on last and would not eat the cereal because the milk washed the sugar down. Not on your life. Wally said it did not make a difference because you mixed it up anyway. I knew better, because the milk would make the cereal wet and the sugar would stick to it when you sprinkled it on. What was the use of putting sugar on your cereal if you could not taste it? Anyway, I liked the blue willow-ware bowls we ate from. Mom said there was a sad story on the willow ware about an Oriental princess and her boyfriend. But she never really explained it further.

    Wally liked Quaker Puffed Wheat because they sponsored Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The radio announcer always said, “Brought to you by Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice– the only cereal shot from guns!” Sergeant Preston was a show about a Canadian Mounty with his Husky dog, Yukon King. Preston always got his man, but he never had to shoot his gun. They called him a Mounty because he was a mounted policeman. I don’t remember him riding any special horse with a name though, like Roy’s Trigger or Gene’s Champion, Dale’s Buttermilk, the Lone Ranger’s Silver or Tonto’s Scout. We knew all the horses’ names. Hoppy had a silver horse but I could never remember his name. Sergeant Preston had a dog, and we knew all the dogs too: Lassie, Rinny (Rin Tin Tin), and Bullet. I did not quite understand what a Quaker man had to do with guns, but it probably had something to do with thanksgiving with a hat like that. So I was pretty certain that I knew why Wally liked puffed wheat, with the gun and the Quaker man on the front.

    Sometimes we ate Nabisco Shredded Wheat with Niagara Falls on the box. I never could figure out what the Niagara Falls had to do with the cereal. But we liked crushing the biscuits into our dish and Wally always read everything on the box. He read everything he could: signs, books, labels, magazines, cards, and newspapers. You didn’t bother him when he was reading. Actually, you couldn’t bother him even if you tried. He acted as if he were in a trance. He read all the cereal boxes, even mine. He was good at reading ingredients too. Mostly he read to himself, but he would read me the interesting stuff. He also really liked reading the special information they sometimes printed on the cardboard separators in the shredded wheat box. Out of those cardboard pieces Mom also made flash cards to help Wally learn his numbers. They were just the right size. I think reading was how Wally got so smart.

    After breakfast, we started upstairs to get dressed for school. I didn’t go to school yet but I always got dressed when Wally did. Then I would help watch out the back window for the bus coming down the big hill on Middletown Road. It would turn down Donny’s lane. That was Donny Brungard, Wally’s best friend. The Brungards lived on a farm and almost were our neighbors if it weren’t for Mrs. Rock’s house half way in between.

    When we saw the bus coming out the lane, that meant Wally had just enough time to tie his shoes, put his coat on, grab his papers, stick a banana in his pocket and get out to the side of the house where Hilly’s bus, Number 1, stopped by the mailbox. You had to remember your bus number at school, because they all parked in a line. Wally got on the wrong bus once, Number 8. Luckily that was Mr. Wire’s bus. Wally was the only kid left on the bus after Mr. Wire ran his route. Mr. Wire dropped Wally off at our house because he had to drive past it anyway on the way back to school. Lucky for Wally that we lived on a crossroads or he might be shriveled up and starving to this day on the back of that bus!

    As we ran by her on the way upstairs to get dressed, Mom finally got off the phone and said, “Guess what? No school today!” I asked if it was Saturday, and she said. “No, it is Monday, but school is closed because our bus can’t get out to pick up the kids.”

    Well, you would have thought it was Christmas the way Wally whooped it up. He asked if we could go out and play. Mom told him that we could, in a little bit, if we dressed warmly. Well, we put on our scarves and bomber hats on with the flaps. That’s what Wally and I called them at least. My wool coat always smelled like Dad’s hunting coat. It made me scratchy, but I liked it. We wore pajama bottoms under our dungarees. Wally helped me buckle up my boots over my tucked-in pant-legs. We were ready much faster than when Mom would ask us to get ready.

    Mom decided to come out with us, because the baby was sleeping in his crib. I asked Mom on the way out what she meant when she said we were “snowbound”?
    “Well it means you can’t get out of your house and you are stuck.” She sounded like we should be worried. “Three feet of snow fell last night- more than anytime in a hundred years. Trucks can’t get through the roads. Cars and busses can’t get through. They are plowing some roads but it will be awhile before they get here probably.”

