BLIZZARD OF 1941
Norman County History – Written by Mrs. Arnold (Diane) Boit of Hendrum,
Minnesota through the courtesy of the 1941 edition of the Norman County Index.
It was a Saturday, the 15th of March, 1941.
It had been a beautiful day, and although light snow was falling early
that evening, it was not enough to prevent travel.
After all, Saturday night was the time for socializing, for shopping in
Ada, and perhaps for taking in the latest movie playing at the Orpheum which at
that time was “Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride,” starring Gene Autrey and Smiley
Burnette. On street corners, in
restaurants and stores America’s deepening involvement of the war in Europe
was being discussed by young and old alike.
It was a typical Saturday night.
Suddenly, the wind switched, and a rumbling noise could be heard as 60
mile an hour winds swept down out of the north.
The snow was whipped up into fine particles and within a few minutes
visibility was reduced to almost zero for drivers as well as pedestrians.
Winds reached tornadic proportions – up to 87 m.p.h. during some of its
more severe gusts. Storm windows
rattled, and householders were kept busy checking their windows and doors.
Twigs and branches were blown off trees, and the whirling snow shut out
visibility. Buildings only a few
feet away could not be seen.
Hundreds of people were stranded in Ada.
Some had started for home as the storm broke; few reached their
destination safely. Most travelers were caught in the storm as cars stalled or
the visibility was so poor that they couldn’t proceed. Some remained in their cars; others left to seek refuge and,
in doing so, were badly frozen.
Many of the city’s residents remained uptown rather than chancing the
trip home. Citizens who tried to return to their homes found it
necessary to abandon their cars and proceed on foot or remain uptown.
The theatre, restaurants and cafes remained open all night for those
stranded in town. In the Orpheum some of the younger people passed the time by
dancing on the stage to radio music. A
sparrow, seeking sanctuary invaded the Blue Bird Café.
Efforts to catch the bird were unsuccessful, and it was still at large in
the building two days later.
The storm continued unabated all night, with temperatures dropping to
five below zero, and let up only slightly in the morning.
Not until late Sunday afternoon did the wind subside and the snow stop.
Though not lasting 24 hours, the storm claimed eight lives in Norman
County. The following are the
stories concerning these deaths:
Mrs. Gunda Sandy and baby - Mrs. Gunda Sandy, 37 and her nine-month old
daughter of Moorhead had been visiting at the home of her brother-in-law and
sister, Mr. And Mrs. Ole Bergman, who resided on the Idtse farm two miles west
of Ada. Mrs. Sandy’s invalid mother, Mrs. John Sand, also lived
there. The Bergmans were stranded
in Ada during the storm when a chimney fire developed at their home. Mrs. Sandy, taking along her baby, decided to seek help at
the Lloyd Ness home across the road. She
apparently became lost in the storm and wandered down the highway for about a
quarter of a mile before collapsing in a ditch
Their bodies were found the following day.
William Treichel – Mr. And Mrs. Herman Treichel and their four children
had been in Ada that day and were returning to their home at Hadler when their
car stalled just a short distance
from their home. Mr. Treichel and
the oldest son carried two of the children to the home.
He (Mr. Treichel), then returned to the car to get his wife and five year
old son. On returning the group
became lost and wandered for nearly a half mile south of the house before
getting their bearings. After about
an hour’s struggle in the storm they finally reached the house – only to
discover that the boy had died in his father’s arms.
Mr. And Mrs. Treichel were badly frozen.
Mr. And Mrs. Ludwig Foss and daughter, Roslyn – The Foss family resided
northwest of Lockhart and
were returning from
Ada when their car stalled or was abandoned . They were about four miles west of Lockhart.
Trying to reach the Sullivan place, the three walked about a half mile
before the storm overwhelmed them. Both
Mr. And Mrs. Foss were former Hendrumites, and funeral services were held for
them and their 18 year old daughter at the Concordia Church east of Hendrum.
Elmer Maland -- Returning
from Halstad, Elmer Maland, 42 was bound for his home on the former Chris Madson
farm, about three miles northeast of Halstad, when the storm hit.
He apparently tried to find shelter, but the storm proved too much for
him. His body was found the
following day, just a short distance from his neighbor’s farm, the Martin
Joe Sear – A resident of Ponsford in Becker County, this 63 year old
man was found frozen in a meadow two miles south of the Syre townsite a short
distance from the Clay County line. He
was believed to have been walking as his suitcase was found three-quarters of a
mile from his body.
