Recalling the Big Snowstorms of My Pittsburgh Childhood

Winter.1960.pittsburgh.robfrydlewiczAs an adult who is six feet tall I often think that if a foot of snow seems like a lot to me just imagine what it seems to a child who is two or three feet shorter (or to a toddler, like me in the photo during the winter of 1960).  Which brings back memories of some of the big snowstorms of my childhood in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks, four of which were around 14 inches and are recounted below.


JANUARY 12-13, 1964 (First Grade)

This storm moved in on Sunday night and continued through the next evening.  I remember excitedly turning on the porch light throughout the evening to look out as the snow accumulated on the porch steps.  For the entirety of the storm temperatures never got out of the teens. 

Nearly 16 inches fell and there was no school on Monday.  Then on Tuesday we woke up to a morning low of six below zero.  Despite these frigid conditions I was looking forward to going to school because it meant spending a good amount of time to walk through the mountains of snow along the way.  (My school, Fenton Elementary, was within walking distance.) 


Me (right) with my big brother on our way to school the day after the big snowstorm of Jan. 12-13, 1964


JANUARY 22-23, 1966 (Third Grade)

It was Saturday and me, my brother, sister and mother had our check-up with the dentist that morning.  Afterwards we did some grocery shopping at  Kroger just as the first flakes of snow began falling at a little past 12:00 noon.  When we got home we watched American Bandstand; the Mamas & the Papas were on and they sang Monday Monday and California Dreamin'.  Snow fell heaviest between mid-afternoon and midnight and ended shortly after daybreak on Sunday.  My brother, Darrell, was allowed to go out and help mom and dad shovel but I had to stay inside because it was too much trouble getting me put together.  In total nearly 15 inches fell. 

Although it was a Saturday event and didn't impact school, we didn't go to church or Sunday school (a consolation prize).  On Sunday morning I got to go out and help shovel out the driveway and I remember how high the snow was and what an effort it was to throw the snow up to the side.


MARCH 6-7, 1967 (Fourth Grade)

It was a Monday and rain in the morning changed to heavy, wet snow in the afternoon (the temperature hovered around freezing).  After dark the snow really came down heavily and high winds kicked in - there was even some thunder/lightning.  Amazingly, my parents went out shopping and my brother went to his evening trumpet lesson.  My older sister and I stayed home and watched I Dream of Jeannie and The Monkees.  14 inches piled up and school was cancelled on Tuesday.




DECEMBER 1-2, 1974 (Senior Year)

Snow fell off and on in heavy bursts during late afternoon on Sunday through the evening and into the overnight hours.  The temperature hovered around 33 degrees throughout so it was a heavy, wet snow.  I had a morning paper route at the time and it was a challenge walking up some of the driveways that were on an incline because of a coating of freezing rain/sleet that had fallen on top of the snow. 

School had a delayed opening but there were no buses operating so most of my classmates didn't come in.  (And as he did during the other storms, my dedicated dad drove to his job as a foreman at Pittsburgh-Des Monies Steel Company on Neville Island).  Power outages were widespread because so many tree branches, weighed down by 14 inches of wet snow, snapped and brought down power lines.


The next bit snowstorms came in the winter of 1978 when two big ones came within a few days of each other in mid-January and dumped a total of 27 inches.  At the time I was in my junior year at Penn State in State College.  I've experienced my biggest snowfalls while living in New York City.  Between 1983 and 2011 there were seven storms that dumped 18 inches or more, the biggest being 26.9" in February 2006.


The great blizzard of Jan. 7-8, 1996 buried New York under more than 20" of snow.


Memories of Pittsburgh TV & Radio Personalities from My Childhood


Growing up in the Pittsburgh area in the 1960s and '70s meant that media personalities from KDKA TV/Radio, WTAE and KQV loomed very large in my young life.  (And with no cable channels back then their presence was even more ubiquitous.)  Here, in alphabetical order, are the names and faces from that era that I remember best.  (This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, just the people who made a lasting impression with me.)



She rocked the boat as Pittsburgh's first female TV sports announcer, first appearing on KDKA in 1973.  Not very knowledgeable about sports, she lasted just two years.  She died in 1989 at the age of 49.




