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The Children's Blizzard (2004)

av David Laskin

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MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,450679,144 (3.96)224
The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent. By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled. With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress. The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.… (mer)
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I had never heard of the Children's Blizzard of 1888 before picking up this book. In parts of Nebraska and the Dakota Territory, the storm arrived without notice at midday after a beautiful winter morning. It held some of the worst blizzard conditions and some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded in the Great Plains and it claimed the lives of many children struggling to find their way home from school.

I was disappointed in this book. There is a lot of background information (chapters of it), then the storm comes (in one chapter), then there is a somewhat quick wrap-up in the final chapters. The author follows several families impacted by the storm, but the stories are so chopped up, and interspersed with so much extraneous detail, that you begin to lose track of who is who. All together too much background, too many stories for this to really connect. ( )
  stevrbee | Nov 7, 2020 |
This is a very, very good book and one that I will re-read at some point to re-capture the details that escaped on the first go round. And it was also delightful to read a weather geek explain the phenomenon that caused this catastrophic blizzard: high pressure, low pressure, and how they work. Maybe someday I'll understand that aspect!

Laskin does a phenomenal job researching the lives of the families caught up in this push into the Western US plains. He researches the history and places where 5 or 6 families originated, their customs, reasons for making the voyage, experiences to get to their ports, and other similar stories from the time. So we get to know some families, know that they had stories similar to other people from the same region or on the same transport, and they were not plucked up and placed in the Dakotas or Nebraska out of thin air.

There is a great deal of research into early American weather forecasting, especially what worked and what didn't. And the Signal Corps and Lieutenant Woodruff, who was an active duty soldier in charge of the weather forecasting and relaying messages East from the various points in Montana and the Great Plains, interpreting them, and drawing them on a map ready for the telegraph machines.

When the storm hits, Laskin again goes into detail about the snow and ice and crystals, as well as what extreme cold does to the human body based on survivors' stories and medical evidence. It is also important to know, and I didn't, that there were survivors who lasted the night, only to die the next morning when the blood from their freezing limbs began to circulate around their hearts.

So it's a heart-wrenching historical account, very similar to "Isaac's Storm" and tales about the Northwest Passage, of people who left one land and set of difficult circumstances for hope of a better life, only to have that life changed so tragically. ( )
  threadnsong | Aug 30, 2020 |
An incredibly scientific look at a horrible event in the history of the plains states. Laskin takes great pains to explain the meteorology, the physiology and the human toll of this storm. It was difficult to read what happens when hypothermia occurs and in such detail, but it is necessary to the story. Your heart breaks reading the individual stories of the pioneers and their children. ( )
  book58lover | Mar 10, 2020 |
Audiobook read by Paul Woodson

On January 12, 1888 a massive cold front brought plummeting temperatures, gale-force winds, and blinding snow to the northern plains. The day had started out unseasonably mild, and children walked to school without their usual heavy coats, gloves and hats. Caught completely unawares and unprepared many of them died in the blizzard that is still talked about in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Laskin has pieced together the stories of several immigrant families and what happened to them during the two days of the storm. There are stories of heroism and determination. Children who kept their heads and found shelter. Teachers who shepherded their classes to safety. Men and women who died searching for their livestock. Many who survived the initial storm and exposure, later died of complications – gangrene that resulted from severe frostbite, or heart arrhythmias that caught them unawares.

It’s a gripping tale, told masterfully.

Paul Woodson does a fine job reading the audiobook. He sets a good pace and his narration held my attention throughout. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 8, 2020 |
On January 12, 1888, a snowstorm from hell swept across America's Great Plains. Temperatures rapidly dropped to levels that sound more fitting for Antarctica, and blowing snow crystals reduced the visibility to zero, making it nearly impossible to find one's way to shelter. Hundreds of people died. A distressing number of them were children, since the storm hit while schools were in session, and many of the kids, with or without their teachers, ventured out into the storm in an attempt to get home from school, or at least to reach someplace better stocked with firewood.

I have to say, my primary reactions to this history of what was to be called "The Schoolchildren's Blizzard" seems to consist largely of "This is interesting, but..."

The account of the storm itself actually takes up less of the book than one might expect. First, it's preceded by some background on the settlement of the American prairies and the history of various immigrant families who were caught in the blizzard, including the motivations that drove them to leave their former homes and the hardships they faced on the journey and afterward. This is interesting, but it bounces back and forth between the tales of the various families so much that I found it a little difficult to keep track of everyone.

