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Night of ‘the beautiful’

Every day since the beginning of December 1919, a few thin flakes of snow had been drifting down. Unusual to be sure, but nothing to worry about. Nothing stuck.

The biggest problem had been the rain and sleet mixed with the snow, and temperatures in the upper 20s. The sunless morning sidewalks glistened, their icy surface turning men and women into cautious, tip-toeing ballerinas.

Heavy snow was falling in the foothills; but by Dec. 9, the forecast called for a warming trend.

The next day, with the northern and eastern parts of the state nearly paralyzed under thick snow and ice, and even the Oregon football team in Eugene practicing in 9 inches of snow, the Mail Tribune couldn’t resist taking a jab at our northern neighbors by praising the virtues of Southern Oregon weather.

“ROGUE VALLEY IS ONLY SPOT FREE FROM BLIZZARD,” said the headline. “The mild climate of Medford and the Rogue River Valley was again conspicuously demonstrated by the fact that with the blizzard, cold and heavy snow conditions raging all over Oregon … only part of the big storm was felt … a heavy wind caused little damage beyond blowing over a few trees and telephone poles.”

The next day, a Thursday, there were no headlines at all. With no power to run the presses, the Mail Tribune was closed.

Beginning in the evening of Dec. 10 and continuing through the night, the valley saw its “WORST STORM IN HISTORY.”

With a minimum staff and a late start, the newspaper managed to publish a Dec. 12 edition, recounting 12 inches of snow falling on Medford on the 11th — the most to fall on Medford in a single day, a record that still stands.

“With 12 inches of snowfall,” the story said, “and the hard freeze of last night, minimum temperature of 9½ degrees above zero today, and the predicted cold of tonight and tomorrow, this week has been full of it.”

Telephone, telegraph and electric service were intermittent and mostly down. The power company had all employees working around the clock, but couldn’t guarantee lights and power in the residential districts for a day or two.

It was time for a reporter to put on rubber boots, a grin on their face, and “wade out into the cold world.”

Tiny school kids did their own brand of wading, laughing through snow drifts that came almost up to their chins. No taxis rushed by, and only a few autos, between parked cars, plowed a dark, slush trail through a foot of snow that still covered Main Street. There were no merchant deliveries. No trains, no phone, no lights, no newspaper. “Not much of anything except lots and lots of snow.”

On Saturday, two days later, most of the snow was gone, and although it was still cold, things were returning to normal.

“Let’s all forget the storm and cold conditions,” said the reporter, “the frozen pipes and other damage, and the loss in our homes, and make the best of a bad situation by going skating on Bear Creek tomorrow.”

Realizing that “tomorrow” meant Sunday, the reporter quickly recanted. “Let’s all go to church tomorrow and give thanks that we are still alive.”

“Although the 12 inches of ‘the beautiful’ which fell is a record,” the reporter said, “you still hear that this is not the worst storm in the city’s history. Some of the old-timers tell of the disastrous storm of 29 years ago, of the terrible winter storm of 1861, but what do we care? This week’s weather record is amply sufficient for us.”

Amen, brother. A light dusting of “the beautiful” for Christmas would be more than enough for me, too!

Merry Christmas, folks!

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.