Cars-in-snow

In a black and white photo, two bundled up people try to push a car out of the snow.

What is the worst blizzard you’ve ever experienced? This spring-season whopper from March 8, 1961, took everyone by surprise. Today, having 10 inches dumped amid howling 27-mph winds on a Wednesday might go down in history as nothing more than a remote workday. But this Richard Sroda photo ran on the front page of the next day’s Wisconsin State Journal beneath the screaming headline: “10-INCH SNOW BURIES AREA.” Staff writer Richard Vesey reported that what “everyone thought would be just another day” turned into “swirling, wind-driven, blinding wet snow” that caused “mass confusion, frustration, delay” — and worse. “For at least 11 men, one from Madison, it meant death,” wrote Vesey, whose next line took a far less somber tone and could have easily been included in a story from 2023: “For school children, it was a half day of happy freedom.”

It wasn’t the biggest storm the city had seen — though it was the worst since March 1959 — and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Its details could have been pulled from any number of snow day legends passed down through generations of Madisonians gathered around crockpot chicken cacciatore. A snowstorm so fierce and unwieldy that even the University of Wisconsin–Madison canceled classes. Reports of road crews up all night clearing snow-clogged streets from a narrow isthmus; hundreds of minor traffic accidents, hotels jammed with stranded motorists and reluctant commuters.

Farther down the front page, a story by staff writer William Stokes ran under the headline “Snow Makes Good Samaritans.” It spoke of the absurdity of all that snow piled up against storefront Easter displays, and reported on the good-humored residents helping each other out, cracking jokes, jumping into drifts. “They could have started the end of the world Wednesday,” Stokes wrote, “and Madison-area people would have smiled and said, ‘How about that snow?’ ”

Maggie Ginsberg is a senior editor at Madison Magazine.

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