Bogut came to Pittsburgh in 1968, working for KDKA Radio.  I listened to his show as I got ready for school and still remember his creepy/comical ode to the "Slithery Dee".  He's still on the radio, now on WJAS, and I listen to his show whenever I visit my mother.  Amazingly, his voice hasn't changed.  I'm not certain about his age, but the fact that he was married in 1961 suggests he's in his early-80s.  (Update: WJAS changed to a Talk format in August 2014 and dropped Bogut.)





The face/voice of radio station KQV during the 1960s.  He vied with KDKA's Clark Race as the city's most popular DJ.  He died in 2018 at the age of 83.




A legend, the Walter Cronkite of Pittsburgh.  He anchored the KDKA news for 36 years.  All business, Burns had a gruff, Lou Grant type persona and was the consummate professional.  He died in 1997 at the age of 84.  His daughter Patti also worked for KDKA and was very popular.  Sadly, she died of lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 49.




Best known for hosting Chiller Theater and Studio Wrestling on Saturdays.  His following from Chiller Theater got "Chilly Billy" a small role in Night of the Living Dead (filmed north of Pittsburgh).  Interestingly, Cardille is the only person on my list from WIIC-Channel 11 (NBC's Pittsburgh affiliate).  Despite undergoing open-heart surgery back in the 1980s, he's still active, with a radio show on WJAS.  Amazingly, at the age of 85, his voice sounds as youthful as it was 50 years ago.  (Update: WJAS changed to a Talk format in August 2014 and dropped Cardille as well as Jack Bogut; sadly, Cardille passed away in the summer of 2016.)




Cope possessed the most distinctive/abrasive voice in Pittsburgh broadcasting, if not the nation (even more so than Howard Cosell).  He was truly a motormouth, but a beloved one.  His proudest achievement was probably the creation of the "Terrible Towel" for the Steelers in the mid-1970s.  He died in 2008 at the age of 79.



Currie was the lead sports announcer for KDKA in the 1970s, coming here from North Carolina where he was known as "The Mouth of the South."  He wore garish, brightly colored sports jackets often with wild patterns.  For me he wore out his welcome rather quickly.  He died in 2008 at the age of 85.





Pittsburgh's most famous meteorologist, De Nardo began his career with KDKA, but is best known for his long career with WTAE from 1969 to 2005.  I saw him a number of times shopping at the K-mart near his home in Moon Township.  Situated close to the airport, he groused about the planes' flight patterns that brought them over his house.  Then shortly after he moved the airport closed and relocated!  He died in the summer of 2018 at the age of 87.





Although Joe De Nardo may have had a higher profile, Bob Kudzma was my favorite weatherman, serving as KDKA's on-air meteorologist for 34 years (1968-2002).  He reminded me of Pat Sajak.  I wrote to him for advice about having a career as a meteorologist and he replied.  He passed way in February 2021 at the age of 81.





Best known for his time as anchor on WTAE from 1969 until 1994.  He was very stern looking, even more so than Bill Burns.  Reminded me of Nikita Khruschev (and my Uncle Joe).  He died in 2002 at the age of 86.





Most famous for a Saturday afternoon bowling show in the 1960s on WTAE (Championship Bowling) and Bowling for Dollars in the 1970s.  (It was a proud day in our neighborhood when our neighbor from across the street appeared on the show and won $500.)  Unfortunately, his reputation was tarnished by a state lottery scandal in the 1980s.  However, since I was no longer living in Pittsburgh when it happened my memory of him is still as a bowling personality.  He died in 2003 at the age of 86.





Prince was the larger-than-life radio/TV play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1975.  "Kiss it Good-bye!" was one of his most famous sayings.  He died in 1985 at the age of 68.  Nellie King was his mild-mannered sidekick from 1967-1975.  He died in 2010 at the age of 82.


Nellie King (L) & Bob Prince (R)


Popular KQV DJ in the late '60s thru early '70s, when he was in his 20s.  In the 1990s he went to the dark side and became a conservative talk-radio host.  He's now in his late 70s (as of 2020).




Clark Race was the Dick Clark of Pittsburgh.  He was probably the market's most popular DJ, on KDKA, and also hosted a popular dance show on KDKA-TV that aired on Saturday afternoon; it ran from 1963 until 1966.  His show would begin with the intro, "Hello Clark Race, hello - and welcome to the show!", which was followed by the instrumental String of Trumpets.  He died in 1999 at the age of 66.





