TOLEDO (WTOL) - It’s nearly the middle of January and in a few weeks many Toledo area residents will begin reminiscing about the Great Blizzard of ’78. That’s when Mother Nature slammed our fair city and environs with a deadly barrage of ice, snow, cold and wind. It was one for the record books and left an indelible memory for those of us old enough to remember it.
One that none of us can remember is the storm that pummeled the city 101 years ago this week. According to newspaper accounts, the winter blast rolled in on Friday night, Jan. 11, and its reign of torment endured for several days, leaving behind a city “doubled over in knots,” as a News Bee writer put it. The first assault came with a sudden drop in the temperature from 24 degrees above zero to a near record low of 15 below zero in about 5 hours.
The dangerous freezing temperatures caught many people off guard and hundreds of Overland workers got to work Saturday morning suffering from severe frostbite to their fingers, toes, and ears. But one worker, 65-year old Henry Frobase didn’t make it to work. He fell over into a snowdrift. Coworkers ran to his aid, but he was gone. Dead from the cold. Maybe from a heart attack.
There were so many reports of people suffering from frozen hands, ears and feet, that Toledo ambulance crews and police couldn’t handle all the calls. People streamed into the hospitals all day long for treatment. The Overland factory hospital alone handled over 200 cases of frostbite.
The storm that visited the city also brought heavy waves of drifting snow that essentially shut down much of the city as even the trolley cars could not move against its weight on the tracks. The Railway and Light Company hired 250 men to shovel throughout the day, but were reported to be no “no match for the occasion” and many of the lines had “spasmodic” operations that day. Coal to heat homes was in short supply, and coal dealers were busy, if the customer could get to them. Their motor trucks and horse teams never left the barn. As a result, many folks in Toledo ran short of fuel -- both coal and gas -- and were forced to shiver in their homes where the stiff winds found their way inside through every little crack and opening.
As Toledo residents hunkered down, so did the city street workers. The city said its workers felt the situation was too much to handle, so they stayed inside and didn’t venture out to remove snow or fight the effects of the storm. Communication was difficult as telephone operators could not get to work and at one point, only two women were working the switchboards to handle all the calls in the city. Mail was also delayed and train traffic was also stalled. At Woodlawn Cemetery, four scheduled burials were delayed, and the city’s milk supplies also dropped as farmers couldn’t get their milk to the market. By Monday, the streets were still clogged with snow. School buildings were so cold that the schools were closed.
Toledo was not the only city affected. The storm was massive reaching from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic. Much of the nation was paralyzed by what was being referred to as the “Great Storm.” The newspapers on Saturday night ran articles of similar winter misery from Chicago to Cleveland. Scores of deaths had been reported across the nation.
Despite the oppressive news of the weather, as a sign of our human spirit of good humor, one newspaper account detailed the funny things people were doing to ward off the cold, including one man who got on a street car with long wool stockings pulled over his shoes, or the man who had slipped the toe end of a woman’s stocking over his head, and under his derby, to keep his ears from freezing.
And, in 1918, the recommended treatment for a frostbitten ear, per the Toledo News Bee, was a 10 percent solution of iodine applied to the frostbite area. It was said that it would not improve the “beauty” of the ear, but it would work.