Mr. Whip

The Winters Of Yesteryear.

By Harry Wilkinson

We all have memories of past winter months, I'm sure., be they good, bad, or indifferent. Lots of townsfolk I have talked with like the four distinct seasons we have, even though these days, they seem to run into each other. Much pleasanter, they say, to stay on here and face old Man Winter's icy blasts than pick up for sunny Florida or California, flying down like birds to return again come spring.

Right now we are wondering if soon it will be cold enough for the harbor to freeze over so we might once again walk out on it, as was the case just a few years back in January of 1982. Many then took advantage of Mother Nature and snapped the occasion with their cameras. Even a fast-sailing ice boat was sighted speeding along as far as open water near the Lighthouse.
Then there was the severe cold spell we had in January of 1968 with many a walked on the harbor ice. During that particular period Captain Bill Keating pushed his dinghy on

This old-time post card gives a 1907 view of a frozen Marblehead Harbor.

the ice from the neck over to State Street Wharf, truly a sight to behold.

Oldsters like to recall other years of harbor ice, say the times time in 1898 another time in 1907, and in 1912 during a January week. At that time thermometers around Town registered below-zero figures, and a glass on Gregory Street near Mason's Rocks read 14 below, one on Lee Street 10 below, and at the men's furnishing store of Salkins & Lasky downtown in the Mugford Building the glass there had a reading of 8 below.

In those days the big barges that came into the harbor loaded with coal and wood for John S. Martin's Wharf on Cliff Street (now Cloutman's) and at Humphrey and Twisden Yard off Water Street (where the Boston Yacht Club is now) had great difficulty making their way through the ice to their respective docking areas.

As for myself and friends, we do recall quite vividly going on onto harbor ice 50 years ago, in February of 1934. with an old box camera to record the event and taking a long pole along with us for safety's sake, we ventured to mid harbor to sit on the large black can buoy. On one occasion in our party were the lads Nelson Christensen, Henry Jones, Stillman Polley, and Kempton Pritchard.

The 1934 cold spell I refer to came in on the heels of a blizzard which according to records was the hereabouts since 1888. It was 22 degrees below for many a day with water pipes freezing up all over the Town, and a great deal of hardship and suffering did result.

At the time this spell was recorded in detail in the Marblehead Messenger, and many who daily followed the weather patterns made not of all this in their diaries.

Around early February there was much ice in the inner harbor and on the West Shore on Salem harborside, near Naugus Head and Peaches Point. Two fair-sized craft happened to be in the harbor solidly locked in by the ice -- the Danish-built cutter Tulle owned by Harry Bromfield and the Friendship, a sloop of Captain Ed Wilson. Channel markers and mooring buoys were frozen in the ice and one could really walk out just beyond the Corinthian Yacht Club to the open water.

It had been reported the temperatures then ran 20 below up on Reed's Hill, 6 below near the waterfront and all the coal dealers were busy working overtime and the plumbers, too, ever busy, thawing frozen water pipes.

Enthusiastic skaters were out in full force on their favorite ponds, Old Black Joe's, Redd's, and in Clifton at Ware's Pond.

One apartment house owner mentioned that he burned 609 gallons of fuel oil in less than two weeks just to keep his place heated properly. Schools had to close at times as the cold penetrated into the old buildings and Superintendent Frank H. Hill had the No School Signal sounded.

Construction workers on the CWA and sewer projects had to suspend work for a time, and there was a run of people being treated for frostbite at the Mary Alley Hospital.

Adding to the woes of the severe cold period there followed a very heavy snowfall, and Surveyor of Highways Walter B. Power called for extra men to clear the catch basins and the gutters. When it did warm up and the snow melted all too rapidly, there was a sea of slush all about Town.

Later in the month the harbor ice did break up, and large cakes 40 to 50 feet across would grind and crunch together.

The 125-foot patrol boat of the Coast Guard came into the harbor and cut a lane as far as Crocker Park. Even that vessel had a hard time backing up and pushing forward through the solid mass of ice.

On February 10, 1934, five local lads posed on the ice in mid-harbor.

Needless to say, after the snowfall children and many adults too, did enjoy sliding down the various hills. Train'fl Hill was kept sanded for the autos much to the disapproval of many coasters, but they could use the hills at Abbot Street, Jersey, and Evans Road, and in those days there were lots of pungs land sleighs around.

In 1961 again during the month of February there was a harbor deep freeze but not thick enough ice or safe enough to venture out on. eight days or so of zero and sub zero temperatures had caused the formation of some ice.

Many still talk about the "Big Snows of 1978." In mid-January came 23 inches to break records and provide us with mountains of snow. Then on its heel came more snow in a blizzard in February with 30 more inches of the white stuff dumped upon us. Travel then was best by skis, snowshoes, or sleds and many were house-bound for days until they could dig out.

Recalling other winter items, in the 1920's in my own growing-up period not too many homes could boast of central heating. For us there was always the old faithful black iron kitchen stove with a coal fire constantly kept going. All the cooking and heating of water came from this one source. In really cold weather a family would congregate around this stove and be confined mostly to the kitchen area and close off adjacent rooms.

On that kitchen stove, the pride and joy of every housewife, would be the kettle or coffee pot, the lifter, the poker, and the coal hod kept filed from the big coal bin down in the cellar.

Bedrooms were unheated but when really cold nights came, hot irons wrapped in cloth would be placed between the sheets much as warming pans with live coals were used in colonial times. On retiring, many would be wearing flannel nightgowns, nightcaps,, and even stockings to keep the feet warm.

In the parlor invariably would sit an upright stove with it isinglass window in the door, and this would have a fire going at all times of wood and coal. Later came the portable perfection heaters that could be carried from room to room, heated by kerosene, with wicks that constantly needed a trimming.

Those families with outside pumps for their water supply would have a devil of a time thawing them out, and those who had "Chic Sales" with Sears-Roebuck catalog pages knew well the rigors of our Marblehead winters and the shoveling of a suitable path from the house to "the necessity."

Later in houses with furnaces in the cellar and radiators throughout the rooms, there was always the bother of sifting the ashes and trying to save every little piece of unburned coal, or "black gold" as we often called it. The filled ash cans were sure heavy to put out on the sidewalks for the weekly collection by the dumpmen.

In some houses I lived in there were fireplaces, and one could burn good sized logs or briquets in the cold season. Once in awhile a house would have an artificial fireplace log heated by gas.

Oil burners arrived on scene, the kitchen stove had an oil jug affixed to it, and the oil came up by tubes from a tank down in the cellar.

These modern days we have enjoyment from oil burners with their thermostats ready to set at any desired temperature.