OSWEGO, NY – The 1960s was an emotionally charged time in America, packed with political and cultural events that shook our country’s foundation. In the middle of that decade, a powerful winter storm temporarily silenced the social upheaval as people along the East Coast of the United States struggled to survive blinding snow and gale-force winds.
Hit particularly hard was a region near Great Lake Ontario – Central New York.
Now, 50 years later, anyone who lived through it has a story to tell.
Local author Jim Farfaglia has compiled many of those memories in his new book, “Voices in the Storm – Stories From The Blizzard Of ’66.”
Recently, Farfaglia sat down with Oswego County Today and explained how the book came to be.
“I just found this little niche that I love to write about – local history. But I really like to write about people’s personal memories of local history and events versus writing stuff like you’d see in a textbook,” he said. “It gives me a chance to interview people.”
He has “this weird math thing” going on in his head.
“I like to think about anniversary dates and so on. In 2013, I realized, ‘Wow, the 50th anniversary (of the storm) is coming up!’ I thought it might be a good idea – and it turned out to be very good, people were very interested because of it being the anniversary,” he said. “So, I put those two thoughts together. I had a couple of my own memories, growing up outside of Fulton (when I was 10). Everybody you run into when there’s a snowstorm – they say, ‘This is nothing like 1966!’”
So, he figured, there has got to be other stories out there.
As he was doing research for the book, some people told him he was writing about “the wrong storm.” He should be writing about ’58 or ’47 they told him.
“I think it’s all in your perception, when you were younger and there was a big storm. It really sticks with you. For people in our generation, that would be 1966,” he told Oswego County Today. “It snowed like heck and, on Sunday, they closed schools for the entire coming week. A lot of Baby Boomers remember 1966.”
The cover of his book has a photo of West Fifth Street in Oswego following the mammoth storm. It shows how high the snow was in relation to the telephone pole lines, it’s really amazing.
An accurate measurement of the blizzard’s total snowfall was impossible to record. However, according to urban legend, most claim the snow was more than 102 inches deep over the duration of the storm (Jan. 27 through Feb. 3).
In fact, Farfaglia was contacted by Bill Gregway, the National Weather Service’s rep in Oswego.
“He asked me where I got that figure and I told him that was what was in the media and folklore,” Farfaglia said. “He asked me if I knew what the official city of Oswego figure was. I said no. And he said 71.5 inches. That’s like three feet less than what everyone has claimed for the past five decades.”
Then Gregway explained that (SUNY Oswego meteorology professor) Bob Sykes got that 102 inches because he was measuring continuously as he was doing reports over the local radio station.
“He wasn’t using official weather service standards, which is what once every six hour (or not more than four times in a 24-hour period). But in my defense of Bob, how do you measure a storm like ’66 when you only measure once every six hours, not to mention the high winds are blowing everything all over the place?” Farfaglia said. “To me, the 102 inches is a lot closer than 71.5. So let the debates continue.”
Response to the snow tome has been “phenomenal,” the author said.
He has been promoting it at various service clubs and other organizations during the fall.
“It’s got a folklore, a life, of its own. I mean everybody talks about ’66. Many people have said to me, ‘I bought this for my father and he never reads. But he loved this book!’ That’s not really praise on me; it’s just the topic, local people, places everyone knows. People like to read that stuff. The response has been very gratifying,” Farfaglia demurs.
Using a second-story window to slide out of – or just be able to get out of the house – were some of the common tales folks shared with Farfaglia.
Two twins were sliding out of an upstairs window. One would distract their mother was the other sneaked the sleds back up the stairs.
His favorite story? That’s a tough one.
The one that made the biggest impression on him was a tale of two teen-age brothers living outside of Fulton. After the storm had passed, their mother sent them into Fulton to get groceries. They used cross-country skis.
“On the way back they stopped at a railroad bridge. The younger of the two brothers gets the smart idea to take off his skis, climb to the top of the bridge and jump down into the drift with his hands at his side. He goes down into the drift a good three feet – and then the drift caves in over his head,” the author said. “If his brother hadn’t been there, he’d have been out of luck.”
“Weeks after he told me that story, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, with a nightmare of that same scenario. Only difference was I’m the boy jumping. That’s how much that story affected me. Just the thought of that scared me so,” he continued. “I have many, many favorites. If you gave me a topic – snowplow drivers, people stranded or SUNY Oswego – there were so many good stories, I could write another book. The stories are still coming in!”
Farfaglia said he just loves interviewing the old timers, the guys who drove the plows during the storm. One of them told him “it was like flying by the seat of your pants because they couldn’t always tell where they were, they couldn’t see the landmarks.”
One guy said he was on the totally opposite road that he thought he was on and didn’t know how he got there – “probably across somebody’s yard.”
“I have so much admiration for those guys because they were out in the worst of it,” Farfaglia said.
Snowmobiles were a new phenomenon back in 1966; people were just starting to use them for recreation.
“They were kind of heroes, too. There were a lot of stories about Wayne’s pharmacy delivering medicine on snowmobiles. Those are the kinds of stories I like. That’s where my heart is, how people rallied together to help each other,” Farfaglia added.
For example he tells of a woman with two young children that didn’t have enough food; so she starts walking toward Manitta’s grocery store in the middle of the storm to try to buy whatever she can to bring home. As he is coming toward her, Doc Manitta, one of the owners, is carrying two bags of groceries. They got close enough where he could recognize her and he said, ‘What are you doing out in this storm?’ and she said, ‘I don’t have any food.’
He gives her both bags of groceries and said, ‘Get home!’
He never made her pay for it. To this day, she said, she was just “flabbergasted.”
It was almost the start of the spring semester and students were on the way back to SUNY Oswego. Many of them were stranded. And many of the staff were stuck on campus; some holed up in dorm rooms.
Celebrate 50th Anniversary Of The Blizzard Of ’66
“After hearing how passionately people speak of that infamous weather event, I decided to throw a party so we could share them as a group,” Farfaglia said.
Scheduled to take place 2 to 5 p.m. on January 31, at Cayuga Community College’s Fulton Campus, the event will include Farfaglia’s PowerPoint presentation and commentary about the blizzard, stories he has collected about the storm after the book was published and an “open mic” for attendees to share their memories.
“To complete the experience, I’ve asked Diane Sokolowski, from Treat Me Sweet bakery, to create special ‘blizzard desserts,’ ” said Farfaglia. “We’ll be serving these with hot beverages. It’ll be a perfect way to spend a wintry afternoon paying homage to an unforgettable storm.”
Those interested in attending the event may purchase tickets at the river’s end bookstore, 19 W. Bridge St. in Oswego, at the Fulton Public Library, 160 S. First St. in Fulton, or by contact Farfaglia, (315) 402-6164 or [email protected]
“I know that planning an event in the middle of winter can be a little risky,” Farfaglia said. “So I’ve got a ‘blizzard date’ in place. Should the weather decide to deliver us another mammoth storm on January 31, the party will take place the following Sunday, February 7, same place, same time.”