Memories of Winters in old Chesapeake City, part 2
Part of the Chesapeake City Basin iced over, circa 1950. Note South Side ferry slip pilings. Area at far left is now site of the Chesapeake Inn.
Close-up of the Gotham ferry, circa 1946. The room on the top level had the smoke stack where riders huddled for warmth.
So, do you think it’s been a cold winter so far? Well, let me tell you what many of the older residents of
told me about the cold winters of
years ago. Dick Titter starts it off
with his recollection of the coldest day ever in our canal town. “I remember
when the old Clayton house burned down. That's on Chesapeake City Bohemia Avenue, where Birdy Battersby used to live. At that
time that house was outstanding in —a premier house so to
speak; I was thirteen, and that night in1936 was the coldest on record for Chesapeake
City ; it was 16 degrees below zero. The
weather had been bitter cold for quite a while, the canal jammed with ice and
everything frozen solid. And I can remember going down there to see the house
on fire. Chesapeake City
“I was all bundled up and ready to see what was going on. Well, I was standing in front of Groom Steele's house—where Frank Ellwood used to live—watching the firemen with their hoses trying to do something with that fire. Well, Mr. Steele was out there with a bottle of whiskey, and he was giving shots to the firemen because it was so very cold. I was standing right next to them and I recall how their raincoats and boots were frozen stiff from the ice all over them.
“Johnny Walter, Albert Beiswanger, and Dick Borger were there, as I recall, and Johnny Walter had to go down to the basin there, by the town wharf, and cut a hole in the ice to get water for the fire engine. And Johnny told me that he took an ax and measured the thickness of the ice with the handle. He stuck the ax head down the hole and it just cleared the bottom of the ice. So that ice was three-and-a-half to four feet thick. But, anyway, that was a famous fire, because it burned down the nicest house in town.” Dick Titter
“I recall how cold the winters were in those days. The ferry would have to fight its way through the ice in the canal. To get warm, everybody in the upstairs room would huddle together up against the wall where the smoke stack was.” Gary Tatman
“May Briscoe Kane used to talk about walking on the ice. She said that she got out on a piece of ice and it floated on out with the current. I don't know how she got back to shore.” Earl Schrader.
“We used to really have some ice in the canal when I was a kid. There used to be enormous chunks of ice floating in the canal, and I remember how Walter Basalyga used to ride those icebergs up and down the canal. He would jump on one down where he lived, near Basalyga's Wharf on the South Side—past the Chesapeake Boat company—and ride it up to school. And then, at night, if the tide was running the other way, he'd catch one and ride it home. I have a clear memory of seeing him out on an iceberg. He jumped from iceberg to iceberg.” Joe Hotra
“Daddy (Capt. Ed Sheridan) used to talk about when he was on the tugboats. He told me about one severely cold winter when they were frozen in the ice. It was so bad that they had to get the fuel to the tug by rolling barrels across the ice. They needed the fuel oil to keep the tugboat running and to keep them warm.” Jeanette Miklas
“One time, when the ice was bad, one of the pilots lost control of the big ferry. My father said that the boat ended up way up there by the government plant. In fact, he had to grab one of the Losten boys to keep him from jumping overboard. He was going to jump off on the ice and walk to shore.” Ted Lake
“I think the biggest thing was being late for school in the winter because the ice would take the ferry down past Schaefer's. All of us kids would get excited. We'd say, "Oh boy, we’re going to be late for school!" Becky May
“I recall the bad winters we had in the forties on our farm near
As a boy I used to cross over the lift bridge by hanging on to the back bumpers
of cars in a sled when there was snow and ice on the road. We kids did all of
those bad things. I also remember something special that happened on our farm
in March of 1941. My mother was at the end of her third trimester, and went
into labor during a blizzard. Until the snow drifted across the lane, my father
figured we could easily negotiate it with our three-year-old '37 Chevy and get
to the hospital six miles away at Elkton with time to spare. North
“We all got up, dressed, and my father helped my mother to the car, wrapped her in blankets in the rear seat, started the car, and proceeded down the lane for about one car length. But the car came to a halt against the drifted snow and would go no farther. At this point, my father got the tractor out of the carriage house and we chained the car to it. While my father tried to drag the car down the lane, I jumped in to steer it. The rubber tires on the tractor spun down through the gravel and clay, which had just started to get soft, but the tractor stayed where it was.
“We were running out of time so Dad told me to harness our two best horses. We hitched the two horses to the car with a double tree and chain to the front bumper. Again, I steered the car while my father drove the team. The horses pulled that car across the top of the drift as if it were a sled, on out to the main road. My father then drove my mother on to the hospital, and just after on the Eighth of March 1941, our brother David was born.” Paul Spear.
The great town of Rising Sun sometimes had difficult winters also. Don Gifford recalls an especially big snowfall: “When I was five years old we had a snow drift that was as high as our barn. That was at about10 p.m. and by the morning the drift had blown off a bit but was still about 12 feet high. My brothers and sisters and I dug a bunch of tunnels all through that enormous drift.”
Norman Astle, a nearby Rising Sun farmer, remembers hearing older folks talk about driving horses down the Susquehanna river from Port Deposit to Havre de Grace. “Sometimes,” he recalls, “after a bad blizzard we had to leave the farm by taking down the pasture fence and making a passage-way across the field with our tractor and loader. In fact, when we moved here in January of 1954, we had to use the tractor to pull the truckload of furnishings up to the farm house. Moving in and securing our small dairy herd was quite an order for a day or two.”I have a feeling that I’ve chilled you to the bone by having you read all this about those bitter-cold winters. And so, in contrast, I’d better tell you about the hottest summer we ever had when I was a boy on our farm. That summer it was hot. How hot was it? It was so hot one afternoon that both of my father’s fields of popcorn started popping and blowing up into the sky. And then, when it began falling back to earth, our poor chickens thought it was snow and froze in their tracks. It was bad. We had to take them into the kitchen to thaw them out. Well, impressionable reader, I sure hope that you’ve now heated up a bit and are warmly looking forward to my next week’s story on facebook.