Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rockefeller's Blizzard

As the heat of July cranks up, I am sharing some memories of the cold winter during my freshman year at the University of Charleston.

Early in 1977, Jay Rockefeller had just been sworn in as governor of West Virginia. It was in the middle of a cold spell that had seen the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers freeze over from bank to bank for the first time since the '50s. Political Science chairperson Dr. Evelyn Harris had prime tickets for the inaugural ceremony that she was giving away for any of us students to attend. I thought I had a ride with Christy Velasquez in her butterscotch colored Ford Maverick, but she decided it was too cold after all. I wasn't all that disappointed, because it was bitterly cold, plus I had already seen an inauguration four years earlier with Arch Moore.

While I didn't get to see the inauguration itself, I did get a last minute offer to attend the Inaugural Ball that night. Robin D.'s friend Terrie D. needed a date for the ball (I think she had a boyfriend at Marshall who wasn't able to get back to Charleston), and so I got drafted in the CT to go with her. We had a great time partying in the auditorium of the new office complex with the Charlie Daniels Band and in the Great Hall of the West Virginia Cultural Center with Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Going to college in the capital city definitely had its benefits!

Less than two weeks after being sworn in as governor, and still in the midst of a frigid winter, the National Weather Service was suddenly predicting a huge winter storm to hit West Virginia. Emergency announcements were being made on the radio stations. The new governor went on the air and warned everyone on that Friday afternoon that a blizzard was coming from the west. It was going to be worse than the infamous Thanksgiving 1950 storm that us kids had heard our parents tell such tall tales about.

My friends in Cox Hall at UC decided we had to prepare for the impending ordeal. Jay S. had a car on campus, and we would make a run to Krogers in Kanawha City. This was not just any car Jay had—it was a 1941 Chevy that we called “Black Beauty.” We gathered monetary contributions before hopping into Black Beauty and heading down MacCorkle Avenue to buy the essentials necessary for a guys' dorm—beer and snacks. However, former Boy Scouts Eric F. and Roger B. insisted that we also needed to get some survival food. Besides normal party essentials like bags of potato chips and pretzels, canned goods like Spam and pork & beans had to be added to our shopping list, since we didn't know just how many days (or possibly weeks) we would be snowed in. After all, the governor had declared a state of emergency!

The inside of Krogers that afternoon was crazy. Everyone had heard about the coming blizzard and were stocking up for the inevitable isolation. I have never seen such crisis shopping in my life, as entire shelving units were being depleted. The lines at the checkout were horrendous! It was quite an experience. I remember it any time the television news show similar episodes prior to hurricanes coming ashore.

As we hunkered down in the dorm for the night, we had plenty to party with as the snow started to fall (although we saved the cans of pork & beans and Spam for later when we would need them to survive). We were determined to have a good time as we rode out the storm. We were certain that the next morning would involve attempts just to dig our way out of the doors on the first floor—if that would even be possible.

However, by the time most of us awoke (which was by no means early that Saturday morning), it became apparent that the big blizzard had not lived up to its billing. For all the emergency proclamations by the governor, and for all the madhouse behavior at the grocery store, this supposedly gigantic blizzard was hardly worse than a typical winter snowstorm—it was measured in inches, not feet. The only thing huge about it was the party in Cox Hall the night before.

While we don't remember it for its epic amounts of snow, we will always remember the hype that went into Rockefeller's Blizzard.

No comments:

Post a Comment