The shadow of the storm spreads over the tattered old weather map like the outline of a plague -- from New England to Tennessee, the Appalachians to the Atlantic, with Washington right in the middle.

The map is dated Saturday, Jan. 28, 1922. The time is 8 a.m.

"The coast storm is central this morning off the Virginia capes," the map's weather summary reports. "It has been attended by gales . . . from Cape Hatteras northward to Cape Cod, and by snows in the Middle Atlantic states and the Carolinas." There would be more snow that day, piling on top of the previous day's, accumulating to almost 30 inches. It would be one of the worst Washington blizzards ever. That night, as hundreds of people sat in the elegant Knickerbocker Theater, it would become one of the city's worst disasters, too.

The worn but detailed official weather bureau map in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's recently dedicated rare-book room in Silver Spring recounts the infamous Knickerbocker Blizzard of 1922.

More than 90 people were killed and more than 100 injured that second night of the storm, when the snow buckled the roof and brought tons of debris down on patrons gathered in the theater, at 18th Street and Columbia Road.

Made historic by calamity, the map is now one of the treasures preserved in the Charles Fitzhugh Talman Special Collections Room, which was dedicated in October at NOAA's Central Library, on East West Highway.

The Talman room houses the rarest, oldest and strangest of the books and documents gathered by NOAA's National Weather Service and its preceding agencies going back to 1811, when the U.S. Survey of the Coast first began acquiring scientific works.

"It's a cumulative collection," said Doria B. Grimes, chief of NOAA's library contract operations branch. The weather service was founded in 1870.

Talman, a meteorologist, headed the weather bureau library from 1908 until his death in 1936 and was, via newspapers and radio, the bureau's public voice for almost two decades.

The library, which is open to the public, now contains more than a million books, journals, reports, photos and databases related to weather, fisheries, marine biology, oceanography and related sciences.

Perhaps the most intriguing items are behind the locked door of the Talman room.

There, on metal shelves, rest ancient texts on science; accounts of expeditions to exotic climes; hallowed works on meteorology from around the world in English, Latin, French and German.

Volumes by Aristotle, Euclid, Johannes Kepler and Francis Bacon are there along with Ptolemy's "Catalog of Stars," Isaac Newton's 1799 "Astronomy Explained Upon" and a 1485 edition of Hippocrates' thoughts on how weather affects the human body.

Present, too, are Irish chemist Robert Boyle's 1665 "Experimental History of Cold," Tiberius Cavallo's 1781 "Treatise on Air" and Benjamin Franklin's 1769 "Experiments and Observations on Electricity." A 1790 first edition of Capt. James Cook's "Voyages" beckons.

There are oddities, too: doodling by famed American painter James McNeill Whistler when he worked for the U.S. Survey of the Coast in the mid-1850s. Whistler couldn't resist adding unauthorized embellishments of his dry coastal sketches, and he was dropped from the job after four months.

Also unique is the lighthearted 1864 study of snowflakes by an author identified only as "a lady." The work includes various drawings of snowflakes, accompanied by flowery Victorian verse.

There is also a small, handwritten daily digest of Washington's weather from June 21, 1797, to June 21, 1798: author unknown.

"This collection is truly fun," said Janice Beattie, director of NOAA's central and regional libraries. "We've got the expeditions. We've got the books on weather. We have the early fisheries books. We have so much in here.

"It's the collective memory of [NOAA]," Beattie added. "The spirit of the agency resides here. Our history goes back to 1811, and it's been a continuum up to now. . . . You're the keepers of the history of science, and you are there to also serve the scientists that are here and now that are doing the work for the future."

Skip Theberge, a technical information specialist at the Central Library and a retired captain in NOAA's sea corps, said the Talman room contains "a record of the thoughts of meteorologists, climatologists, geophysicists, surveyors, engineers through the ages.

"The evolution of the physical sciences is what is represented in that room," he said.

NOAA's Central Library is open to the public, but research must be done on site. The library catalogue is online at, Beattie said, and "we have over 20,000 images up online in our photo library that are copyright-free that you can use."

"This is probably one of the greatest resources in this town," Beattie said.

Along with the weather bureau map of the Knickerbocker Blizzard, the Talman room also houses a small, 28-page book about the storm and the theater disaster.

The Knickerbocker was an ornate 1,700-seat theater with marble floors, crystal chandeliers and a tearoom on the balcony. About 300 people had braved the weather that night to see George M. Cohan's comedy "Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford."

At 9:10 p.m., during the second show, "the audience was disturbed by a groaning sound," according to the book's author, Martin A. Olmem.

"A few persons sitting near the exits rose to their feet and started for the door," Olmem wrote. "Before they could get clear of the aisles, there was a roar and the entire roof collapsed and fell into the center of the amphitheater."

An investigation faulted the design of the five-year-old building, which relied on an arch of girders, rather than support pillars, to hold up the roof, which could not sustain the weight of the snow.

Information on the infamous Knickerbocker Blizzard of 1922, which led to the deaths of more than 90 people, is housed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's rare-book room in Silver Spring.