Forty-five years ago, Mother Nature treated Washington just as badly as she did last month.
On the morning of Feb. 15, 1958, a crowd of 13,354 horse-racing fans, including my father-in-law, Nick Chaconas, owner of the old Crystal City Restaurant in the District, went to the Bowie track. While the races were going on, more than 14 inches of snow fell, stranding the fans. A relief train arrived five hours after the last race and took about 1,500 people to Baltimore, leaving my father-in-law and about 2,500 other people to spend the night at the track. They slept on the floor and in the grandstand. It was so stressful that several people had heart attacks.
Many roads throughout the area were closed because of snowdrifts, some more than seven feet high. Many small towns, including Herndon, were isolated. A reporter for the now defunct Evening Star said the city "was reduced to a refrigerated, almost inanimate metropolis."
We have been spoiled by the rather mild winters of late, but our area has had some really bad snowstorms over the years. The blizzard of 1889 was known as the Snow King. From Feb. 11 to Feb. 14, 35 to 40 inches of snow fell, and winds blew at 35 mph. This was followed by an ice storm.
The next big snowstorm was Jan. 29, 1922, when about 29 inches fell. This storm is remembered because the roof of the District's Knickerbocker Theater collapsed from the weight of the snow, killing 98 people. The years 1932, 1936, 1942, 1966, 1972, 1983 and 1993 were also memorable for their snowfalls.
For a glimpse of our "snow history," read "Blizzards and Snowstorms of Washington, D.C." by Kevin Ambrose.
JOAN LEE CHACONAS