Notes on collections at the RIHS
I’ll admit it now: I’m not from here. So the first winter I was in grad school in Providence, I couldn’t figure out why the shelves of bread, eggs and milk were empty at my local IGA.
My roommate said, “The weather service is predicting snow.”
“What does that have to do with bread?” I asked. I grew up in Chicago, where snow storms meant we made sure to have rock salt, shovels, and dry socks, because my school never closed. There were days when our neighborhood looked like Narnia under the White Witch, but the buses ran, school was open, and life went on. [i]
“Let me tell you about 1978,” my roommate said. He’d been in Providence longer, so he’d learned about the Blizzard of 1978.
The Providence Journal has a photo gallery that tells the story well. The snowstorm on February 6, 1978 quickly overwhelmed the state, with drivers stranded in city street and highway snow drifts, visibility limited to your hand in front of your face, and people trapped far from home. Governor Garrahy wore this plaid wool shirt from Hill House as he monitored the situation from Civil Defense headquarters. His aides mounted the shirt, along with Blizzard supplies, and in 2000, the Governor presented the shirt to the RIHS.
Today, just a day after the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, we can monitor another predicted winter storm on the internet, get updates from city Emergency Management Agencies on Twitter, and use cell phones to help us locate our friends and family. We’ll still have to shovel, and people are still 10-deep in the grocery line to buy bread, eggs, and milk, but we’ll know what’s happening (or not) faster than we used to.
As it happens, I’m headed to the grocery after work—but I promise you, I really am out of bread, eggs, and milk!
~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections
[i] There was year this was not quite true: 1979, in January. Over two days, 35 inches of snow fell on the city and Mayor Michael Bilandic was blamed for the city’s poor response. Jane Byrne used this to win victory in the Democratic mayoral primary the following month. And yes, those CTA buses were crowded for weeks.