    So what? I said to my self . We have everything we need. I replied to Mom, “We still have milk, and water, and clothes, and the radio, and the phone, and Campbell’s soup, and flour and potatoes.” I rattled off that long list so she would not worry.

    “But what if we run out? I can’t get the car out.” She really seemed worried. Dad had left us the car when he went hunting. He and Mosey always liked to go to the mountains in Mosey’s Jeep, because Jeeps could go almost anywhere, like they did in the war.

    Now the first thing we did when we got outside was to run around in the snow. Actually, we could not run, we could only wade. I could not even wade. I could sort of climb and sink one leg at a time into the snow. About half-way around the house I had had it. A huge drift had been piled up there in the wind the night before. Wally just dove into it and held him up straight. I tried to follow in his footsteps but I sunk down into the drift and was stuck– really, really stuck. My heart was pounding my scarf scratched my cheeks and my arms were up beside my ears. I could not budge and was sort of half leaning over like the leaning tower of pizza. I was scared. Would I freeze to death here? What if no one found me?

    Well, I wailed for Wally. No one came. I stopped yelling and started crying softly. I knew I would die. But then I heard a jingle of a license tag on a collar, then a woof, and then a loud howling bark. It was Laddy our Irish setter. Wally had let him loose and Laddy found me. Wally laughed as he pulled me out and tried to pull me back to the driveway with the sled. The sled just sank in and Wally flopped into the snow. So he decided instead to make me big boot tracks for me to follow him. That worked out pretty well because I had time to get my pride back before we got to Mom. Wally and our trusty, but goofy, dog Laddy were my heroes that day. They had really rescued me.

    Mom was busy trying to make tracks to get the car out by walking up and down the driveway. Wally and I tried that too. But it was either too hard (for me) or boring (for Wally). So then we went in the garage and found a board that looked like the top of an old step. Wally somehow tied it onto the push broom. He added a brace or two and fastened them with nails. Presto, we had a snowplow!

    I couldn’t budge the plow. Wally could, if he did not try to bite off too big a piece at a time. He needed to push only a thin layer at a time off to the side of the driveway. He did that for a while; then Mom pushed it for a while. Before we made very much progress, we all felt pretty tired so we decided to go in for soup and to check on Norman. While we were walking in, Wally told me that, at this pace, he figured it would take about three or four days to clear out the driveway. When we got our boots and coats off, I looked in the fridge and wondered how long that one quart of milk would last.

    Then Wally said to Mom, “Hey, you can send me down to Kenny’s store.” So she gave him money and a list. He put on all his wet snowy stuff again and took off to the store up the road about 200 yards. The little grocery store looked like it had been built by workers who did not know what they were doing because the cement blocks were not lined up and the floor was slanted. But they had good snacks and groceries. We seldom shopped for groceries at Kenny’s. Instead, when dad got paid we went once a week to Struthers to the A&P. But sometimes when we really needed it, we bought stuff at Kenny’s.

    After a little while Wally came back with just one loaf of bread, two cans of chicken gumbo soup and a can of Hawaiian punch. “Not bad,” I thought. Mom asked why he did not get the milk or celery or other stuff she wanted. He said they were out of everything, and no trucks could bring in any new stuff yet. Kenny said he would save us some food if she wanted. I was glad we lived almost next to a store. But Kenny called later and said the roof on the store was caving in, so they couldn’t promise us any food.

    So we were worried. I did not want to starve to death. I had seen those starving pictures in Grandma Heck’s yellow National Geographic magazines. I did not like the looks of that. Your eyes would get slanted and you would turn Chinese or brown skinned and your skeleton would stick out. I was already too skinny, and I liked my skin and eyes the way they were, thank you. We had to do something soon. I knew we could hold out a while but I did not know how long it would take for them to get trucks to the stores and to get the roofs fixed. Mom could tell I was getting worried and told me I needed to take a nap. She always had a knack of knowing how I felt.

    After my nap, Wally said “Look out the window, it’s Uncle Chuck with his tractor.”

