Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

The Late Spring Snow Of March 17, 1936

Today’s guestpost was written by Charles Fletcher. He sent it to me after I wrote of this year’s cold spring.

1934 FAMILY

 

1936 left to right: TJ, Ellen (Mother), Leveta, Charles, and Louise (Photo provided by Charles Fletcher)

The Late Spring Snow of March 17, 1936 written by Charles Fletcher

March 17, 1936–One of the worst snowstorms of the century swept across Asheville and Western North Carolina. Snowdrifts up to 8 feet high buried parked cars in the city and caused hazardous driving through the area.

I was thirteen years old, and my younger brother, T.J., was eleven at the time of the late spring snow of March 17th 1936. We went to the new school called Beaverdam Elementary School which was about one-half mile away from where we lived. Our house was located on a hill above a graveyard, and as might be expected, it was referred to as “Graveyard Hill”.

On March 15th at noon the snow was coming down very hard, so the school closed at noon and sent everyone home. The snow continued very hard from Friday until Sunday night.

My Dad was working in the paper mill at Canton, and the mill’s supervisors asked all the employees who were working to stay and not go home. They wanted to be sure that they would have someone to keep the mill running and not have to shut it down.

Like most of the people who lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina, my family were always prepared for the unexpected problems that come up every now and then. They always had plenty of food that they had preserved in the summer and plenty of firewood on hand to keep the house warm and cookstove hot so they could cook three meals evey day.

Although we didn’t have the things that children and adults have nowadays to keep themselves entertained, we managed very well with the things we had. We read, told stories, and played games, and Mom would read us Bible Stories.

On Monday morning we asked Mom if we could go back to school. We would have to walk the half-mile to school because we lived less than the two-mile distance from the school which would qualify us to ride the school bus. After Mom made sure we had enough clothes on so we wouldn’t freeze, she let us leave for school if we promised that if the snow was too deep we would come back home.

The snow was up higher than our heads on the route we normally took to school, so we walked the ridges where the wind had blown off the snow. When we came down off the ridges, we walked on the sides of the road where the snow had been blown back to the high side of the road.

Burt Robinson’s house was the closest house to the school, and he was the janitor and caretaker for the school. When we got near the school, we could see black smoke coming from the coal-fired furnace that heated the water that ciruclated through pipes to heat the school rooms. We knew that Burt was at the school.

When we reached the school, we headed straight to the boiler-room where Burt spent most of his time during the school day. He had his candy store in the boiler-room. Students could come in and buy an all-day sugar daddy for a penny.

When we entered the boiler-room, Burt asked what we were doing at school. He told us that there wouldn’t be any classes for the better part of a week and that we should go on back home before it started snowing again.

When we got back to our house, Dad was home. He had walked the ridges where the snow had blown off just like my younger brother and I had done.

This spring snow set back farming for the year and did lots of damage to trees. There was also at least one death that was known about when a man who was our neighbor lost his life from what was called “cold sleepiness”. In cold sleepiness the body temperature gets low, and the mind tells a person to go to sleep. Once asleep, the person freezes to death.

I am now 91 years old, and I have seen many big snow storms, but I will never forget the spring snow of March 17, 1936.

Charles Fletcher
March 27, 2013

——————–

I hope you enjoyed the memories Charles shared as much as I did-although we’ve had a cold snowy March this year in western NC, it doesn’t compare with the snow storm from Charles’s youth.

Tipper

 

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    March 30, 2013 at 7:08 am

    I remember in the early 90’s we had a March snow that had 4ft drifts but not anything like 8ft, hope we never see that, the wind blew a constant 35 to 40 with gust of 50+,, power was out every where and tuff to get back on and keep it on..Good story..

  • Reply
    Charline
    March 30, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I, too loved Charles’ vivid telling of that long ago experience. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    March 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Such a wonderful story from Mr. Charles. Thanks to him for taking us time traveling to a treasured part of his life. When my mother was a little girl growing up in the prairie country of southern Illinois they had heavy snows. Her father would cross the fields breaking through the snow with the little ones following behind so they could get to school. Such a nice memory of a father’s love.

  • Reply
    josé Luis
    March 29, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Charles, beautiful your story!!!
    I have read with great interest your story about snow and cold of 36.
    A story well sequenced, and letting the imagination allows even from afar, understand every detail of your story.
    These heavy snowfalls have them here in Argentina in Patagonia, and in the high mountains in towns that are close to the border with Chile, mainly in the province of Mendoza, where stands a huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, on the boundary of Argentina and Chile.
    Dear Mr. Charles Fletcher, youngest only 91 springs, I congratulate you for your beautiful story, and I pray God to bless and protect many years, and now, I’ll say in my prayers to Pope Francisco, (which is a countryman of mine), “venerable Francisco, do not forget to pray for Charles, in their private conversations with your boss ”
    Best wishes to all, and to you for your work Tipper, José Luis de Buenos Aires Argentina.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    March 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Peggy-I’m sorry I missed you! I came down with a horrible cold and I haven’t moved off the couch but once or twice. I was so disappointed that I didn’t get to go that I actually cried-silly I know and probably because I already feel so bad LOL! I’ve been looking forward to Gary’s show for over a month and then I decide to go and get sick for the first time in years. I had totally forgotten how horrible a head cold can be. We all have it except Chatter and I’m afraid shell have it soon.
    Blind Pig The
    Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    March 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Tipper, What happened last night? I went to WCU and I looked around every where to find you and then Gary Carden told what or who would perform and what their program would be about and you was not listed. I was so disappointed. Hope you are fine. The weather was fine, no snow.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    dolores
    March 29, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    That was a great story to share. For some reason I have felt that the snowstorms from when I was a child in the 40’s and 50’s seemed to have been a lot deeper. My brother and I always had the job of shoveling the driveway which was used by two, two-family houses in NJ. Our cousins who lived downstairs from us were too small to shovel, so they got to watch. They are fun memories.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I think I remember the winter Miss Cindy is talking about. We were out of school for three weeks before they put chains on the buses and we went in the snow anyway for a while. We went on Saturdays and way up into June.
    Question for Charles-Why is Mom and the boys all bundled up while the two girls are in short skirts and Louise even has short sleeves? Tells us who is tough in that family!

