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Dakota Datebook

Frozen by Fear


A frightened girl, perhaps suffering from an overactive imagination, leaped from a moving train near Gladstone, North Dakota, on this date in 1924. The girl believed another passenger had been watching her, and feared the man intended her harm. The girl retired to her berth and jumped from the compartment’s window to the snow below.

Two days later, a Northern Pacific employee spotted the girl in a snowbank alongside the tracks. The man halted the train and discovered the twenty-year-old frozen, and only partially conscious. The trainmen were perplexed by the girl’s mysterious appearance, but rushed her to the Dickinson Hospital. After treatment, the girl was questioned by authorities, but at first refused to disclose her name or where she came from. Finally, it was discovered that she was Harriet Merritt. Originally from Covington, Kentucky, Miss Merritt was on her way home after working in Seattle, Washington.

The authorities were led to believe the girl had jumped from the train in a suicide attempt, but Miss Merritt quickly protested. She maintained that a man on the train had been “eye-ing” her all evening, and she was afraid to remain aboard. Acting quickly, she used the hammock in her sleeper to create a make-shift rope and used this to slide from the train’s window onto the snow along the tracks. She reported that she had “…wandered all night on the prairie, slept in a strawstack, and then returned toward the railroad” in the morning.

Relatives of the girl were notified in Covington. They subsequently made plans to retrieve the girl. Nurses attending the girl described her as “very imaginative,” but many wondered how she had escaped from the incident alive. She had been wearing only a skirt, stockings, shoes, and a sweater when found on the frozen prairie.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). March 29, 1924: p. 1.


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