Camera-toting Father Got Footage Of Winter Footage

February 16, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY

When my father pulled out the home movie camera to record a nonfamily event, I knew it was big news. The snowstorm that hit Saturday, Feb. 15, 1958, was one of those weather events that Baltimoreans recall. My father, Joe Kelly, a racing reporter for the old Washington Evening Star, was among the 5,000 persons stranded at Bowie Race Course. He later filmed his children dealing with Charles Village snow mounds.

The storm was narrow and seemed to travel along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Both cities were hit hard - but locales to the west and east were less severely treated.

That said, the real story of 1958 was that the February drubbing was followed by another freakish weather event, the treacherous March 19, 1958, storm. Newspapers later referred to the events as "this one" and "that one."

Instead of being scared by TV weather forecasts, Baltimoreans the evening of March 18 calmly watched Charlie Chan, The Betty White Show, Wagon Train, Tombstone Territory, I've Got a Secret, Circle Theater and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

By lunchtime on Thursday, March 19, big wet flakes started falling. The Evening Sun carried a three-paragraph story headlined "Wet Snow and Sleet Forecast." Some students were dismissed after lunch, although downtown offices stayed open, the papers later reported.

It was a storm system that brought rain to the Carolinas, but met just enough cold air around Baltimore to produce a wet, clinging snow that stuck and froze on electric and telephone wires. By the morning of March 20, poles and electric lines were snapping from downtown to Parkville. Even the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad (AMTRAK's predecessor) gave up and shut down.

I stood in the family kitchen and watched an alley electrical transformer stage a nasty fireworks show. The electric wires stretched so low I thought they would hit the garden roses bushes.

A man was found in the street, frozen to death near his Eager Street home. A Sweet Air man was crushed to death when a metal roof fell in under the snow's weight. A Navy woman's car plunged 90 feet off U.S. 1 at Conowingo. A Reisterstown man suffered a heart attack while shoveling a path. A Hagerstown man died while struggling to put chains on his tires.

The wet snow arrived fast in pre-Beltway Baltimore. Charles Street traffic was stopped at Cold Spring Lane. Reisterstown Road was impassable as drivers ditched cars at Park Circle. Edmondson Avenue traffic stopped at Hilton Street. Park Heights was shut down just north of Belvedere.

In the Baltimore of 1958, there were two heavily patronized streetcar lines, the No. 8 (Towson-Catonsville) and the No. 15 (Belair Road). Even the streetcar snow sweepers - large motored cars with swirling circular brooms used only during storms - labored as long as they could until power lines died. The storm crippled the Catonsville line at Paradise Avenue. The Belair Road line conked out at Nicholas Avenue. A bunch of trackless trolleys piled up in the snow on Roland Avenue at the base of the Roland Park water tower.

My father used up whatever 8 mm film he had left for this one. We still watch it.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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