Editor’s note: Jim McAllister filed this column Friday, just as the first flakes from this weekend’s blizzard were starting to fall.
As soon as this column heads off to the Salem News — electronically, of course — its author will rejoin everyone else in the region in preparing for the promised great blizzard that is to begin in just a few hours. By the time it appears in the Viewpoint pages of the paper on Monday or Tuesday, we may well have added another chapter to the “great snow storms of New England” story.
There have been others, of course, over the past few centuries, and most have been documented by observers or historians, or both. In his “Town on Sandy Bay,” for example, the late Rockport historian Marshall Swan recalled another great New England snowstorm. This blizzard took place in 1780 during the dark days of the Revolutionary War, and left drifts as high as the second story of many Rockport cottages. “It snowed at least part of the time for twenty-seven consecutive days,” noted the author, calling to mind the seemingly endless snows of 1969 that many of us still remember.
The second-story drifts Swan mentioned were to be repeated locally before the century ended. A notation for late November, 1798 in Joseph Felt’s “Annals of Salem History” reads “The quantity of snow fallen is almost indescribable. The oldest persons say, they never knew such a storm so early in the season. Many are obliged to dig arches through the snow to get from their houses in the country.” Once they reached the roads, continues Felt, they would encounter snow banks “as high as a man’s head on horseback” on either side.
Among the other many “snow events” deemed worthy of mention by Felt was the winter of 1747, which “had about thirty snows.” A major blizzard that took place on January 3 and 4 in 1811 was noted in his diary by another Salemite, Rev. William Bentley of Salem’s East Church. At the conclusion of a full day of snow on the 3rd, Bentley simply noted “Snow deep.” But the storm continued through the entire following day, leaving drifts 9 feet deep on Essex Street, and inspiring the minister to observe, somewhat understatedly, “The quantity of snow great.”