Much of the U.S. has suffered through a couple extreme heat waves this summer without enough rain. I thought it might be refreshing to take our minds down a different path, to the Great Snow Storm of 1857 as told in the “Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, 1726 – 1871” :
We must not omit to mention the great snow storm of January, 1857, which is still often referred to in conversation, and by the newspapers. Snow began to fall about 7 o’clock Saturday night, the 17th, and continued without cessation for twenty-four hours. All day Sunday, the 18th, the mercury stood at zero, and the wind blew in a gale from apparently every point of the compass, driving the snow into houses through every crack, piling it up many feet deep in some places, and in others sweeping the earth bare.
The running of trains on the Virginia Central railroad was suspended for ten days, and as there was then no telegraph line to Staunton, the people of the town and county were cut off from communication with the outside world. But never did good-fellowship and all the social virtues prevail so generally in the community. Two issues of the Staunton newspapers were brought out during the embargo, and the editors were put to the trumps for copy.[Definition from the 1913 Webster’s dictionary- “to force to the last expedient, or to the utmost exertion.”] At length after dark Tuesday evening, the 27th, the town was startled and elated by the unaccustomed sound of an engine whistle, and a large part of the population rushed to the depot to learn the news. Did Richmond, Washington and New York survive, or had they been smothered to death by the snow? The train proved to be only an engine with one car attached, bringing the passengers who had started from Richmond on the 18th. The regular western train of that day was arrested by the storm at Louisa Court-house, and the passengers were detained there till the 21st. They then worked their way by some means to Gordonsville, where they had to remain until the 25th. Starting again, they spent a night in the railroad car, and reached Staunton, as stated, on the 27th. They brought no mail nor news except the account of their own adventures. At 4 o’clock Wednesday, January 28th, the first train from Richmond arrived with thirty bags of mail for the Staunton post office.
Reading how cut off they were from any news is so different than today. Every major weather event is covered endlessly now on all television channels and radio stations. And certain the internet has no lack of stories – no “put to the trumps” for today’s news reporters. I always feel sorry for the lowest – ranking TV correspondent, who reports “live” from the busiest intersection, interviewing the poor shmucks whose cars have slid down the hill or gotten stuck on the road while the camera man films every slide, every accident and every time the correspondent, in quiet moments, steps in deep snow to see how deep it is, and whether its light or heavy (“a wet snow”?).
To read a riveting tale about passengers stuck on a train in the snow, I encourage you to read “All Wiped Out!” : Wellington Avalanche at Map of Time: A Trip into the Past .
1 Joseph A. Wadell (ed.), Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, From 1726 to 1871 (2d ed.; Staunton, Virginia, C. Russell Caldwell, 1902, pp. 448-49.