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Blizzard

12/19/2005:

Christmas Eve in 1935 was memorable because, for some, one of the state’s worst blizzards turned the holiday into a tragedy. The storm began in the northwest corner of the state and soon stretched east, to the New England states, and south to Ohio. By the time it blew itself out, nearly 200 people in 28 states died, either from direct exposure or from storm-related traffic accidents.

On December 23, the Bismarck Tribune reported mild weather for the holiday week: “cloudy, [with] light precipitation in the north; [and] colder the later half of the week.” By the 24th, the Tribune reported Christmas travel was at a standstill, and blowing snow blocked highways. Gusts of 35 miles per hour were recorded, along with snowfall across the state.

The temperature in Fargo was 10 below zero. The Fargo Forum reported, “Old Man Winter stuffed a blizzard in North Dakota’s Christmas stocking.” Holiday travelers were stranded across the state, and some spent the night before Christmas fighting for their lives.

Three deaths were reported in North Dakota, as well as numerous cases of injury and frostbite. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Antonowitz left their farm, 2_ miles north of Fried, on Tuesday morning to finish up their Christmas shopping in town. By noon, the weather was beginning to deteriorate, and friends of the couple implored them to pass that night in town. But the couple’s three children were alone back on the farm, so they opted to head home in their open wagon.

At 7 o’clock Christmas morning, a half-frozen Mrs. Antonowitz stumbled into the farmyard of Paul Swartz, two miles east of Fried. She told a harrowing tale of a night spent beneath their overturned wagon-box. The couple, blinded by the storm, got lost, so they overturned their wagon box as a makeshift shelter.

Mr. Antonowitz made several attempts to venture for help, but returned fruitless and exhausted after each endeavor. Finally, around 3:00 a.m., he drifted into death. Mrs. Antonowitz remained with her husband until daylight, when she, too, tried to find help. By then, their team of horses was frozen to death. Mrs. Antonowitz was taken to the Jamestown hospital, where she recovered. In spite of severe frostbite, she miraculously lost no limbs.

Another storm fatality was Bismarck resident John W. Goodman, 46, who froze to death while traveling to his mother’s home in Sheldon for Christmas. Searchers discovered Goodman’s stalled automobile on Dec. 26, after his mother reported him missing. The car was found five miles west of Fredonia, and Goodman, frozen to death, was found a mile and half away.

North Dakota’s third victim was Thomas Wandbi, from the Fort Totten reservation. Wandbi was found frozen to death on a road three miles from St. Michael’s mission on Christmas Eve. The temperature in that region had plunged to 22 below.

Roads and highways were littered with abandoned vehicles. Farmhouses became temporary hotels for unfortunate motorists, and many farm families found themselves celebrating the holiday with a large company of family and strangers.

By Thursday, Dec. 26, C. W. Roberts, a federal meteorologist, labeled the storm the “most severe since 1896.” The temperature dropped to 24 below in Minot and 20 below in Jamestown. Thus it was, when friends and families were finally united for their Christmas gathering, many had additional reason to celebrate the holiday season.

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune. Dec 23, 24, and 26, 1935.

The Jamestown Sun. Dec 26 and 27, 1935.

The Fargo Forum. Dec 24 and 25, 1935.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm