Fear the start of winter? Blame the storm of 1959WORTHINGTON —November is ebbing. I confess I sometimes wince when Halloween fades and November looms.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON —November is ebbing. I confess I sometimes wince when Halloween fades and November looms.
“Oh, you mean because of the Armistice Day storm?” someone asked.
Well, yes. That was a bad one. Really bad. Forty-nine people died in Minnesota along roadsides, along lakes and sloughs, in open fields. Snow drifted deep. But that was a long time ago — 1940.
There was another November day. Nov. 19, 1959. That was a day as dark and cold and scary as Worthington ever had. There were reports of Worthington’s woes on the national television networks.
Municipal Judge Henry Fauskee was walking across Third Avenue between the National Guard Armory and City Hall that morning. I was beside him. We had been at coffee at Council Oak. The wind — oh, wow! The wind was out of the northwest and it was fierce.
It was exactly 20 minutes before 10, as several hundred electric clocks at Worthington were soon to attest.
Judge Fauskee was midway in the intersection when a manhole cover lifted into the air and sailed like a lid on a garbage can.
In that instant, a major explosion separated the turbines at Worthington Municipal Power Plant a block farther down the street from the city’s electric distribution system.
Furnace fans in every home and every place of business in the community were suddenly stilled. Every light in the city went out, every electric clock stopped, every electric motor, every electric appliance went dead. Everything which depended on electricity was useless. The pumps at the city’s wells were idled.
The situation was made worse by the temperature, which continued to fall as the day unfolded. It was minus-8 by noon. (In those days, “wind chill” had not been invented. No one calculated a wind chill factor.)
An hour passed before the community began to appreciate the dimensions of its emergency. Houses grew cold. Work stopped. Gas pumps at filling stations were useless. Restaurants became chill; those with electric ranges could not prepare food, could not prepare even a slice of toast. Inside the restaurants, inside the stores, inside the schools — inside everywhere, everything was dark.
The Daily Globe’s news wires were dead. The typesetting equipment and the presses were not operational.
By early afternoon Worthington had won the attention of the nation. Newspapers, radio stations and television stations dispatched reporters or telephoned for interviews. Offers of help began to flow in.
Special concern centered on the city’s nursing homes and on Lakeview School, a school for physically handicapped children.
Central Elementary School was warmed by Worthington’s municipal steam system. Central’s gym was set up as an emergency ward — a Superdome — for the elderly and the sick. Worthington Regional Hospital was on emergency power and was maintained as a second refuge.
In hundreds of homes residents turned on the ovens of their gas ranges and stayed close to their dark kitchens.
As night neared most of the city still had no electricity. No street lights. No commercial signs flashed on. Judge Fauskee, who also was captain of the local National Guard, called 50 men to duty to patrol the dark streets and to offer assistance where they could.
Postmaster Ray Schisler, who was Worthington’s Civil Defense director, oversaw an effort which earned commendation: locating emergency generators and making provision for those in direst need.
By 7 p.m. a portable generator began supplying the Daily Globe with partial power. The news staff worked by candlelight.
By 6:30 the next morning, 20 hours after the emergency began, full power was restored through all of the city. It was a day those who lived here said they never would forget.
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Worthington residents were not able to watch television reports of their plight. They were largely cut off from news.
There was one news story — it did not appear in the Daily Globe until the next day, Tuesday. At Garden City, Kan., a 48-year-old farmer, Herb Clutter; his wife Bonnie, 45; the Clutters’ daughter Nancy Mae, 16, and the couple’s son, Kenyon, 15, were found at their farm home slain in cold blood. This was the first report of the murders for which Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were hanged. The writer Truman Capote got the report before Worthington did.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.