Blizzard of ’52 nearly shut down Twin Cities

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The first snowflakes started falling before sunset on Sunday, Feb. 17, 1952. Then the wind began to blow stronger and stronger. By the time it was over around mid-day Tuesday, the Twin Cities were buried in more than 2 feet of snow with deep, tight-packed drifts everywhere.

That was the big blizzard that surpassed everything else since a 30-inch snowfall in 1888. For my wife, Judy, and me, 11 and 12 years old at the time, the storm left remarkable memories, and many more L-A residents will recall their own experiences.

Judy recalls the 26-inch snowfall at her family’s residence in Auburn.

“Our bedrooms were on the second floor and I remember that it had drifted onto the porch roof which was outside my mom and dad’s bedroom window. You could just barely see out the window.”

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Families were snowbound all around, and for the cities’ firefighters, policemen, medical personnel and public works crews, the storm meant they had to face unprecedented challenges.

Judy’s grandfather, Verdal Spofford, who was a snowplow driver for the city of Auburn, slid off the road and was stuck in a snowbank for several hours.

“When they finally brought him back to the city garage, which at that time was across the street from where we lived on Spring Street, he came to our house to get warmed up,” she said. “I can still picture him sitting in our kitchen with his feet stuck in a basin of hot water to warm him up. That was a scary time for all of us seeing him like that.”

Across the state, five people were killed and thousands of motorists were stranded as most of the state’s roads were completely blocked. About 500 people spent the night at the Maine Turnpike’s Kennebunk rest stop. Many of them were returning from Boston where they had seen the “Ice Follies” skating show the previous night.

In Lewiston, shoe shops and textile mills kept operating, but many of them closed early for two days in a row. Shutting down mills for any reason was extremely rare in those days.

The Lewiston Daily Sun and the Lewiston Evening Journal didn’t miss a day of publication, but deliveries depended on which streets were open. Throughout the cities for several days, there were many news stories of hardship and neighborly assistance.

The Journal’s Feb. 18 edition told of a 5-year-old child brought out of Lane Road in Auburn by police on a toboggan so she could be taken to the hospital. Plows could not get closer than 300 feet to the home. The child’s mother, who was pregnant, and two smaller children, also were brought out on toboggans.

On Upper Summer Street in  Auburn, a man who was overcome by carbon monoxide in his stranded car was taken to a nearby house where he was revived.

In Lewiston, volunteers carried a seriously sick man several hundred feet on a stretcher to a point where an ambulance could get him to the hospital.

Both Central Maine General Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital were reporting that their milk supplies were running low, and they were resorting to canned milk for babies and certain patients.

The newspaper ran a picture of several Cote’s Dairy employees making milk deliveries on College Street, Lewiston, beyond Montello Street. They were pulling a large sled by rope.

There were several photos of the cities’ largest snowplows stuck in huge drifts. City crews resorted to shovels to get the powerful plows moving through drifts as deep as 10 feet.

A resident of West Bates Street in Auburn began shoveling out his street when it was evident that city plows might not get there for days. As he slowly progressed, neighbors saw what he was doing and joined him. After a few hours of hard work they had the street open.

Every town in New England had similar stories, and many families are still talking about that Big Blizzard of 1952. That year, the winter’s total accumulation of snow was around 10 feet.

Years from now, we will be talking about the winter of 2012 when very little snow had fallen well past Valentine’s Day. A winter with no snow may be unusual, but the talk inevitably will turn to tales of Maine blizzards.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He may be reached by email at dasargent@maine.com.

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