"Great Blizzard of Feb. 1978" by George Milliken
(written in the Bird's Eye-View )
I don't like my title because this is a story of people helping people. At any rate I find it impossible to let this storm pass into history without calling attention to it and thanking many people for what was done for me.
The blizzard was the worst and most disruptive ever. It caused told and untold hardship and heroism in the whole storm area. The heavy snowfall and high winds lasted over 24 hours, laying near 30" of snow on top of an old 6" base. Drifts varied in depth from a few inches to porch roofs. Many a person used a window to go out when doors became blocked.
Some of the results were schools, industry and traffic at a standstill for over a solid week. No mail of any sort moved in that period. That's a department that will have to add, "Well hardly ever," to their motto of "No rain nor hail nor dark of night shall stop us."
People were trapped in all manner of situations from being unable to leave their place of employment, or in their cars en route, or in other places where they sought refuge. All travel was quickly declared illegal.
Many of you know that I have a medical problem which required treatment twice weekly for five hours on a hemodialysis machine in East Providence, RI. Being unable to maintain my schedule could have calamitous, even fatal, results. In cooperation with the dialysis center, I was allowed to go two days beyond my regular Tuesday treatment; that's when others came to my rescue.
Trapped within Bird Machine Co. were 12 or 13 young men who quickly became a "MASH" unit. When I asked for help and it was authorized, these fellows provided it in a smooth working plan which got me to East Providence by helicopter and return to Mansfield.
The T.V. "MASH" unit spends much time on humorous sequences, but not the B.M. Co. "Mash" or the Mansfield Civil Defense, who arranged my flights.
Part of my reputation at B.M. Co. includes the fact that I would previously not use aircraft, unless perhaps they stayed on the runway. So, I was supposed to be biting my nails and have cold sweats as the arrangements developed. Because I fully realized the alternatives, I was the usual Georgie, whom my wife says, "has no nerves."
There was, however, some panic by Mansfield C.D. later when I failed to return and couldn't be located for several hours. The story goes like this. I landed in East Providence and was taken to the dialysis center by the police. After the treatment they returned me to the heliport. (Zayre parking lot). There some long delay developed as two helicopters brought in emergency patients and medical supplies. In due time a large (approx. eight passenger) helicopter arrived and exchanged several passengers. The noise was near deafening so instructions were by sign language.
We rose up rapidly in the darkness, providing a fabulous view of city lights. In a few minutes we were down again in the parking lot of Rhode Island Hospital. Again airborne, we traveled further and came down again. I responded to a tap on the shoulder and a "You get out here!" When we got away from the noise, I inquired, "What am I doing here, is this a transfer point?" The answer was, "No, this is Kent County Hospital, Warwick, RI." By now the helicopter was off and gone with a man who was fast getting lost also.
I was soon escorted into the hospital emergency lobby where I explained my dilemma to the receptionist. She telephoned Mansfield Civil Defense and I telephoned my home. by now I had gone 14 hours without any food. The hospital supplied some toast, tea and graham crackers, then some more waiting. At 10:00 p.m. I was assigned a room to stay over night. "Did I mind being in the Pediatrics Ward?" "No, so long as one of the requirements wasn't to have a baby!" "Do you mind if you hear babies cry?" "Not as long as it isn't my own." I could forgive a crying baby because I'm sure I didn't hold back when I was brand new.
I had my johnnie on and was in bed when the nurse came to say I had a telephone call. It was a Major Rovinson to say his men would fly that night if I wanted to go home. I refused, with much thanks, saying I wouldn't wish that on anyone, besides his men should be tired and I had been up since 6:00 a.m. I didn't tell him but in my mind I didn't relish landing still further away in New Haven or Longmeadow. A new pick-up time was set for 8:00 a.m. I was provided a great early breakfast and all went well and I landed in Mansfield to a tremendous greeting. Oh, yes, I learned they still had not located my exchange passenger who failed to get off in Warwick.
I made another round trip two days later, mostly to receive 2 units of blood, and was again dialyzed. All went well, proving the system works better in less confusion, and me a little more seasoned.
We have had an unusual critical situation to combat and I and thousands of people needed and got special help. I feel deeply indebted to the B.M. Co. "MASH" Unit, the Mansfield Civil Defense, especially Sandra and the military unit that supplied the helicopters.
As I write this on Sunday, six days after the storm, I have just returned from grocery shopping in Walpole with the transportation being provided by the Walpole C.D. Everyone has been extremely considerate and helpful and I hope I can long remember the Blizzard of February 1978.
Funeral Homes and Cemeteries
Mr. James Delaney of the Delaney Funeral Home on Common Street in Walpole recalled the Blizzard of '78 as a unique experience in his line of work. He has been in the funeral business for forty years and does not remember asnother incident when the waiting period for opening graves was so long. In eastern Massachusetts, graves are dug all winter even if there is snow on the ground. Usually, a path to the grave is plowed, and specialized equipment heats the ground overnight. This makes it possible for the grave to be mechanically dug in the morning. The amount of snow which fell during the Blizzard, however, prevented this as the plowing equipment to get to the grave sites was needed for other emergency measures.
Consequently, the vaults at the cemetaries were used for storage until such time as the graves could be opened. The vaults at both Maple Grove and Rural Cemetaries were full, and some bodies were stored in the Jackson Memorial Building at Terrace Hill. Mr. Delaney estimates that about ten bodies were stored for later burial in Walpole. His last burial, of a death occuring during or after the storm, took place on May 1, 1978.
On February 6, the morning that the Blizzard of '78 actually began, Mr. Delaney had buried two people at Rural Cemetary. The burials of these were slightly delayed by a snowstorm of fourteen inches on January 21, followed by an ice storm later that same week. Mr. Stephen Huntress, Walpole's Caretaker of Cemetaries, had prepared the two graves that morning. Mr. Delaney arrived at Rural Cemetary at 11 AM and recalls that it had begun to snow lightly at noon when he left.
Another unusual occurence for Mr. Delaney was his hiring a livery service to transport a body from a Boston hospital to Walpole. A death occured in Boston, and Mr. Delaney sought the permission of the Walpole Police and Civil Defense to transport the body to Walpole. He did receive permission on this end but was told that he would face a problem in each town he passed throught enroute to Boston. Consequently, Mr. Delaney made his arrangements through a livery service, which had blanket permission to be on the streets.