Nov. 25, 1950: Pittsburgh’s Thanksgiving snowstorm
Although a half-dozen of its musicians were snowbound, the Pittsburgh Symphony went ahead with its Friday night subscription concert in Oakland’s Syria Mosque.
The Thanksgiving weekend performance on Nov. 24, 1950, started late because of a winter storm, according to a review in the next day’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Critic Donald Steinfirst wrote that, nevertheless, about “1,200 hardy music lovers” made it to the concert, which featured works by Ravel, Haydn and Smetana.
As the musicians played, snow continued to cover Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania. The white blanket eventually totaled a record 31 inches, closing down the city and much of the region for the next five days.
The Nov. 25th edition of the newspaper featured several pictures of stalled and stuck vehicles and one photo of “happy Brookline youngsters … who took to their sleds early in the day.” Children who got extended Thanksgiving vacations may have been happy with the snow, but their mothers and fathers probably were not.
By Monday, Nov. 27, the newspaper reported that many industrial plants and most Downtown stores had closed.
Pregnant women had to use ingenuity and courage to get to local hospitals. “Some made a lap of their trip [to the hospital] by sled, stretcher and even shank’s mare,” P-G reporter Edith Rosenblatt wrote on Nov. 28. “One woman walked with her husband from Holt Street, Southside, through the Armstrong tubes to Passavant Hospital at Reed and Roberts Streets,” her story said.
That day’s paper featured a photo of soldiers from the National Guard’s 304th Tank Battalion “helping to clear streets and keep order.”
Some critical deliveries made it through. The newspaper reported on Nov. 28 that a coal truck, bringing fuel for the furnace at the Jewish Home for the Aged in Squirrel Hill, had to be preceded by a bulldozer to clear the way.
Only a few services were unaffected. “With all other transportation buried to a halt, the inclines roll on, never missing a trip,” the newspaper said. Superintendent W. Homer Ackard claimed the only time the Monongahela Incline had stopped operating since 1870 was during the St. Patrick’ Day flood of 1936, when it lost power.
The city’s car pound on Duquesne Way was filled up with 265 vehicles towed in since the storm began. “But the city told owners not to worry about fines or towing fees,” the newspaper story said. “They are being waived due to ‘circumstances beyond control.’ ”
By Wednesday, Nov. 29, conditions had begun to ease. A front-page headline said “City and District Nearly Back to Normal”
“Along with store-reopening plans came announcements that industrial firms are slowly increasing their operations and that some schools and institutions will reopen today or tomorrow,” one news story said. As more streets were plowed and trolley lines resumed operations, transportation was “improving hour by hour.
The best summary of the region’s experience probably came in the form of a P-G headline that appeared Nov. 28: “Big Snow of 1950 Proves Nature Still Is King in District.”
— Len Barcousky
Top picture: Boulevard of the Allies was deserted after the snowstorm. (Pittsburgh Press photo)