Snowstorm buries Toledo, December 1, 1974

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My memories of growing up in Toledo frequently revolve around the weather.

The 70s were particularly lively. A cold snap in early 1977 led to a shortage of natural gas, which closed schools. The notorious “Blizzard of ’78” canceled school for about two weeks. So maybe this is all about the school I missed due to the weather.

When a big snowstorm comes along and cripples everything in town – and much of the region – for a few days, it’s something you remember. And that was the case on Sunday, December 1, 1974.

It was memorable for a lot of reasons: it dumped 14 inches of snow on the city, the most I had ever seen up to that point at the ripe old age of eleven; it happened on a Sunday; and it crippled the town good.

And, since it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it stopped the travel of everyone passing through town as well. The Red Cross estimated upwards of 12,000 people were stranded and crowded into schools, churches, hotels, motels, and public buildings, including the Sports Arena.

In Sylvania, with two major routes to Michigan running through it, travelers stayed at Central Arena, the roller-skating rink on Holland-Sylvania Road (alas, Central Arena is apparently gone now but not forgotten). The Blade quoted Robert Boehme, Sylvania Township police chief, as saying the situation was one of “wall to wall people.” The Red Cross supplied food, purchased from the Swayne Field Kroger, in approximately thirty locations. One thousand stranded people were at the Red Cross headquarters alone.

There was no going anywhere, eyewitnesses said.

– “I waited for three hours on I-75 at one spot between Bowling Green and Perrysburg, without moving an inch,” Ronald Camp, of Detroit, said. A trip from Dayton to Toledo, which ordinarily took 2-1/2 hours, took eight hours on Sunday.

– Scott Eaton and Mark Slater, both of Pittsburgh, curled up on the lobby floor [of the Commodore Perry Motor Inn downtown] and tried to sleep. Mark’s guitar and a tied bundle of records lay nearby, and no one bothered them. The two were on their way back to Michigan State University, at East Lansing, Mich. “It was stop and go all the way from Cleveland – six miserable hours,” Scott said. “I don’t have the energy enough to move.”

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Ed Ashley's cartoon about the situation

In Perrysburg, refugees piled in to the Dixie Electric Co. nightclub and the nearby Holiday Inn, where more than 1,400 extra guests were housed. Holiday Inn executives were in town to celebrate the hotel’s 120-room French Quarter addition (which had just opened that weekend) and international president John McGuire pitched in to set up beds and supply blankets. Remarkably, that hotel is still branded with that name.

According to Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler, the “snow emergency” he declared was the first in the city’s history. Blade Science Editor Michael Woods estimated it was the third heaviest snowfall in the city’s history, but not even the National Weather Service could pin down the dates: back issues of The Blade reported a snowfall of 22 inches on Feb. 28, 1900, and the next heaviest snow, 16.4 inches, “came sometime between 1900 and Sunday” according to the NWS.

There weren’t many injuries or other disasters, save two: a woman was found dead on a Greyhound bus stranded in Toledo, and a fire gutted the Kent branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library (which, it was reported in The Blade not too long ago, is about to undergo a multimillion dollar renovation).

Unfortunately…

Unfortunately the next day’s paper, Dec. 3, 1974, is missing. I can remember seeing it, packed with details about the recovery effort, but now it’s gone for whatever reason (Google News is like this sometimes). I do remember reading a dandy story by Jim Smith, who was apparently sent over to the Sports Arena where thousands of people were bunked. It was a pretty good read, with (I think) a motorcycle club organizing to bring in food.

Jim was a good guy, worked at The Cincinnati Enquirer for quite a while, and died prematurely. Seeing his byline made me think of him.

Interesting links

A National Weather Service (Detroit) writeup on Michigan’s end of the storm (even more snow than Toledo got).

An informative site about Toledo snowstorms, which does a really thorough job of listing them all.

3 Comments

  1. Loved the memories, I was surprised while reading this how clear it all is.
    Toledo growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, what beautiful stomping grounds
    Stomping grounds because we stomped all over the neighborhoods.
    If we didn’t go to school with someone in a home, one of our siblings did!
    I charish growing up there in those years. Bless you all

  2. The Blizzard of 1974 sticks in my memories. I was a Senior at Waite High School. One of the closings of Toledo Schools in my 13 years of attending. First time was a Blizzard on November 1, 1966. My Paternal Grandfather had died. My Dad & I were shoveling the snow so he could get to work as a Toledo Fire Fighter. My Car a 1960 Lincoln Continental Mark V was covered in snow to the roof. We got it cleared of snow & I was trying to get it free. The ice under the snow caused the car to go side ways on Price St. Got it stuck real good. Dad reprimanded me for not following his instruction. I got out of the car & left for a long exhausting walk.

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