    Yep, there was that huge Farmall tractor with a front loader on it. The smoke stack sputtered blue and white smoke as the tractor dug and pushed our driveway clear. Uncle Chuck was our family’s hero that day. I waved to him and he slowed down the engine and waved back to me and then drove out the driveway and started up the side road toward Rice’s. He looked like a hero in his red and black hunting coat and red hat. I asked Mom why he did not come in and visit like he usually did. Mom said he had other people to help, and that was important.

    Uncle Chuck really reminded me of Superman , Sergeant Preston and the Lone Ranger from the radio. He had to go off and keep working hard just like they did. “Someday,” I thought, “I might be like him too.” I knew Wally was thinking something like that too by the way he watched Uncle Chuck drive away. “What a great family to be in,” I thought to myself.
    Picture below is a few days after Uncle Chuck plowed us out. That is me at 4.
    My best pictures are in my head.

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  10. I was too young to remember but my dad told the story of how neighbors got together and shoveled snow off our street. We lived on Marmion Ave behind Wilson High School.

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  11. I was 7 when the 1950 storm hit youngstown. we lived on market st. I put on a snow suit and went down the stairs to watch my dad shovel snow. I thought I was on the last step but wasent and when i stepped down the snow came all the way to my neck and that was the end of my snow day.

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  12. My sister celebrated her 69th birthday yesterday. Born during that storm of 1950. The memorable conversation I remember is my dad trying to get my mom to the hospital that day. One lane roads were all he had to make the trip from Austintown to Southside Hospital. My mom asked of him, what if someone is coming the other way? His response was “Someone is backing up and it’s not me”. He made it there in time and she lives to tell the tale. Happy Birthday Joanne.

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  13. Was about 9-10 then, but remember it like yesterday. Lived on Mahoning Avenue across from main Isalys, at my grandparents house. No traffic on streets. After couple days walked down to Mill Creek (off Salt Springs) and picnic tables were not visible, totally covered in snow.
    Think we forget that weather forecasting didn’t have the technology it does now and road clearing didn’t have the plows, salt spreaders, etc,
    Believed Isalys stayed open the whole event. Lot of accidents with cars trying to cross Mahoning bridge, or maneuver coming down the Glenwood hill. My sister and I sat at an upstairs window for hours and watched the cars trying to make it.

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  14. WOW How exciting to read about the 1950 snow storm once again. I was seven years old at the time. Our younger brother Jimmy Schell was born on Tuesday 11-28-1950. We lived on Saranac on the north side just three doors up from Kensington, Our mother was ready to deliver this bundle of joy but NO ONE could get to the streets. My two Uncles Dave Roberts and Chuck Lowry came to our home and took mom by sled to Kensington so the Ambulance could take her to St. E’s. Our dog (who was white) came out the front door and off the porch and we could not find him for a while. He eventually came up to the porch. It was truly an experience I will never forget and certainly hope to NEVER have another like it. Thanks for the memories Bob.

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  15. I was ten years old.
    My uncle died during the 1950 storm. The national guard had to get his body in a Jeep and take it to the funeral home. It was over a week before we could have the funeral.
    We lived on Mathews road and The Kimmel’s who had horses and a saddle shop would pick us up and take us to Mrs. Zeigler’s Grocery store on Southern Blvd.
    The blizzard of 1978 was scary because I was working and had to drive in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat, thanks for adding your memories to this post. It is amazing how vividly we remember going through something like this. I was stranded for five days in Bowling Green, Ohio, in a college dorm during the blizzard of ’78.


  16. What I remember is that my father, who worked for the Youngstown Arc Engraving Co. which did the photoengraving for the Vindicator, walked to work from Poland to Vindicator Square and back! A 12 mile round trip!

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  17. My mother, father, sister & I were spending Thanksgiving with our Grandmother & uncle on Crandall Avenue. My sister got the measles, with a high fever and the doctor came to the house on a snowplow. I also remember that our dog & I ( I was 5 years old) were able to walk on top of the snow, because there was an icy crust on top of the snow. Several days later on our way home to Chicago our car “spun out” on the icy road & landed in a ditch. I was terrified!!

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