Her signature blonde coif gave her a very glamorous persona.  I remember her best for doing the weather during WTAE's evening news in the late '60s, but she was a constant TV presence with various reporting roles.  Sadly, she died from COVID-19 in November 2020 at the age of 88.


Eleanor schano weather lady





Avuncular KDKA radio personality who was lovingly called "Uncle Ed".  He had already clocked many years with the station when I listened to him give the weather report in the morning while I was getting ready for school.  Often mentioned his wife Gertrude.  I also recall that he used to promote Pappin's restaurant.  He died in 1990 at the age of 77.



Host of the children's show Adventure Time which aired weekday afternoons at 4:00 on WTAE.  He sat among the kids as Dick Clark did on American Bandstand.  Famous for the characters Nosmo King and Knish.  He'd introduce cartoons and shorts by The Three Stooges with the line, "So down goes the curtain - and back up again."  He died in 1990 at the age of 80.





Before he went over to the "network" side Dick Stockton was KDKA TV's sports director from 1967-1971 when he was only in his his 20s.  There was something in his demeanor that suggested that bigger things were in store for him.  He's now 77 (as of 2020).





With her New York pedigree, she was the grand dame of Pittsburgh television.  She was with KDKA from 1962 until 1977.  In my youthful mind she and Bill Burns were the First Couple of Pittsburgh.  Her claim to fame was going to jail for 10 days for refusing to reveal one her sources when she was a newspaper reporter in New York in the 1950s.  She had a charming, sophisticated laugh that brought to mind Kitty Carlyle or Arlene Francis.  She died in 1997 at the age of 73.





I remember her best for hosting Jr. High Quiz which aired on Sunday on WTAE from 1965-1982.  I always wanted to be on that show but our school district (Sto-Rox) wasn't chosen in the years I was in high school.  Before the quiz show she was known for hosting the Ricki & Copper Show, which starred her dog Copper.  What I remember best about the show was the Hostess cupcakes she handed out to kids in the audience who were celebrating their birthdays.  (Although this show and Adventure Time had a live studio audience of kids I never had a desire to be on either.)  She recently died (July 2021) at the age of 86 in Chicago.


Ricki wertz and copper













Remembering My First Job - As the Morning Paper Boy

Paperboy PittsburghpostgazetteNot only newspapers, but the boys and girls who deliver them, are a dying breed.  When I was in high school, between 1972 and 1975, I was a morning paper boy, delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Before I was offered the opportunity I couldn't fathom why anyone would want to get up so early in the morning to do this job.  Yet there I was getting up with my father at 5:30 as he got ready for work.  Perhaps I was motivated because my route manager, Mr. Grega, was also my geometry teacher.  (I always thought that this helped me with my grades in his class.) 


I had 35 customers whose homes were scattered over a six-block area; it took me about an hour to complete my route.  (About 1/4 of the houses in the neighborhood subscribed; the afternoon Pittsburgh Press was more popular.)  Each customer had a particular place they wanted their paper placed.  Some liked it inside the screen door, others under the welcome mat, or in the holder under the mailbox, or inside their milk box.  (Nowadays my mother's paper is delivered by an adult in a car and they rarely put it on her porch since they throw it from the car window.)




When I got to the last house on my route I hoped I had no papers left in my bag, otherwise it meant I probably forgot someone - which rarely happened.  When I returned home I'd go back to bed for an hour before getting up for school.


We lived in a suburban neighborhood (10 miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh) that was surrounded by woods, but despite the early hour my parents never expressed any concerns about my safety - nor was I worried.  That's the way things were back then.  The only danger I encountered was an occasional snarling dog.  (For such encounters I carried a few rocks in the canvas bag hanging around my neck.)




For me, the worst time of year was September and October when the first cold mornings arrived.  Luckily the winters during the three years I delivered weren't severe and no mornings had sub-zero temperatures.  (After I stopped delivering, the next four winters were particularly harsh.)  The biggest snow occurred the first Monday of Dec. 1974 when 14 inches of snow fell, making it very difficult walking up my customers' sloped driveways.  And my route manager delivered the papers to me late.





Because the papers were literally hot off the press the newsprint easily came off onto my hands and gloves.  Also, the fumes from the newsprint would cause my eyes to sting and tear, much like how pollen would do the same.  And speaking of pollen, to this day I still remember the thick scent of tree pollen that hung in the morning air in late May and June.