Then it goes on to explain in great detail how the storm formed, what the state of weather forecasting was at the time, whose job it was to predict this sort of thing, and why there wasn't more warning. This is interesting, but contains perhaps more information about the internal politics of 19th century weather forecasting than I ever actually wanted to know.

The chapters that do cover the events of the storm are rather gripping, with harrowing accounts of what people experienced and some very detailed and vivid descriptions of exactly what happens to the human body as it succumbs to hypothermia. This is interesting -- very much so -- but, well, it turns out that reading about children freezing to death is just really not a good time. (I know, who would have thought?)

All of this has, however, left me with one very useful realization: I never, ever, ever want to live someplace like South Dakota. I mean, I kind of already knew that, but now I'm really sure. It's not even so much due to hearing about the horrors of the blizzard, as about how the just-slightly-below-freezing temperatures that preceded it kept being described as "warm," or even "balmy." If you ask me, anywhere that's considered warm is just not fit for human habitation. ( )
3 rösta bragan | Aug 20, 2018 |
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David Laskinprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Schuck, MaryOmslagsformgivaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Steer, JudyCopyeditormedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.

-Willa Cather, My Antonia
I often times think of those days; when it seemed possible that if a man seated on the gable peak of the old sod house by reaching quietly up when a flock of wild geese were flying he could easily reach up and catch them. But now where are our geese; way above the clouds; we can hear them but can't see them.

-Josephine Buchmillar Leber, Dakota pioneer
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To my own girls,

Emily, Sarah, and Alice,

who never cease to amaze me
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On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent.
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For the teachers at their wits’ end, the drays were a godsend. With transport and men to help, it was just a matter of getting the kids lined up and counted and then marched out the door and onto the drays. Again, Walter and the other monitors were called on to get their rows ready. The monitors must go last, after the other kids in their rows had filed out, one by one.     The air, when they finally got outside, was a shock. The air itself seemed to be streaming sideways in billows of grit. The snow felt like frozen sand against their eyelids and nostrils and lips. They couldn’t face into the wind or open their eyes, even for a second. The wind was blowing so hard that if you fell you couldn’t get up again. But to the kids it didn’t matter. Being out in a storm powerful enough to shut down school and bring ten men out from town to rescue them was a tremendous lark, and the children fairly poured outside and down the rickety schoolhouse steps, everybody shouting over the wind and shoving and edging sideways or backward toward the drays.     The wood of the drays was already rimed with snow and frozen solid as a rock, but for the first couple of minutes none of them felt the cold through their thin clothing. They piled on in masses of bodies and they had each other for warmth and a bit of shelter. There was much gleeful screaming as the schoolhouse emptied.     Walter took his responsibility as a monitor very seriously. Not until his entire row was accounted for, assembled, and marched outside would he even dream of leaving the school. So he was one of the last ones out.  The drays were nearly full by now – there was just room for him at the back of one. Walter scrambled up, the teachers did a final head count and shouted to the drivers that it was all right to start. The men snapped the reins and the five drays began creaking forward, one after the other in the storm, just as they had come out from town.     They hadn’t gone ten yards when Walter suddenly hopped off. He had just remembered his precious water bottle. He knew enough about weather to realize that the water inside the fragile perfume bottle would freeze as soon as the schoolhouse stove went cold and then the ice trapped inside would burst the bottle. Without thinking, Walter dropped from the dray and rushed up the wooden steps, down the hall to his room, grabbed the bottle from his desk, and ran back out.     Only then did his thoughts catch up with his body. The drays had been barely creeping when he jumped off. He had assumed that they would still be in front of the school when he got back – or at least close enough to run after and overtake. Ordinarily, he could see for miles out here. Surely someone would spot him standing there and stop the dray and wait for him.     But that’s not how it worked out. In the seconds that it took Walter to get his bottle, the drays had vanished without a trace – out of sight in the whiteout, out of earshot in the screaming wind. “The world is full of nothing” ran inanely through Walter’s mind. And now he experienced that little seizure that tightens around the heart when you first realize you’ve taken a step that you cannot reverse. Snow clogged his nostrils and coated his eyelashes. Snow blew down the neck of his coat and up his sleeves. The air was so full of powdered ice crystals and it was moving so fast that Walter had trouble filling his lungs. The exposed skin of his face and neck felt seared, as if the wind carried fire not ice. A cottony numbness spread through his body and brain. It did not occur to Walter that he could still take shelter in the schoolhouse. Though he could barely see or breathe, he decided to set out for home.      Once he had made that decision, a door shut behind him. After a dozen steps into the storm, he could not have returned to the schoolhouse if he wanted to.
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Wikipedia på engelska (2)

The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent. By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled. With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress. The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.

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