And for those who survived – it was a harrowing experience – a
nightmare for many – as the following stories relate –
Mr. And Mrs. Roy Pierce, southwest of Ada, started for home but turned
back as the storm worsened. Along
the way, they picked up Conrad Bodding whose car had stalled.
After traveling but a short ways, the car was stopped due to the poor
visibility. The group stayed in the
car for nearly an hour before discovering that they were parked only a few feet
away from the Fair Station. Here
they spent the night.
Ed Anderson, salesman for the Ada Wholesale House, had just reached
Lockhart on his round when the storm struck.
He was about to return home when he opened the door of the store and
couldn’t see his own truck which was parked only four feet away.
Needless to say, he spent the night in Lockhart.
Mr. And Mrs. Harold Ruch who lived four miles southwest of Ada were on
their way home as the storm broke. Their
car stalled just a short distance from the house, and although they did finally
reach there safely, Mrs. Ruch later had to be hospitalized with severe
frostbitten legs and hands.
Milo Haaland, Marvin Manning, Lawrence Griewe, and a Natwick boy from
Twin Valley and a Quamme boy from Gary were all caught in the storm a half mile
east of the Tony Bennefield home. There
were three cars, but only two had heaters.
They all gathered in one car until the gas was exhausted and then went to
the other car. After that car’s
gas supply was gone, they spent the night trying to keep each other awake.
The group was found Sunday morning by Erwin Griewe who had gone looking
for his brother. All spent the day
at the Griewe home – all had frozen faces.
Mr. And Mrs. Herman Balzum had just left Ada for her parents’ farm for
the George Rockstads, west of Ada, when the storm hit. They were about a mile west of town, not too far from the Roy
Kitchell place, when their car went off the road. They stayed in the car for nearly an hour when another car
became stalled nearby, containing Alden Larson and a party of six.
After discussing the situation, they all decided to try and reach the
Kitchell farm. Using a rope to keep
the nine together, they left their cars and soon were forced by the gusting wind
and heavy snow into the ditch. Here
they followed the fence line until a slight windbreak was felt.
Thinking that this must be the way to the Kitchell farm, they turned and
continued blindly into the storm. Luckily,
they reached the farm house, but only after seeing it when but a few feet away.
Mrs. Balzum suffered severe frost bites as well as scratches from the
Mr. And Mrs. Myron Benbo of Fertile and Mrs. And Mrs. Albert Benbo from
east of Lockhart were on the way to the latter’s home when their car stalled
in the storm, about a half mile from the farm.
They left the car and wandered for nearly four hours before finding a
grove of trees on the Leslie Davidson farm.
Here they took refuge in the barn. After
resting here awhile, the Albert
Benbos went to the Davidson house to summon help.
Mrs. Myron Benbo was carried to the house and all spent the night there
in safety. Sunday night after the
snow plows had cleared the way for an ambulance, Mrs. Myron Benbo was taken to
the hospital in serious condition from frost bites.
In the Borup community, Margie Mack, telephone operator, made efforts to
deliver 48 calls for information about relatives and friends.
Emil Johnson and his brother-in-law, Wm. Ambuehl of Town of Mary spent
eleven hours in their car which had stalled three miles west of Borup.
Although keeping their feet warm was the hardest task, it was thought
that the two blankets in the car were responsible for saving their lives.
In the Borup area quite a few reported losses of turkeys.
The barn of Peter Woltjer farm was reported wrecked.
Wm. Wells, who was remodeling a barn, found it off the foundation.
The Riverside 4-H Club of Perley had met at the Oscar Houglum home that
evening when the storm struck; all spent the night there.
To pass the time, the group sang songs, played cards and participated in
various other games.
Mr. And Mrs. Carl Hilde and small boy were returning from Ada when the
storm struck and stalled their car. Mr.
Hilde left and located the Carlea Mattison’s home and after being supplied
with warm clothing, decided to walk to town for help with the car.
He had gone but a short ways when he lost his bearings.
By luck, he found the car again – or all would have died that evening.
And, of course, there are many, many more stories that were untold.
Throughout the Upper Midwest eighty people lost their lives due to the
storm; there were countless close calls with death. This account serves to remind people who lived through that
awful time and serves to warn future generations that it could happen again.
Would you be another statistic – or
would you survive to tell others about it?
Think about it ---
“(Eddie and I can vouch for the severity of this storm. We were operating the Green Lantern Café at that time and, yes, we were one of the cafes that stayed open all night. We ran out of food and people slept in the booths.)” Lucille Offerdahl