Despite having a larger circulation, the Pittsburgh Press (now defunct) didn't publish on holidays, so I had twice as many customers on those days.  I'd load the papers into my wagon rather than use my paper bag (sometimes my brother would drive me around.)  Not only were there more papers to deliver, but the papers were much thicker because of advertising inserts touting holiday sales.


Perhaps the most traumatic experience during my years of delivering papers occurred the morning of Jan. 1, 1973.  As I was getting ready for that morning's deliveries I turned on the radio in the kitchen and heard the shocking news that Roberto Clemente of the Pirates had been killed in a plane crash.  I walked my route in a daze.  The craziest thing that happened to me while delivering was being asked to get a crow out of a house after it had fallen down the chimney.


Roberto clemente death_newspaper headline


I delivered papers until the week before I went away to college (Penn State).  After returning from my senior prom, I went to bed for a few hours and then got up to deliver the paper.  That summer between high school and college (gap months?) I'd deliver the paper and then go to my summer job on the road maintenance crew in my town, digging ditches, weed whacking and taking trips to the local dump.


This was my first job.  It was a great way to learn responsibility and gain experience with money management.  Each customer paid between 60 and 75 cents each week, and I'd usually get tips that ranged between fifteen cents and a quarter (today, adjusted for inflation, that would be between 75 cents and a dollar).  I never really enjoyed collecting, which I did on Saturday afternoons, because not everyone was home so it required a number of visits.  The son of one of my customers was Tom Clements, who at the time was the starting quarterback for Notre Dame, and he occasionally answered the door when I collected.  Collecting during Christmas was better because of the tips, which were usually around five dollars. 




The Stonewall Riot - The Beginning of Gay Liberation (June 28, 1969)

Stonewall_uprisingWhen homosexuals and transvestites took to the streets of Greenwich Village in the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969 to protest constant harassment and mistreatment by the NYPD, I was 12 years old and living in Pittsburgh.  I was unaware of what was taking place - and who knows if the disturbance even received new coverage in the Steel City.  And even if it was reported, I wouldn't have understood much since at my age I didn't even know what a homosexual was.  (A few years later I'd learn a lot after sneak-reading my older sister's copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.  The author didn't provide a very positive lesson, but it was a start.)


Judy_garland_closeupThe only memory I have that has some connection to this seminal event was the death of Judy Garland the week before the riots.  I heard the news on the car radio as me and my family drove to church.  At the time my only association with her was as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and not as a gay icon.  Legend has it that her death was a contributing factor to the riot as her funeral was held earlier that day (a stifling hot Friday) and bar patrons weren't in the mood to once again be harassed by police.  However, this this link has since been more or less dismissed.


Supreme_court2Not to digress too much, but 17 years later I was living in the belly of the beast, the West Village, just a few minutes' walk from Stonewall.  On July 1, 1986 I participated in a sitdown protest that blocked traffic on Seventh Ave. South for an hour or so.  It was in response to the Supreme Court's decision (Bowers v Hardwick) upholding Georgia's sodomy law.  And so I had my own opportunity to participate in some civil disobedience. 


Getting back to the disturbance at Stonewall, an event that ignited the gay rights movement, the account that follows was provided by Liz Solomon, a former co-worker of mine, who grew up in Greenwich Village.  She kindly volunteered to recount her memories of that night.  Take it away Liz ...


First off, let me say that the thoughts and language of this mini-memoir are those of 1969, not 2013.  I cringe at some of the things we said and did back in those days.  But more importantly, I'm a firm believer in historical accuracy trumping political correctness.


It's important to understand that the West Village of 1969 was a very different place than it is today.  For one thing, it wasn't called the West Village, but rather "Downtown", "West Side", maybe "the Village".  Furthermore, it wasn't the home of celebrities, models - and especially not the rich.  It was a regular working class/lower middle class neighborhood with dock workers, butchers (the Meat Packing District actually processed meat back then!), truck drivers along with a scattering of white collar workers and government employees.




Greenwich_village1960sWe always knew there gay people interspersed in the neighborhood, but it had yet to take on the "gay ghetto" vibe that came later in the 1970's.  (When I was in high school and college, guys I dated from outside the neighborhood often gave me a hard time about walking me home when they learned where I lived because it might be bad for their "image" if the were spotted there!)  Did we welcome those of different orientations with open minds?  Much as I'd like to say yes, we were kids and it was 1969.  But it wasn't a matter of thinking that homosexuals were deviant.  No, they were just different, and there was getting to be more of them in OUR neighborhood and they were beginning to take over the docks after dark, previously the urban version of "lover's lane" for a neighborhood of frisky, hormonal teenagers. 


