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PIECE OF HISTORY: The brutal winter of 1936

(The History Center)
(The History Center)

This month’s “Piece of History” features a picture from The History Center showing a car dwarfed by snow drifts in January 1936 in Cedar Rapids.

The winter was Iowa’s second coldest and fourth snowiest, but it was, in many ways, the most brutal.

An average 42.9 inches of snow fell the winter of 1935-36, most of it in late January and February 1936, according to an article written by Otto Knauth for The Annals of Iowa in 1960.

Blizzards hit the state Jan. 16 to 18, Jan. 22, Jan. 30, Feb. 2, Feb. 8 to 9 and Feb. 26. Winds created 20-foot drifts. The average temperature in January was 9.5 degrees.

More than 20 people died during the blizzards, along with countless livestock. Farms were isolated for weeks. Wildlife froze in place. People ran out of coal, with some burning corn and furniture to keep warm. Passenger trains got stuck in drifts.

A young Cedar Rapids girl, Lillian Schminky, walked 3 miles to school and arrived with legs frozen below the knee. Hundreds of Iowans suffered frostbite.

“The grip of the 1935-36 winter on Iowa was finally broken on March 2,” reported Knauth, then an assistant city editor for the Des Moines Register.

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The brutal winter would be followed by record summer heat and continuation of the nation’s worst drought.

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