Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Frozen by Fear


A frightened girl, perhaps suffering from an overactive imagination, leapt from a moving train near Gladstone, North Dakota on this day in 1924. The girl believed that another passenger on the Northern Pacific train had been watching her, and feared that the man intended her harm. Fearing for her life, the girl retired to her berth and leapt from the compartment’s window into the snow below.

Two days later, a Northern Pacific employee spotted the girl lying in a snowbank alongside the railroad tracks. The man halted the train on which he was riding, and discovered the twenty-year old frozen and only partially conscious. The right side of the girl’s face was frozen, and her mittens had frozen to her hands. The trainmen were perplexed by the girl’s mysterious appearance, but rushed her to the nearby Dickinson Hospital. After receiving treatment, the girl was questioned by authorities, but at first refused to disclose her name or whereabouts. Finally, it was discovered that the girl’s name was Harriet Merritt. Originally from Covington, Kentucky, Miss Merritt was on her way home after working for four years in Seattle, Washington.

Authorities were led to believe that the girl had jumped from the train in a suicide attempt, but Miss Merritt quickly protested the notion. 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 banks of 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. It was later on that the observant trainman spotted the girl in the snowbank along the tracks. Relatives of the girl were notified in Covington, who subsequently made plans to retrieve the girl. Nurses attending the girl described her as “very imaginative,” but many wondered how the girl had escaped from the incident with only slight effects of exposure; she had been wearing only a skirt, stockings, shoes, and a sweater when she was found on the frozen prairie.


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

--Jayme L Job