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Odd Wisconsin Archive

More Winter Tales

This is the worst winter that many of us can remember. Around the Society's headquarters in Madison, more than six feet of snow have fallen since Thanksgiving -- with another inch or two overnight and several more expected in a few days (as usual).

But according to William A. Titus, writing in 1936, "The winter of 1881 is remembered by all the older people as the 'winter of the deep snow.' The snowfall was only moderate until February; then it became phenomenal. Day after day and night after night the white blanket piled higher. The valleys were filled and roadways were obliterated. In the woods where the snowfall was undisturbed by the wind, the snow was easily six feet deep. Some of our farm buildings had snow banks against them that reached up on the sloping roofs. The entire population was imprisoned in their homes for weeks, except as they ventured out on snowshoes. The paths from the house to the farm buildings were miniature canyons. During this time, one of our neighbors died and his body was carried by eight men two miles to the cemetery. Toward spring, occasional rains followed by cold weather gave to the snow fields a surface of ice. As late as April farmers were still driving teams over the crusted snow that entirely concealed the rail fences and made the countryside an arctic waste. On one of the hill roads which had high banks on either side, we children tunneled through the deep frozen snow and thus coasted down through a literal white way, secure from the cold blasts until we emerged at the lower end."

We haven't yet reached the point of tunneling through the snow and, despite multiple ice storms, we couldn't drive horses across the top of the crust.

Nor have we plunged to the deepest depths of frigid temperatures. Here's lumberjack Fred Jenderney of Butternut, describing one winter before 1900 when he worked for Paul Bunyan:

"It was so cold that words froze right in the air. All winter long the weather remained that way. If one said "Hello" he could see it hanging in the air. If a teamster swore at his team, the sound of his voice would freeze also. That spring when the thaw came you could see all of those oaths thaw out the same day. Never in all history since the beginning of man was a more terrible profane barrage thrown over than there was that spring on the Little Onion." *

So watch out what you say when you pick up that snow shovel again on the next sub-zero, pre-dawn morning. Who knows what the neighbors will hear, come springtime.

To see great pictures of historic winter conditions, jump over to Wisconsin Historical Images. You may want to buy a reproduction of one and hang it on your wall, to remind you in June of how things were in January.

* Jenderny, Fred. "That Lumber Camp," The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), June 13, 1919: 4]

:: Posted in on February 14, 2008

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