No doubt some of the local boys felt a bit uncomfortable or threatened by overt displays of homosexuality (not that they would admit it), but any harassment, name calling, or even occasional fisticuffs was really more a matter of "turf", not orientation, and would have been worse had the interlopers been from, say, 17th Street.   


Stonewall_riotWhich brings me to that last weekend of June 1969.  I admit I missed the first night entirely.  The police raid on the Stonewall Inn happened after 1AM and at the time I had a curfew so I was long home under lock and key.  The next day was Saturday and a family obligation kept me off the stoops and out of the loop until after dinner.  The minute I could, I broke away.  The air was buzzing with incredulous and somewhat amused chatter about how the gays actually fought back, throwing stuff, shouting about their rights and turning the tables on the police - at least for a while.


StonewallThis animated discussion continued as more and more kids joined the "hanging out" group.  Then someone suggested we walk over to Sheridan Square (two blocks away) to witness firsthand what was going on.  It was about 9:30 and, WOW, was it ever crowded with an agitated throng shouting previously unheard messages of gay pride and solidarity.  Cops were everywhere with their billy cubs in hand, ready to swing them.  The tension was beyond anything I could remember in my young life.  Anyway, we were just onlookers since this wasn't our fight.  Except that anyone starting trouble against our tormenters from the 6th Precinct, who enforced truancy laws and chased us off street corners, was officially OK in the neighborhood kids' book.  The enemy of our enemy was our friend, thus did some dispassionate teenagers get involved in the opening act of the battle for Gay Rights.


Stonewall_bookThe group I was with was pushed to the other side of Sheridan Square towards West 4th St.  Fires had been lit in garbage cans and there was considerable harassment (but restraint as well) on both sides.  There was a lot of shouting, and a few outright beatings but, alas, once again my curfew loomed (plus a small grace period) and I had to make my way to the safety of home a few blocks away.  Thus, my participation in civil disobedience, albeit in the periphery, came to an end.


Gay_liberation_buttonThe following year, on June 28, New York held its first Gay Pride Parade.  It began with a nervous group of a few hundred, but as the parade headed north from Greenwich Village more joined, and by the time the throng entered Central Park it had grown to 2,000 participants.  Since that day a number of other key moments in LGBT history have occurred in late June: the unfurling of the first rainbow flag at San Francisco's parade in 1978; the Supreme Court's striking down of the nation's sodomy laws in 2003; the debut of MTV's gay-themed cable network, LOGO, in 2005; the legalizing of same-sex marriage in New York State in 2011; and in 2013 the Supreme Court overturned DOMA.      

Hitler Seizes Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939)




My grandmother, Margaret Cerovski (nee Revay), arrived in the US from Czechoslovakia in September 1920 (she celebrated her 21st birthday while crossing the Atlantic).  After being processed at Ellis Island she continued on to Pittsburgh where her brother Michael lived (their 11 brothers and sisters remained back in the "old country"). 


After she and my grandfather (from the Croatian region of Yugoslavia) became citizens in the 1930's Grandma thought about visiting her family because her mother was in declining health.  She also wanted to take my mother and uncle, who were teenagers, with her.  However, Czechoslovakia was being slowly partitioned by Nazi Germany and Slovakia, the eastern region of the country my grandmother was from, was agitating for its independence.  For these reasons my grandfather wouldn't allow Grandma to take Mom and Uncle George.  And then on March 15, in 1939 Czechoslovakia's beleaguered president (pictured with Hitler, below) signed over the country to Hitler, and the thought of Grandma even visiting by herself ended.  WWII would begin six months later.




Although she never visited her homeland, Grandma kept in touch with her brothers and sisters.  She was the middle child but managed to outlive all of her siblings and died in 1999 just six months shy of her 100th birthday.





(I've also written about the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovkia: Soviet Army Crushes Prague Spring.)  


