Deadly March snow changed family's view of winter

March 20, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

Afriend of mine has a saying that weather changes every 15 miles. The events of March 1958 seem to prove the point. A snowstorm that brought Baltimore to just an inconvenient stop beginning March 19 was devastating to our immediate north.

Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties were inundated with wet snow that shut roads and downed electrical wires. While a dangerous storm, with accumulations of at least 2 feet, it does not seem to have made it into the record books because the depth counts were taken elsewhere, out of the storm's main path.

And, in this case, the 15-mile rule was proved.

Diane Wasowicz, after starting to read my recollection last week of that late-in-the-season storm, contacted me, saying she "suddenly paused mid-article to ask my husband to remind me in what year and month his grandfather was crushed when the barn roof collapsed under the weight of snow."

I did not mention the name of Charles C. Cook, a 65-year-old Baltimore County farmer who lost his life when a shed roof attached to his dairy barn fell and crushed him. The leaden snow, 2 feet deep, slid off a sloping main barn roof to the ancillary structure.

Diane and her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Wasowicz Mettee, filled out the story behind the few paragraphs that appeared in this paper.

Charles Clayborne Cook was a dairy farmer who had been born in Harford County. He was also musical. He and his twin brother played banjo and guitar at local events.

"His barn was huge and was nearly three stories high," said Mettee, who recalled the events that day. She was a member of the extended Cook family who resided in the roomy 1860 farmhouse. Also living there was her father, Frank Wasowicz, a Whitman Requardt engineer who was at work on Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel.

That farm, in Baldwin, was less than 100 acres. It sat at Sweet Air Road on the crest of a hill where Carroll Manor Road ends. Cook had Guernseys and was probably milking early in the morning. When he heard the roar of the sliding snow, he called out to his son to run for it.

The Sun's account said neighbors dug toward the sound of the men's voices. The elder Cook died, but his son survived.

Cook's body was pinned under the shed for two days. The family spent agonizing hours in the farmhouse kitchen huddled around a stove, the only source of heat. Finally, an undertaker was able to get onto the property, and Cook's body was taken to the Leonard Ruck Funeral Home in Hamilton for a funeral.

After that March snow, his wife, Elizabeth, made a decision.

"That snow and the death it brought caused the family to sell the property and move to Towson," said Mettee.

All the cows were sold, including one named Betsy that brought $500. The property later ceased to be a farm and was developed as building lots.

That storm, so late in the season, has led the Cook family to a cautionary weather observation. "After what happened, my mother never thought that winter was over until March was over," said Mettee.

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