Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Blizzard of 1967 -- January 26 & 27

Cermak Road at the end of the storm (Chicago Sun-Times file photo)
The weather forecast on January 25, 1967 read as follows:  CHICAGO AND VICINITY [Thursday thru Monday]:  Temperatures will average near normal; normal high, 33; normal low, 19; colder on week-end; precipitation will total about one-quarter inch in rain or snow the latter part of the week.  [Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1967]

The next day, January 26, a revised forecast of five or six inches of snow began to fall just before dawn.  I was a junior in high school, waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park, headed for a semester final exam.  I took a protractor out and measured the snow that had fallen by mid-morning, and the total, it was easy to see, was way past six inches.  And it just kept on falling.

By January 27 The Tribune’s headline reported “Midwest Reels Under Paralyzing Snow – Traffic Bogs down Among Giant Drifts – School Closings in Hundreds”. 

Everything ground to a halt.  The Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago shut down.  Unable to staff stores adequately, Marshall Field & Co. and Carson Pirie Scott  & Co. shut their doors.  The Ford Motor company assembly plant at 12600 Torrence Avenue was shuttered with 8,000 workers unable to get to the job.

Servicemen at Glenview Naval Air Station and Great Lakes Naval Training center were told to stay in their homes and barracks.  The runway in Glenview was snowbound as well.

Pre-trial motions in the case of Richard Speck, accused of murdering eight nurses in the summer of 1966, were cancelled when a shortage of bailiffs made it impossible to escort Speck from the county jail to the courthouse. 

C.T.A. Buses waylaid on Laramie Avenue (Chicago Sun-Times file photo)
Funerals were cancelled, and Thomas J. Moriarity, executive director of the Funeral Directors Services Association, said, “It is strictly a matter of getting the processions to the cemeteries.  Some cemeteries have been able to get employees in and get internal roads open, but the outside roads are still blocked.”   [Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1967]

I began to shovel the family’s driveway first thing in the morning on January 27.  Drifts were, in some places, at chest level.  The wind was howling, and the work was slow.  It took two days before I reached the end of the driveway, which really didn’t matter because the city plow still hadn’t come down the street on which the house sat.

I was still shoveling when more than snow began hitting the metropolitan fan.  Forty-Seventh ward Alderman John J. Hoellen lambasted the city by its lack of preparation.  “Those city garbage trucks with plows attached to them are a waste of money,” he said.  “What good is it to clear the main entries if no one can get to them from the side streets.”

And the death toll began to creep up.  A 63-year-old man died on the Stone Street station of the Burlington line, waiting for a train.  A passenger on a C.T.A. bus stranded in drifts at Twenty-Fifth Street and Michigan Avenue died on the bus.  A man was found dead in his car, stalled on a ramp to the Stevenson Expressway at Mannheim Road.  Another man was found frozen to death 100 feet from his stalled car on the Tri-State in South Holland.

Harold W. Schumacher, a C.T.A. bus driver was found dead in the snow near his stranded bus at Harrison and Kostner.  Wilbur C. Vanderburg was found dead in the cab of his telephone company truck after hours of emergency work.  The chief of security at the Merchandise Mart, George Jankowski, died at his home after shoveling snow.  Dozens of others died of the same cause.  By January 30 the death toll in the Chicagoland area related to the snow had surpassed 60 persons.

Before it was over the 23 inches of snow that fell on that Thursday and Friday of 1967 left 50,000 abandoned cars on the area’s roads and 800 C.T.A. buses stuck on streets and expressways. Midway Airport had drifts that were ten-feet high on the runways, where during the storm winds were recorded at 53 miles-per-hour. 

It was the storm of a lifetime – at least until the overnight blizzard that shut down Lake Shore Drive in 2012 (but even though that was a nightmare for many, the havoc was nowhere near what happened over those 48 hours in 1967).

And about that driveway – after shoveling for two days, I finally got the thing opened up to the street, still unplowed, sometime around noon of January 28, two days after the storm first started. 

But as I put my shovel over my 16-year-old shoulder and headed back to the house, a road grader – not a plow – came north on Dato Avenue.  And as it neared our house, our neighbor to the south who had not been out of the house since the storm started, waded through the drifts of his driveway with a mug of coffee in one gloved hand and something I couldn’t see in the other.

The grader stopped, and my neighbor handed the operator the coffee and what I now realize was a donation to the city for services rendered.  The grader made a series of maneuvers and ended up backing up the neighbor’s driveway, where in less than three minutes it cleared the entire driveway down to the asphalt.  After another series of maneuvers, the operator continued north, past our house, depositing a levee of snow at the end of our driveway that would cost me another hour of work.

With over a year left in high school, I had been given a civics lesson far more practical than anything that I would ever learn in school.

Lake Shore Drive at storm's end (

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great memior,Jim It hit two days before my 4th birthday. The party went on as most of the kids arrived via mom drawn sled!