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The forecast for Armistice Day 1940, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated Nov. 11, gave barely a hint of what was to come that day: “Cloudy, occasional snow, and colder, much colder.”
Many took advantage of the mild holiday weather and made plans to spend the day outdoors. Then came rain … which turned to snow, accompanied by howling wind … and more snow … and then the cold. More than 16 inches of snow fell in Minneapolis, more than 2 feet in other parts of the state. Temperatures dropped from near 60 to the single digits in less than 24 hours. Telegraph and telephone lines went down, cutting off communications and complicating the task of reporting the big story. In the end, 49 people died in the Armistice Day blizzard in Minnesota, many of them duck hunters trapped in remote bottom land along the Mississippi when the blizzard hit.
The Minneapolis Morning Tribune’s “6 A.M. Alarm Clock Edition” of Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1940, provided exhaustive coverage. Here is the lead story, followed by a few of the dozens of storm-related briefs. The photos below appeared in subsequent editions of the Tribune and the Star Journal.
(Originally posted in August 2005.)
Forecast Gives No Hint of Letup; 7 Die as Zero Wave Rides Blizzard
Motor Traffic Paralyzed; Scores of Towns Isolated
Gale Hits Hard at Telegraph and Telephone Services — Auto Mishaps Trap 100 Near New Brighton – Blocked Streets Send Hundreds to Hotels
The St. Paul Daily Globe made a hell of a front page out of scandal-plagued James G. Blaine's defeat in the 1884 presidential election. That’s "Slippery Jim" in the cartoon at the top of the page, served up on a platter, the damning words “MY DEAR FISHER” and “BURN THIS LETTER” stamped on his goose feet. The winner, Grover Cleveland, isn’t even mentioned until the sixth headline.
The label atop this front page cartoon from the St. Paul Daily Globe reads like the start of a bad joke. Maybe it was. I can find no explanation of it in the adjacent stories or elsewhere on the page. Perhaps it was a lame attempt at Independence Day humor. What do you make of it?
Filthy. Crowded. Chaotic. The Deadwood of 1876-77 was in some ways even more unpleasant than the violent Gold Rush town depicted in HBO’s exemplary series. The Canton Advocate, published 400 miles to the east, published this eyewitness account of the stench and hopelessness that awaited fortune seekers headed to the Black Hills.
RELATED: Also on the front page of the Advocate that day, under “ODDS AND ENDS,” was this one-sentence report:
From Worcester, Mass., to Redlands, Calif., cities across the country declared war on disease-carrying houseflies in 1911. Children competing for cash prizes killed flies by the millions that summer. One Georgia boy alone turned in 2,199,200 dead flies to win the top prize of $10 in Savannah’s “Swat the Fly” contest.
“All the intense activity directed toward the destruction of the musca domestica,” the Jefferson Jimplecute declared with bemusement, “is the discovery that the fly – the common house fly, once treated almost as a pet – is one of the most deadly of all menaces to the human race."
The Texas newspaper was not alone in poking fun at the public health initiative, but for kids it was a chance to stave off summer boredom, kill helpless creatures and compete for cash. In Minneapolis, the top prize was a nothing-to-swat-at $50. The Morning Tribune, which sponsored the two-week contest, put up the money, laid out the rules and offered fly-killing tips.
“Entrants must be children under 16 years of age. Flies caught in any manner except by the use of sticky fly paper will be taken in the contest. Flies may be swatted, caught in traps, poisoned, exterminated by drowning, the use of sulphur fumes or other means.
“Boxes, made especially for the Tribune Campaign contest and given free by the Standard Paper box company of 501 Third street south, in which all flies are to be sent to the health department to be counted, will be given all entrants.
“The name and address of the contestant must appear on the box. The box must be tied securely. All flies delivered for the contest must have been killed by the persons to whom they are credited.”
What a disgusting task, you might be thinking, counting all those fly carcasses. The task was disgusting, I’m sure, but the flies were not counted one by one. Flies turned in around the country, and presumably in Minneapolis, were measured by volume. The calculation: 1,600 flies to the gill, or a quarter-pint. Happily, no recounts appear to have been demanded.
Minneapolis Children Ready for Campaign Against Disease Carriers.
Sub-Stations Open at 10 o’Clock to Receive Dead Pests.
Boys and Girls Devise Many Schemes for Trapping Victims.
FOLLOW-UP: For two weeks, updated standings were published daily in the Tribune. The competition for the top three spots was especially fierce and full of strategizing, with the eventual winner holding back thousands of flies until the final day. When the carnage, er, contest ended on Sept. 2, more than 3 million flies had been killed. The death toll was less than that of contests in Eastern cities, according to health officials, because of a superior garbage-collection system. Minneapolis required that garbage be wrapped in paper before being placed in cans, eliminating a major breeding ground. In its final report, the Tribune, perhaps caught up in the excitement, declared Minneapolis to be “practically flyless.” And 13-year-old George Knaeble was crowned lord of the flies.
The top prize-winners, along with the number of flies killed:
First prize, $50: George Knaeble, 13, 515 Plymouth Av., 266,340.
Second prize, $25: Theodore Bedor, 12, 4114 Blaisdell Av., 264,660.
Third prize, $15: Henrietta Beck, 10, 2218 Aldrich Av. N., 189,480.
Fourth prize, $10: Edward Hirt, 11, 1909 Fourth St. N., 154,340.