Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Vol. II No. 2 - WINTER 1989

By: Kathy Gemperle and Sandee Remis

By this time each year, most dyed-in-the-wool Chicagoans are seriously pondering the coming of IT. We can’t help IT. IT is part of life in these parts, like death and taxes. IT may skip a decade, more or less - a ploy to lull one into forgetfulness - but IT always comes back to roost.

If you haven’t lived through IT at least once, you can’t rightfully call yourself a Chicagoan. And, if you don’t handle IT well, you won’t be mayor of the city very long. Scarier than Stephen King (ask Mike Bilandic), in Chicago IT is THE BIG SNOW.

Beguiled into tempting fate, some Edgewater victims of IT agreed to share their chilling experiences.

Case #1: Dorothy McManus - Year: 1919

IT was piled up over the fence in the back yard that year. The job of removing IT by hand with snow shovels was a back-breaking one. My brothers worked for hours, taking turns. First they cleared a path in the front, gradually widening it to the width of the sidewalk. They did the same for the walk to the back before setting to work on the street. There were ruts in the street that the wagon wheels rolled in, and these had to be widened so the wagons could get through.

The city owned a horse-drawn snow plow that went down the main streets and then some of the side streets, if you were lucky. The plow was V-shaped, the widest part the width of a sidewalk. A man stood on a platform and directed the plow’s progress. After the streets were done, the sidewalks were plowed.

It was crucial to remove IT as quickly as possible so that all our important deliveries could be made. The mail had to be delivered. Then, of course, the milkman and the newsboy had to get through. People had to get to work. And the lamplighter had to come around…

Case #2: Martha & John Kraeger - Year: 1967

Martha- IT started on a Thursday in the morning. By noon IT was looking bad enough to send the school children home. But St. Ita’s had a Mothers’ Club luncheon scheduled and I went anyway, in spite of IT.

John- By afternoon, the dairy where I worked decided not to call in the second shift. Going home, I took the Lake Street “L”. By the time we got downtown, the cars were packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. The trains traveled all right underground but, outside, the snow caused lots of problems. Every time IT caused a short on the rails, we could see an arc like a lightning flash. The motor would stop and the lights would go out. Then the train would start up again, travel down the track a short way and repeat the cycle. The ride home was a long one.

IT just kept coming. By the next day, no one could get to work. Milk deliveries came to Chicago from Wisconsin and, although there was no snow north of the city, the trucks just couldn’t make it into the dairy. Stores quickly ran out of staples like milk and bread.

Martha and I trekked to Sheridan Road from our home on Wayne and were amazed at how high we had to walk in some places. At the corner of Berwyn and Kenmore, we were actually forced to walk on top of a Checker cab that was left by the curb.

On our block, we all worked together to clear IT from the street. We kept moving the cars as we shoveled curb to curb, working our way down to Foster. At Berwyn and Broadway, a CTA bus stalled while turning the corner, and there it sat until Monday.

Even on Monday the going was slow. Although there wasn’t much traffic, the ramps to the Kennedy Expressway still weren’t cleared. They took a long time to dig out because there was lots of blowing snow.

IT was paralyzing. All kinds of cars were abandoned, some in the middle of streets and intersections. When buses began operating, all they could do was try to get around them.

IT had caught the city unprepared. Chicago had to borrow extra snow equipment from cities in Indiana. They even hired front-loaders to remove some of the snow…

Case #3: Diane Postilion - Year: 1979

Residents of the Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood had slightly different ways of dealing with IT by ‘79. Diane immortalized the ordeal in the following “seasonal” poem she wrote and recently recited at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Lakewood Balmoral Residents Council (LBRC).


I dearly love the firelight’s glow;
I love the gently falling snow.
But luck is not always a friend of mine,
For I served in the Blizzard of ‘79.

‘Twas a month after Christmas,
And outside the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.
The snow had fallen
Like a white blanket.
I’d had to shovel,
Push it and bank it.
And I had to shovel
And bank it again,
Until I resembled
A frozen white hen.

The flakes kept on falling,
The wind whipped around,
When to my cold ears
There came such a sound.
Out on the street,
His nose like a cherry
Stood Camillo with neighbors
Out making merry.

They stood in a circle
Knee deep in the snow,
Singing old songs -
Frank Sinatra, you know.
Camillo was dressed
in a scarf and blue suit.
And on his feet was never a boot,
But young at heart
Like Elvis and Cruise,
He had on his feet
His white tennis shoes.

I ran down the block faster and faster.
“Is this any way to stop a disaster?
Quick Marion, Camillo!”
I cried with despair,
“The snow is falling!
Don’t you care?”
“Ho, ho!” laughed Camillo.
“I throw in the towel.
Marion just spent eight hours
On the city snow plow.

‘On Mr. Blitzen,’ she shouted all day,
‘To the hospitals, nursing homes!
This isn’t a sleigh!
Plow the streets faster!
They’re much too slick.
What if one of those people
Gets really sick?’
We’re doing our best
for the sick and disabled.
LBRC will just have to be tabled.”

Without any more gab,
Or any more blusterin’
I ran to the house
Of my good friend Marge Hutchinson.
“The snow is falling!”
My voice high and brittle,
I cried like the ghost
Of Chicken Little.
“ECC to the rescue!”
She said in a flash.
And off to Bryn Mawr
We made a dash.
The flyers were printed
In no time at all
To bring help to our neighbors
Despite the snow fall.
Our message was brought
To each house on the street.
We burrowed through drifts
As high as five feet.
“Money for snow plows,”
We begged at each door.
Some gave, some balked,
And some were darn sore.

“I just shoveled out
My car and the road.
A snow plow will only
Scoop up one more load.”
But others saw hope
Was on the horizon.
They gave their cash freely.
I was bedizened.
To the phone I ran
With beating heart.
“One small snow plow
for LBRC is a start.”

Then under the roof tops
Arose such a clatter;
I knew that our efforts
Were starting to matter.
There on his snow plow
Our hero he sat.
“Away with the snow,”
He said. “Go away! Scat!”
At the very next meeting
Arose such a din.
But the Great Snowfall Bill
Was voted in.

The snow just fell.
No one had planned it.
We all survived,
Except Mike Bilandic.
“He got badly Byrned,”
I’ve heard people say,
“On Chicago’s snowiest, iciest day.”
Now LBRC has streets
That are passable,
Despite a few car owners,
Who were highly irascible.

I hope you enjoyed
This plain little rhyme
About fighting the Blizzard
Of Seventy-Nine.


And so IT goes. Sounds like IT just gets bigger and badder over the years. All flippancy aside, aren’t those rather large snowflakes falling outside?… Do you have any milk and bread we could borrow for a few days?

Editor’s note: Camillo = Camillo Volini; Marion = Alderman Marion Volini; ECC = Edgewater Community Council.