In the winter of 1936, the Chesapeake Bays froze solid with only the tidal change creating cracks which gradually formed large ice chunks, mini-icebergs which gradually made their way down the bay and out the mouth into the Atlantic. The temperatures were below freezing for an unusually long number of days and as the ice chunks drifted near shore along the nearby Virginia Beach shoreline, they lessened the roll and swell of the sea. Then at night, when the temperatures dropped into the teens, the jammed up ice flows froze together, creating a frozen shore line which extended quite a long distance out to sea. The picture above shows three men standing on the ice off the Virginia Beach oceanfront, probably several hundred yards off shore. It was a small scale "Bering Sea on the Atlantic" created by another unseasonably cold winter. Ice fishing anyone?
And 1936 was by no means the only such year, with both 1857 and 1918 having major January-February long-lasting freezes which played havoc on both commerce and life in general. My father was a young teenager in the 1918 freeze, living in the port city of Newport News. The picture below shows skaters on the Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Hampton River in a scene more reminiscent of Maine. I found a copy of this picture in my Dad's memorabilia and it is also found in the local newspaper (Daily Press) archives.
The 1918 freeze was particularly brutal with lows going down to zero and below on a couple of occasions and highs not going above the low 20s for twelves consecutive days. Even then, the entire period from mid-January to early March barely broke the freezing mark on only a handful of days and the rivers, the bay and the harbor stayed locked in ice. There were no bridges or bridge-tunnels at that time so travel from Newport News and Hampton by auto could only be done by heading toward Richmond since the ferries to Norfolk were frozen in.
Shipping in the Hampton Road harbor was at a standstill with merchant vessels held at anchorage by ice. And even the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad with its huge coal port operation at Newport News was functioning at a minimum level. Many freight trains were stuck in snow during transit and supporting mechanical equipment was frozen and wouldn't work. And since a large portion of the coal coming to the port was destined for the Great War in Europe, supplies for citizens to keep their homes and offices warm were in short supply. The price of coal skyrocketed and people of lesser means were in danger of freezing to death.
There was even a coal riot at the railroad yards where a group tried to commandeer two train car loads of coal for emergency use. Some were arrested and jailed but city fathers finally reached the conclusion that something had to be done for these people and order was restored.
Dad worked two jobs, one before and one after school, to help his family and save money for later schooling. His morning job was helping with deliveries on a milk truck, taking milk from wagon to door in biting cold and ice. As a little boy he told me how he still remembered how it felt to be really cold. He swore he'd never be that cold ever again when he went out in the world.
And so, when we think of the cold that frequently befalls us, think of those old days and the grit and determination that our forebears, even those as recent as the early twentieth century went through, to make a better life for all of us. History is a wonderful teacher, and no lesson is better than the ones that impact our own family and it's development.
Be warm out there, everyone. Be warm.