The Blizzard of 69'

When people say that a couple’s marriage got off to a stormy start, they usually mean it figuratively. In my wife Judy’s and my case, the meaning was much more literal.

We married in Brooklyn, New York on February 1, 1969 and honeymooned in the Poconos. We traveled by air between New York and Pennsylvania and returned to Kennedy Airport on February 9, just in time to meet up with the winter nor’easter that was barreling up the eastern seaboard.

I had been released from active duty in the Marine Corps shortly before the wedding and was scheduled to report to my reserve duty station in Hartford at 8 a.m. on Monday, February 10. My wife’s parents picked us up at the airport. The snow was already falling hard by the time we reached their home in Brooklyn. Weather forecasters had initially predicted a light snowfall. As the storm worked its way northward, however, it became apparent that those predictions were severely flawed and a major snowstorm was about to descend upon New York and New England.

I contacted the Marine Reserve Barracks in Hartford and requested a delay in my reporting time. The answer was direct: no. I was to report on time or be held accountable. Listening to the updated weather forecasts, I suggested to my wife that we stay in Brooklyn and I deal with the Marines later. However, my father-in-law, Fred, a WWII Army veteran, had different plans. He said that if I was required to be at the reserve station the next day, he would make certain that I was there to report for duty on time. So my father and mother-in-law, my new wife Judy, and I, all piled into Fred’s Ford Galaxy and headed off for Connecticut.

Relying on the earlier weather forecasts, New York’s mayor, John Lindsey, decided to save the city money by holding the plows back until later in the storm. The snow accumulated so fast, however, that by the time the plows were deployed, they could not keep up with the snowfall. Many roads soon became impassable. We initially tried to get on the Inter-borough Parkway, a major route from Brooklyn to the Whitestone Bridge, but the narrow, windy thoroughfare was completely blocked, so instead we wound our way through Queens on secondary roads and city streets.

In addition to his military experience, my father-in-law grew up in the depression and had learned at an early age to save everything and be prepared for the unexpected. He had a pair of snow shovels in his trunk and several times during the trip; we had to use the shovels to dig our way through clogged intersections. A jack-knifed tractor-trailer blocked one street for several hours and we could only sit and wait for it to be cleared to continue. To prevent running out of gas, we shut the car engine and only turned it on periodically to keep from freezing. Fortunately, we were on a city street and were able to get coffee to keep us warm. We intended to get onto the Hutchinson River Parkway to access the Whitestone Bridge. After the tractor-trailer accident was cleared, we made our way to a road overlooking the Parkway. Below us, abandoned snowplows lay dormant in a field of white. Many snowplow operators had to be rescued from their immobile vehicles. We continued along side roads and city streets until we reached the approach to the Whitestone. On the other side of the bridge, the highway was deep with snow but passable. Once we reached the Connecticut border, the roads became clearer and we were able to proceed slowly through to Hartford.

The normally two-hour drive from Brooklyn to Hartford took us fifteen hours to complete and we arrived at the Reserve Depot just prior to my reporting time. The Marines however, had not yet landed and the station was closed.

Following the event, we learned that the storm, which had dumped more than twenty inches of snow on the city, had also forced the closing of the New York Stock Exchange and stranded 6,000 travelers in Kennedy airport. Many schools remained closed for days. The blizzard took over forty lives in New York, mostly in Queens. New York City was paralyzed for three days and many streets were still impassable a week later. Mayor Lindsey was widely criticized for his mishandling of the storm and lost the republican primary for reelection. He had to run on a third party ticket to be reelected but was politically weakened.

My father-in-law, one of The Greatest Generation, has since passed away. To me however, that evening has always stood as testimony to his sense of duty and determination, even in the face of a blizzard.

Chuck Miceli
April 5, 2013

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