Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Night at the Museum - The Blizzard of 2011

I was packing up my things, planning to work from home on Wednesday, when it happened.  Amidst the howling winds and blustering snow, the power went out and the museum was plunged into darkness.  What I noticed first was the silencing of the furnace (there are eight keeping the museum warm, including one directly across from my desk), but within a few seconds the winds obliterated any hopes of complete silence.  The power went back on within 30 minutes and as I quickly warmed some soup in the microwave before heading out into the maelstrom for the long drive home, it happened again and the museum was plunged into darkness again.  At that point I decided to spend the night.  No power means no alarm, and I didn't want to leave the museum vulnerable.  In addition, with the gale force winds, it made sense to walk the building every hour or so to make sure everything was tight and secure, and nothing had blown through a window.

The power went out a total of six times during the evening - the last time at 11:00pm - and it didn't come back on for good until 5:00 in the morning.  The winds did reveal some drafty spots in the house.  Three doorways - the front door, the servants' door on 18th Street, and the coach house entrance all required shoveling INSIDE before I could even think of venturing outside.

The good news is that the museum survived practically unscathed, not surprising given the way it was built.  It reminds me of a comment Mrs. Edson Keith (of 1906 S. Prairie Avenue) made to Frances Glessner shortly after the house was completed in 1887 - "I shall flee to your fort for protection in case of war."  Or, in this case, a blizzard.

In the morning, as I set out to take some pictures, I was surprised to discover not a flake of snow on the sidewalks.  They were blown clean constantly through the night and early morning hours.  A large drift formed by the front door, and the servants' stairway was buried under 18 inches or more of snow.  About a dozen roof tiles broke off and plummeted to the sidewalk along 18th Street, no doubt in response to the unceasing banging of the tree branches on the roof all through the night.

It is still snowing out and the snow is now starting to accumulate on the sidewalks.  When all is said and done, I'm going to venture down to the 2000 block of Prairie to recreate a shot we have in our archives taken right after the great blizzard of 1918.  Watch for a post on that later this week.

Bill Tyre, Executive Director and Curator


  1. I was a witness to the clean sidewalks and I also saw Bill picking up the roof tiles. But all in all, the house looks great in the snow. Loved this post; very clever and it shows how dedicated the Glessner House Museum executive director really is about protecting and preserving this historic home.

  2. The museum so still and quiet (save for that wind) must have been quite an experience! The love and care you all show to the houses is insurmountable and this only proves it all the more.

    Glad to hear the ol' gal made it out with only a few battle scars to the roof.

  3. When I worked there in the early 80's, we used to leave the light on in the Master bathroom, and the faucet barely running, so the pipes wouldn't freeze. Glessner House is lucky to have you.

  4. Every historic house needs a snowman.

    Prairie Avenue residents, are you up to the challenge?


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