This winter is…weird. I have only worn my winter coat a handful of times, I’ve not brushed snow off my car at all. It doesn’t feel like winter at all. I find myself staring out the window, dreaming of a gentle snowfall. Longing to trudge along in my winter boots. I just want to wear my mittens! Then again, maybe it’s not so bad. It could be a winter like Wheeling saw in 1950.
“Record Cold Wave Puts Valley in Deep Freeze; Mercury Hovers at Zero” read one headline from the Wheeling Intelligencer. In the four days after Thanksgiving, 1950, Wheeling received a then record-setting snowfall. The show was reported at 26 inches at the Warwood dam, to as much as 36 inches in hilltop communities.1 That, quickly, turned out to be quite a problem for medical personnel.
“I never heard of so many women having babies as during the big snow,” Police Lt. William Finnigan told the Wheeling News-Register at the time. “Most of the women were carried by neighbors to waiting ambulances,” reported the Wheeling News-Register. Not only were neighbors helping pregnant women, but a crew of about 40 men “cleared the sidewalks and over 100 steps leading to McColloch street within 10 minutes” to help an ill man reach the hospital.2 All over, it seems, the people of Wheeling were coming together to help each other through the storm.
“A doctor rode a bull-dozer up Poplar Avenue to reach the bedside of a heart attack victim.”3 It seems like unique transportation was the theme of the day, as three men utilized skis pulled by horse to go out in search of milk!
The four-day storm made “milk hunting” a desperate necessity. The Wheeling Intelligencer reported intense milk shortages. When food could get through, it flew off the shelves. “A loaf of bread purchased at a delicatessen on the Island Sunday was still warm when it was opened. The entire shipment was sold before the truck could even be unloaded.” When people ventured out to get what food they could, grocers reported customers hulling home their foodstuff on children’s sleds!4 What a shame too, for the children to be without their sleds, as the storm hit at just the right time to make Thanksgiving break extra long. Even The Wheeling Steel Corporation shuttered its doors to the storm, suspending operation for at least two days. The City Manager declared a state of emergency for the whole city of Wheeling.5 It seems that the only people forced out in this were doctors, firemen, and postal workers, who were “asked to report at the regular time.”6 Only two of those seem very necessary during a state of emergency that had snow completely covering cars.
As the storm finally came to an end, the city came together to clear the piles of snow. Volunteers came out to help clear neighborhood streets. Extra energy, it seems, was given to clearing paths to the Ohio Valley General Hospital, as people showed up armed with shovels. Shovels were not the only weapon in the fight against the mountain of snow. The city hired bulldozers from private companies to help with the snow-clearing effort. The machines helped haul the snow away from the streets to be dumped into Wheeling Creek.
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Following the storm, the News-Register Staff Writers took the opportunity to remind everyone that it was a “Good Time to Ready List of Snowstorm Necessities”. In case people needed to restock, or were just taken by surprise by the storm, the list was sure to help. Maybe it will even help you today if we get a great snow this year. “1. A good snow shovel-try the pusher type. 2. Rock salt for thawing out sidewalks, frozen gutters and drains. 3. Canned soup, canned meat, condensed canned milk, cigarettes to be tucked away and forgotten about until you’re snowbound, and, if you so desire, a store of emergency ration whisky. 4. Warm work gloves, areties, mufflers, and trousers that are water repellent. 5. Some good books to while away your idle hours.”7 The News Register reported that bridge and canasta were popular games played during the storm, and that liquor stores had very good business.
So, pending a great snowstorm this year, I will be fully stocking my home with booze and board games, though I may skip the canned meat. Whiling away the hours with a good book and a winter wonderland does sound rather dreamy, though. Maybe not a city-freezing storm, but I do wish for a gentle, snowy winter. What can I say, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!
• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.