The Untimely Death of Andy Warhol (February 22, 1987)

Andywarhol Warhol soup cansFebruary 22, 1987 was an unusually social Sunday for me.  I spent the early part of the afternoon at a brunch in the West Village at the apartment of my friend Marc, a fellow I dated briefly the previous year.  (We met when he walked up behind me at Uncle Charlie's bar and snapped the back of my suspenders).  After brunch a group of us went to a mid-afternoon tea dance at a club in Chelsea called Tracks.  From there I taxied down to SoHo to attend a 5th anniversary celebration for GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) held at the Puck Building.  That was followed by dinner at Taste of Tokyo and then a brief visit to the club Palladium on 14th St.


I didn't get home until late and when I sat down to watch the 11:00 news I was shocked to learn of Andy Warhol's death.  He died from complications after having simple gallbladder surgery.  He was just 58.  (Somewhat overlooked was the death on the same day of talk show host David Susskind.)  A contributing factor to his death was the fact that he put off the surgery for so long, which took a toll on his overall health (he was deathly afraid of hospitals.)


Andy warhol death - newspaper headline


I felt somewhat of a connection to Warhol because, like me, he grew up in Pittsburgh and was of Slovakian parentage (my maternal grandmother was born in Slovakia).  Seven years after his death, while I was in Pittsburgh to attend my father's funeral, I visited the newly opened Warhol Museum with my brother, his fiance and my two young nephews.  It was ironic that the museum (at the time the only one in the US devoted to one artist) was here because Warhol apparently was ashamed of his Pittsburgh roots.  And in present-day Pittsburgh, a number of Warhol's silk screen creations can be found in one of the concourses at the city's airport.


Warhol museum
Entrance to the Warhol Museum


Warhol at pittsburgh airport
Works of Warhol at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport


(Many books are available about Warhol's life and his body of work.  One in particular that got a lot of press when it was published in the early '90's was The Andy Warhol Diaries.)





The "Lindsay Snowstorm" (February 9-10, 1969)

Feb_10_1969_snowstorm I was 11 years old at the time and living in Pittsburgh - and greatly annoyed that we got hardly a snowflake from this snowstorm.  Meteorology was a new interest of mine and I didn't yet understand the dynamics of weather systems, e.g., East Coast storms often don't affect Western Pennsylvania because the Appalachian Mountains act as a barrier.  (As was the case with the post-Christmas blizzard in 2010.)  The 15.3" that fell on New York beginning Sunday, Feb. 9, 1969 brought the city to a virtual standstill for a number of days.  It was front page news in the Pittsburgh papers, and I eyed the photos enviously.  (Like the one to the right showing mostly foot traffic on 2nd Ave. near 45th St.)


This became known as the "Lindsay snowstorm" because New York's mayor John Lindsay (below) was blamed for not getting streets plowed quickly enough, especially in the borough of Queens.  It nearly cost him re-election later that year, but he won, running as an independent.  (10 years later a series of crippling snowstorms in Chicago was largely responsible for the defeat of its mayor.)  At the time it was the City's tenth biggest snowstorm - since then ten subsequent storms have had larger accumulations (through the winter of 2021). 




This snowstorm was the inspiration for two episodes of the sitcom That Girl (starring Marlo Thomas).  In a two-part storyline Ann and boyfriend Donald were stranded at JFK by the snowstorm after accompanying her parents to the airport.  This threatened a Broadway audition Ann had later that day - which she eventually did over the phone.  Later, Donald, a writer for the fictional Newsview Magazine, wrote a story about Ann's experience.  These episodes aired on ABC on October 30 and Nov. 6, 1969. (They are from the show's fourth season which is available on Amazon.)




To read about other New York snowstorms, please double click here for a recap I've written on my blog New York City Weather Archive.   And below are links to posts from this blog about other New York snowstorms:

April Blizzard Stops New York, Puts Spring on Hold (April 1982)

March 1993 "Storm of the Century" Immobilizes Eastern US

Blizzard of '96 Brings New York & Mid-Atlantic to a Halt (Jan. 1996)

New York's Biggest Snowstorm of All Time (Feb. 2006)



The "Immaculate Reception" of Franco Harris (December 23, 1972)


Until 1972 my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers had a long history of losing.  This season, however, they finished with a solid winning record (11-3) and made it to the playoffs.  On Saturday, Dec. 23 the Oakland Raiders were in Pittsburgh playing the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.  That afternoon, while the game was being played, I was out collecting payment from customers of my morning paper route (the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).  Since it was Christmas, instead of the usual 25 or 50-cent tips, I was collecting tips in the stratospheric $2 to $5 range.




