It swept in from the south, a monstrous storm that barreled into Maryland, dumped more than 2 feet of snow on Baltimore and paralyzed the city a century ago. The blizzard began Friday, Jan. 27, 1922, and ended two days later, having stopped trains and trolleys in their tracks and brought auto traffic to a halt. All told, 26.5 inches of snow buried the city, driven by gusty winds that created towering drifts of up to 10 feet.
Trapped at work or while heading home, people huddled for the night in offices, hotels and clubs, and even at Penn Station, where they slept on benches. Others hunkered down in stranded streetcars where, The Sun reported, “people slept, some smoked, some snored. All cursed the snow.”
The desperate took refuge in police stations and slept in jail cells. But many braved the elements and tried to tromp home on foot.
“In the snow-filled streets were thousands of pedestrians stumbling homeward over trolley tracks long untouched by cars,” The Sun reported. “Some were in groups and sang little choruses as they tramped. Some pelted others with snowballs.
“The streets were deep, white morasses into which automobile wheels sank to the hubs and men and women floundered to their knees.”
The storm spared no one. From City Hall, it took Mayor William Broening four hours to reach his home in Forest Park. He abandoned his limousine four blocks away and slogged on.
It was, at the time, the worst storm ever to hit Baltimore, a record that stood for 74 years; it still ranks No. 4 behind the blizzard of 2016 (29.2 inches). Still, Baltimore — which reported one death from the 1922 storm — fared better than Washington, where a 30-inch snowfall collapsed the flat roof of the Knickerbocker Theater during a film show, killing 98 people and injuring 133. No one here could offer help.
“Washington and Baltimore are as far apart, for all practical purposes, as the North and South Poles,” The Sun reported. (The tragedy did prompt local officials to close all movie houses until their roofs were shoveled clear.)
The weather played havoc with emergency services. Firetrucks got stuck making calls; in Halethorpe, seven horses strained to pull an engine from the snow. Sleighs delivered milk, food and even newspapers to those snowed in. In Walbrook, a homeowner who’d set out for the henhouse discovered that one of her chickens had laid an egg on the doorstep, as if to save her a trip to the coop.
The storm taxed phone lines and the operators who manned them. Still, they managed to make merry. At a Western Union office in the Equitable Building, “a dozen young women made coffee on a stove on the ninth floor, [then] turned on a phonograph and danced till they were tired enough to sleep in the office chairs,” The Sun reported.
Even those stranded on streetcars made do. On one trolley mired on Fulton Avenue, hungry passengers shared what food they had: a string of sausages, a loaf of bread and a jar of pickles. In outlying areas, the beleaguered found shelter in farmhouses that took them in.
The blizzard proved a boon for the unemployed, nearly 5,000 of whom found work shoveling city streets and sidewalks for 35 cents an hour.
Shipping traffic suffered, too: ice 5 inches thick blanketed parts of the Chesapeake Bay, and 6-foot floes greeted struggling steamships and oyster boats. In Ocean City, a wind-whipped storm surge flooded the town.
While the storm bludgeoned Baltimore, it barely touched Western Maryland: a half inch of snow fell in Cumberland.
In less than a week, the city had dug out. A warm spell melted much of what hadn’t been shoveled. Iceboats cleared the Inner Harbor. Stores, schools and churches reopened. Milk delivery resumed. And, lest its readers forget, The Sun offered up this take on Mother Nature:
Latest Retro Baltimore
“From time to time we get reminders by way of earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and cyclones, of human littleness in the grasp of the natural powers which environ us. We ought to be mighty glad that we get off so easily.”