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75 Years Ago this Month: The Big Snow

Posted On February 01, 2016 | 15:56 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (March 2016)

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Shoveling in front of the White House, 1941.

On March 7th and 8th, 1941, the East Coast was blanketed by a late winter blizzard, much like the one that occurred this January. New York City received eighteen inches of snow and Washington, D.C., was covered with eleven inches, bringing transportation to a near standstill. The Byzantine historian Henri Grégoire, whom Dumbarton Oaks had engaged to deliver a public lecture on March 7th, travelled by train from New York City on the day he was to deliver his lecture, “On the Eve of the Crusades: the Chanson de Roland and Byzantium.”

In correspondence dated March 9th and preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, librarian Barbara Sessions wrote the Blisses, who at the time were in California:

Friday came a great and beautiful snow. Traffic was completely disorganized, and poor Grégoire, who has himself, as you know, been ill, arrived just in time for his lecture after an hour and a half spent in getting across the city from the station. Only a hand full of people managed to get to the lecture [but] there was a small band of the faithful—who were richly rewarded!

She continued with news of what she termed “this fantastic blizzard,” allaying possible fears that the storm had caused harm to the gardens. She told the Blisses that head gardener, James Bryce

says the snow and ice have not done much damage. Tree buds were not far along; in fact, it will be one of the years, so he says, when everything comes out suddenly and all at once.

The inevitable “calm after the storm” was reported in the March 10th issue of the Underground Courier, the occasional newsletter that the Dumbarton Oaks staff sent to the Blisses in California:

Weather Report. After a week-end of magnificent storm, today it is as if nature had stopped all the wheels for a while to show how benign she can be. The sun is high and warm, the air still and limpid, with no wind. All about is a peculiarly gentle sound of quietly melting snow: little settlings and shiftings—a “noiseless noise.” The snow slips off the trees and bushes. The winter jasmine shows its bright yellow blossoms again, and the faint blur of coming buds softens the outline of most of the trees. (The snow and sleet, by the way, did no damage. At least, so far as one can see.)

The North Vista at Dumbarton Oaks under snowfall.
The North Vista at Dumbarton Oaks under snowfall