  • Reply
    Ken
    March 29, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Tipper,
    Thank you for letting Charles tell
    another true life story of growing
    up in Appalachia. This very well
    could be the snowstorm my daddy and mama told me about. They lived
    in Nantahala or at Bushnell when
    this happened. I love stories like
    this! …Ken

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    March 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Tipper and
    Charles….I wanted to also say that I enjoyed the words “cold sleepiness”! I know one gets sleepy when extremely cold, but never heard the mountain term for the condition! Yep, maybe I’ve been under a mountain rock!
    Also, wanted to make this little joke about your trip to the school. Could it also have been that you were a’missin’ that “one cent Sugar Daddy”? I am guessin’ the trip back home was “energy filled” with the lickin’ and tugging of that cold Sugar Daddy!
    Laughing out loud, as I remember getting off of the school bus, going to a little drug store nearby that sold candy. After buying a Sugar Daddy and trying to get a taste of it on a cold winters day and trying to get back to school before the bell rung even with the short walk back to school. Sometimes the Sugar Daddy would snap off in the cold air and land on the cold gravel…
    Which served us right, since we wuz using part of our lunch money (quarter) for candy!
    Let me close, Charles and Tipper,
    I’ll reminisce all the day long!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    March 29, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Tipper,
    and Charles, loved the story.
    I have been thru the mountains when the snow was at least four feet! I wonder if the youth of today would dare ask to go to school, especially if they had to walk in a deep snow. I don’t think so. I think that would have been a brave thing to walk the ridges after a storm of that magnitude. I am afraid I would be worried about the varmits, bears, Bob Cats, Panthers and such. A person would be very vunerable in the deep snow in their environment, and being children to boot.
    I’m glad you made it to school and back…sounds scary and very devoted to an education.
    Thanks Tipper,
    It is cold and looking rainy today. Seems like we planted beans on Good Friday a lot of years in the past??
    Maybe not!

  • Reply
    Shirla
    March 29, 2013 at 8:49 am

    The storm Charles wrote about may be the same snow storm Mom talked about, since she grew up so close to Ashville. I thought I remember her saying it came in May. She told about building an Igloo playhouse big enough to stand up in. Dad was working in the coal mines when the storm came. He said when the miners quit work and came to the mine’s exit, they couldn’t get out.
    Imagine the madness we would experience at the grocery store if we had a storm prediction like that today.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    March 29, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Great story! Thanks Charles and Tipper.

  • Reply
    Bradley
    March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    What an interesting account of that snow storm Charles wrote! To me there is nothing more interesting than a first hand account by someone that was actually there. It has a way of letting others experience what it is that is being retold that – in many ways – lets us be there too. Also, that picture of his family is priceless.
    When I was a youngster an older lady that our company used to visit gave me a story about the Tornado of 1936 that destroyed the city of Gainesville and it was so vivid. That morning she told me the story it was April 6th -the day of the tornado- and there was a heavy storm lying in the southwest. She said, “Son it was just like this that morning of the storm.” I asked her, “Miss Mattie, did you see it?” She began to tell about it. I have read stories, articles, and heard others talk about it but like Charles’s story it was so vivid it was like being there.
    I enjoy stories like Charles so much! Thanks Charles and Tipper!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I love the story! Thank you Charles.
    I remember a really deep snow in Canton when I was in the sixth grade. School was closed for 5 weeks. It snow every Wednesday for weeks. The snow was a few feet high. The bottom layers were frozen solid enough to walk on. The upper layers were soft and fluffy.
    We went to school on Saturdays and part of our summer vacation to make up the time.
    It was fun at first but got to be boring before it was over. lol

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    March 29, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I enjoyed Charles’ account of that storm. I especially enjoyed what he and his brother did to keep entertained when they were in a storm. Reading, telling stories, playing games. I wish our kids these days could be entertained that easily. Reading is a lot better for us than television and video games, I think. It makes your imagination take flight. The “entertainment” today leaves little for the imagination to have to conjure up.

  • Reply
    Bonnie
    March 29, 2013 at 7:47 am

    good morning from Ontario Canada.
    its zero c. looks like the ground is starting to thaw.
    we have started our tomatoes and peppers already in the house, we probably cant plant till may 24 or so.
    anywho just wanted to say thank you again for the music. Its wonderful.
    Love Bonnie

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    March 29, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Your story makes me wonder if we would be as prepared now as then for something that cut us off from the ability to make it to the store, no power and lack of transport.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    March 29, 2013 at 7:09 am

    appropriate read today – I’m still in Ireland and it is COLD! Thought of you Tipper — I attended two funerals while here and it was such an amazing, albeit sad experience. One held in a small church and another in a cathedral. The neighbors dig the grave in the country and then fill it in. It was such a raw, windy rainy day yet everyone gathered in the graveyard by the shadow of a ruin – a church wall. They soon warmed up at a local pub where a meal was served. At the viewing for the second funeral we all walked behind the hearse as the coffin was taken to the church where a prayer service was offered and the body “reposed” overnight. The coffins here are so different to ours – the older shaped and much smaller, all wood beautifully carved and polished, lined with satin that covers the body up to the hands and no hinged lid. The music was amazing and seemed to soar whether in the country church or the cathedral.

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