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Jan. 26, 1904: Cold snap keeps plumbers busy

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Newspapers Updated: January 27, 2014 - 8:57 AM
 
This January's unrelenting cold is familiar to any baby boomer who grew up in Minnesota. My siblings and I walked the five blocks to Assumption grade school in Richfield in all weather in the 1960s. Heavy snow and subzero mornings were common. Yet I can't recall Assumption canceling a single school day because of snow, let alone cold, and no parents I knew of ever drove their children to school. Kids living in the surrounding neighborhoods bundled up for the 10- to 20-minute walk, overseen by mothers at one end and nuns at the other.

In second grade, during a week in which the mercury fell to 30 below zero, a walker arrived late and found he was unable to remove his frozen choppers. Sister Rosalie walked him over to a radiator to defrost the unbending leather shells and – I swear! – braced one hand against his chest and, using her other hand, had to pull mightily to free each hand. Bradley Shaw, can you confirm this memory?

A similar cold snap in January 1904 warranted a front page story in the Minneapolis Tribune, with the obligatory mention of a far colder January decades before.
 

COLD WAVE HAS SPENT ITS FORCE

FROST BITES AND FROZEN WATER PIPES COMMON LOCAL TOPICS.

LOCAL TEMPERATURES

Sunday, midnight -29
Monday, 3 a.m. -32
Monday, 6 a.m. -33
Monday, 9 a.m. -33
Monday, noon -24
Monday, 3 p.m. -20
Monday, 6 p.m. -20
Monday, 9 p.m. -20
Monday, midnight -22

The drug stores have been doing a thriving business during the last two days in all sorts of guaranteed remedies for frostbites, frozen ears, noses, fingers, toes and all other freezable portions of the human anatomy. Even the oldest inhabitant has been compelled to crawl out of his hiding place and tell about the cold first of January in 1863, “when it was real cold and the soldiers in the Union army were liberally [perhaps the reporter meant "literally"] frozen.” Relief is in sight at least for a short time, and the weather-wise say that the conjunction of the planets which caused this cold has gone by, and that another world is being troubled by similar conjunctions.

Other weather prophets say that the present cold snap is caused by a plumbers' trust; while others remark that a syndicate of rich men have bought up all the cola in the world, and have turned off the natural steam heat of the earth, and are holding out on the coal for large and juicy prices.

The government forecasters say that the crest of the wave has passed, and that the weather will moderate shortly. The busiest men in Minneapolis the past two days have undoubtedly been the plumbers. The quick decline in the temperatures Saturday caught many a householder unawares, and the pathetic calls for immediate assistance which greeted the plumbers' ears Sunday morning rendered the Sabbath anything but a day of rest for them.

Yesterday [Monday] there was not a plumber in Minneapolis who wanted work that was not busy doctoring some frost-bitten pipe, which had been unable to withstand the pressure exerted by jack frost.

For tales of hard luck it is but necessary to step into the first plumbing shop and listen to the troubles of this man whose cellar resembles a skating rink, and that man who has to wade in water up to his knees to get to the kitchen stove and start a fire to thaw things out.

 
A Minneapolis winter's day in 1900: Four small houses lined 4th Avenue S. at 4th Street, with the Guaranty Loan Building, later known as the Metropolitan Building, in the background. Can anyone identify the four-story building at right? (Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library's Minneapolis Collection)
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