You call that snow?

Way Back When

January 29, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Blizzard of '22, despite serious challenges through the years, still remains the granddaddy of all Maryland snowstorms.

On Jan. 27, 1922, readers of The Sun were advised that the day's weather would be: "Cloudy and somewhat warmer today; probably rain or snow tonight or tomorrow."

By the time the powerful nor'easter -- not unlike the one this week that crept almost undetected into the state and left local forecasters red-faced and sputtering explanations -- blew out 35 hours later, Baltimore and Washington lay under a heavy blanket of snow that measured 26.5 inches.

The storm, which set a record in College Park and Cambridge, where 24 inches of snow fell in 24 hours, managed to dump 30 to 32 inches in a band stretching from southern Baltimore County across northern Prince Georges and Anne Arundel counties. The Eastern Shore totals reached eight inches while Southern Maryland wallowed in a 20-inch snowfall.

Western Maryland fared no better, with 25 inches falling in the Allegany Mountains and a foot in Washington County.

The blizzard, also remembered as the Knickerbocker Storm, is named for the famous Knickerbocker Theater disaster in Washington, caused when the theater's roof collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Moviegoers had ducked out of the storm to watch a Hollywood comedy at the theater, at 18th Street and Columbia Road in northwestern Washington. At 9 p.m., the roof of the theater suddenly gave way with a roar. Ninety-eight people were crushed to death instantly under tons of debris, and 130 were injured.

Snow, which fell continuously and was driven by winds that gusted to 50 mph, began falling in Baltimore at 7 p.m. Friday and finally ended early Sunday morning.

It was the worst blizzard to hit the city since 1899, as Baltimoreans attempted to cope with the record snowfall.

"Hundreds of Baltimoreans slept last night in places they had never dreamed, when they left home in the morning," reported The Sun.

"Its effect was more of creeping paralysis than of apoplexy, and the damage was not as severe nor disastrous as several storms of the last century," the newspaper observed.

The battle was on as drifting snows halted streetcar and motor traffic.

It took Mayor William F. Broening four hours to reach his Northwest Baltimore home, the last six blocks on foot, after his auto stalled in drifts.

Broening stumbled and fell several times, and collapsed on the sidewalk near his home. It was only his moans that caught the attention of his family, who rescued him.

"Hundreds of persons were stranded downtown Saturday night. Many Saturday night marketers did not get home with the Sunday dinner supplies until almost dinner time yesterday.

"Hundreds of home-bound people spent the night in stalled streetcars. Hotels were packed with persons who gave up the fight of getting home," The Sun reported.

"Railroad stations were crowded with the stranded who were waiting for trains which did not come. There were snowbound persons in the Custom House, in the theatres, in several office buildings and in nearly all the clubs. Some slept in police station cells. A considerable number rode home yesterday morning on newspaper trucks of The Sun."

The United Railways sent out 38 sweepers and 10 plows in an effort to clear ice and snow from 418 miles of streetcar tracks while other crews sought to re-rail cars that had slid off the icy tracks.

United Railways later estimated that about 1,000 marooned riders from "Sun Square to Emory Grove and Sparrows Point" had turned the trolleys into overnight bunkhouses as they waited for the storm to abate.

Passengers and freight trains of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania railroads were disrupted, as were those of the Western Maryland Railway and the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad.

The "owl" train of the Ma & Pa, which struggled northward from Baltimore at 11: 40 p.m. Saturday, finally steamed into Towson 12 hours later after being stranded in snow near Sheppard Pratt Hospital.

Shipping came to a halt for several days, with packet boats of the Old Bay Line and Chesapeake Line remaining at their docks.

Telephone switchboards were jammed with what The Sun described as a new "popular indoor sport telephoning" as "switchboard queens" had to deal with an additional 200,000 Sunday calls.

Milk supplies became scarce throughout the city and when they did arrive were conveyed by streetcar to temporary dispensaries in car barns where consumers were able to make purchases.

Despite the ferocity of the storm, there apparently was only one storm-related death in Baltimore. George C. Cook, a foreman at Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point, was killed by a Pennsylvania Railroad train as he and fellow workers attempted to clear a frozen switch of ice and snow.

"Pretty bad storm it was. Made a sad mess of the street car service. Tied up the railroads. Put a lot of motorists out of business. Broke up a whole lot of weekend parties. Tied up a good deal of the city's milk supply. Deprived many suburbanites of their Sunday papers. Delayed shipping. It -- but why prolong the moan," said an editorial in The Sun.

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