When I returned home the game was on the radio, and it didn't look good as the Raiders had a 7-6 lead very late in the game.  Then in a flash the tables were turned as a pass by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw bounced off the intended receiver and landed in the hands of Steelers rookie (and NFL Rookie of the Year) Franco Harris just before it reached the ground.  He scooped it up and scooted 60 yards for the game winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining.  However, it took five minutes before Harris' catch was confirmed by officials as a legitimate reception.  It was even more confusing if you weren't watching on TV as was our case since the game was blacked out in Pittsburgh. 




Even today it seems unbelievable that this catch happened.  And although the Steelers season ended the following week, when they lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, it was the beginning of the Steelers becoming one of the most successful and widely followed teams in the nation.  (To immerse yourself fully in "Steelers Nation" lore the book The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Pittsburgh Steelers is a good starting point.)  




(Sadly, Franco died just two days before the 50-year anniversary of his miracle catch.)

Bridge Disaster Mars Holiday Season (December 15, 1967)




It was early Saturday afternoon on Dec. 15, 1967 when I brought in the afternoon paper (Pittsburgh Press) from the front porch and saw the headline about a bridge disaster the previous night in nearby Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  The Silver Bridge fell into the Ohio River during evening rush hour, killing 46.  It still ranks as the nation's deadliest bridge collapse. 

Although I was just 10 at the time,  the tragedy resonated for two reasons: 1) It was incongruous to my young brain that such a tragedy could occur at Christmastime, and 2) because of its famed three rivers, Pittsburgh is a city of bridges, and every Sunday we traveled over one (the Wind Gap Bridge) to pick up my grandmother for church.  For some time after the Silver Bridge disaster I'd become nervous whenever we'd be stopped on the bridge because of traffic.




Of course, all disasters are unfortunate, but those that occur during the Christmas season are particularly tragic.  Some of the more high profile in the past 60 years include:

Dec. 16, 1960 - Two planes collided over Staten Island, killing 134.

Dec. 29, 1975 - A bomb exploded in a locker at LaGuardia Airport, killing 11 and injuring 75.

Dec. 21, 1988 - Pan Am flight 103 bound for New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and 11 on the ground.

Dec. 26, 2004 - The great Indian Ocean tsunami (pictured below) killed 230,000+ in multiple countries, many of them tourists on Christmas vacations.

Dec. 14, 2012 - 28 persons were shot to death at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, twenty of whom were children between the age of 5 and 10.   

Dec 17-18, 2021 - 88 persons were killed during a nighttime tornado outbreak in six states in the South and Midwest.  Most of the deaths were in Kentucky.





Pearl Harbor Attacked (December 7, 1941)


Many thanks to my mother for filling in for me to recount her memories of the day Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, an act that drew the U.S. into World War II.




Sunday, Dec. 7 was a sunny, but cold, early winter day in Pittsburgh.  After going to morning Mass and having lunch, Mom went visiting at a girlfriend's house where their socializing was interrupted by a news bulletin on the radio reporting on Japan's surprise aerial attack of the US Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii shortly after sunrise.  Shortly afterwards, her friend Ginny's brother-in-law, who was home on military leave, received a call ordering him back to base immediately. (The book At Dawn We Slept is one of many on the subject of this sneak attack.) 


Because Pittsburgh was one of the centers of US military production, there were fears about it being bombed as well.  This led to regular blackout exercises whereby residents were required, upon hearing air-raid sirens, to switch off all lights and pull down window shades.  The goal was to make streets and landmarks harder to pinpoint in the event enemy bombers were overhead. 


Mom's brother, my uncle George, was a senior in high school at the time, and upon graduation was inducted into the Marines and sent to Paradise Island for training.  He then spent the next three years in the Pacific Theater repairing planes.  And Mom, then a junior in high school (her "sweet 16" birthday was the following week, on Dec. 14), helped with the war effort by distributing ration coupons.  Then, after graduating in 1943, she got a job documenting and tracking supplies of ammunition loaded onto supply ships sailing to Europe.






Although it was a time of great worry, Mom didn't recall feeling fearful but instead there was a sense of purpose and solidarity with neighbors and schoolmates as each made contributions to the war effort.   

As recounted by Mary Frydlewicz