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Area residents recall snowstorm of January 1922

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In the Knickerbocker snowstorm of January 1922, Maryland's biggest ever until this week, Bill Jasper remembers great electric arcs flashing like fireworks when the streetcar trolley hit a patch of ice on the power line.

His dad, Will Jasper, was a motorman on the No. 19 streetcar line on Harford Road from Hamilton Avenue, the city's boundary, then, to Charles and Wells streets.

Bill is 87 now. He and his wife, Vi, live at Oak Crest Village retirement community in Parkville, where they weathered Maryland's biggest storm ever the past few days.

When it snowed in the old days, Jasper recalls, "The people brought coffee out to the motorman and conductor. We got used to snow, because you didn't dispose of it. You had horse and wagon dump carts that maybe got snow away from the police station or fire station, hospitals ... like that.

"United Railways cleaned the tracks with their snow sweepers," he says. "The side of the road you couldn't get to [with] these big high hills on each side of the tracks. The streets that didn't have streetcar tracks just got matted down. There were no snowplows."

Jasper also remembers playing in the snow.

"Oh my Lord, yes, throwing snowballs ... sleigh rides. You'd go out to Lake Clifton, down the hillside ... must have been 50 or 75 feet long. We called it the Lake Slope. You'd come down the slope, and you ended up at the playground. Guys would hold maybe six people on a sleigh."

The lake was a reservoir. Clifton Park High School is there now. They slid all the way down past where the soccer fields are in the park now.

"Around the lake was a road," Jasper recalls. "That was Lover's Lane in the summer time. That's where you would go, and you could see the whole city."

The motorman's son later became a milkman driving a horse and wagon around East Baltimore. "In those days," he says. "The milk froze, and the cream popped out of the bottle."

He married a girl named Violet, who was one of his customer's daughters. "Her mother said it wouldn't last," he says, jokingly. But he and Vi have been married 65 years now.

Kathryne Bradley, who is a very lively 97, also lives at Oak Crest. She was a high school girl in Washington in the big storm of 1922.

"Somebody called and asked, 'Do you remember '22?' " she says. "Oh, my heavens, do I remember '22! Why that was just yesterday. It's hard to realize what you think is yesterday is somebody's idea of history.

"We didn't think anything of it at the time," she says of the 1922 storm. "It was before the age of automobiles, and I do remember riding in a buggy. Nobody cleaned the streets. The streets were just left the way they were. There wasn't that much traffic.

"I just envied anybody with a horse and sleigh. At least, they could get around. Where nobody could get around in a car. Cars weren't made for snow in those days."

Today, she says, "I think we're so mired down. You can't get a bus. And your car can't drive unless you have a four-wheel drive. Wait a minute! Let me tell you about the days we had horses and sleighs ...

"It was a wonderful time," she says. "We had won the war in Europe, and we were cock o' the walk. The snow didn't dampen us at all. It was one of those things, you know. It was an inconvenience, and it was a bother, [but] it wasn't anything terrible."

But after the big 1922 snowfall, the Knickerbocker Theater roof fell in and gave the storm of 1922 its name.

"I think it was close to a hundred were killed," she says (the actual number was 98, with more than 150 injured).

Also at Oak Crest is Bill Bowles, who was a boy living near Alexandria, Va., about where Reagan National Airport is now, when the 1922 storm hit. It was country then and he was 13; he's 94 now.

"My brother and I had fun playing in the snow," he remembers. "We had a house that had an embankment down the front and the snow was so deep my brother and I dug tunnels through it and crawled around through and made a house under the snow."

He remembers the Knickerbocker Theater disaster, too, and is still amazed so many people were hurt and killed. "Why there were people watching a movie during a storm like that I've never been able to figure out."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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