I live in Buffalo, N.Y. and, true to the stereotype, I’ve seen my share of monster storms -- notably the Blizzard of ‘77 (snow drifts up the rooftops) and the October Surprise Storm of 2006 (no power and tree-clogged streets for nearly a week).
But these pale in comparison to “The Dust Bowl,” the Depression-era, decade-long disaster that Ken Burns brings to life in his latest two-part saga. Even he was amazed at the scope of this tragedy: “It's like a chapter out of the Bible,” he said. “Could you really have locusts and dust storms like that, that actually kill children?”
Storms are both frightening and exciting and if you’ve lived through a really big one, chances are you have a funny, sad or inspiring story of survival to share. And so it is with the survivors of “The Dust Bowl,” who finally get a major national platform to tell their storm stories. Here are just some of the voices that emerge from the film, its social media platforms and other sources.
"Almost everyone we talked to, without any prompting from us, describes a story where grandma said, 'It’s the end of the world.' " (Filmmaker Ken Burns, as quoted by Rob Owen, Pittsburg Post-Gazette)
“The wind would blow for days. There was no rain so the crops could not grow to hold the soil. The blowing sand destroyed all vegetation until there was nothing left to try to stop the swirling of the sand. The sand would pile up around the farm buildings until it was as high as a man.” (Della Wray Blythe for the Manhattan, Kan. “Dust Bowl Memories” project)
“Ruth … [taught] in a one room school. She said they could see the big black cloud rolling in and knew what it was. Some of the parents would pick up their children, and if Ruth had her car she would take some to their homes. Everyone knew to drive on the wrong side of the road because you could see the ditch and that would guide you on the road.” (Peggy Hubbell, recalling her deceased friend’s experience for the Manhattan, Kan. “Dust Bowl Memories” project)
“[T]hey'd get everybody out on a Sunday afternoon with clubs and round up thousands of rabbits and club them to death. Strangely, rabbits flourished during the Dust Bowl, living on bugs. And speaking of bugs, some states had to call out the National Guard to try to control the locusts and other pests that descended on this desperate land.” (Houghton Mifflin Books, from “A Conversation with Timothy Egan,” an advisor on “The Dust Bowl” and author of “The Worst, Hard Time”)
“I could see clouds of dust coming from miles away. If there were clothes on the line, I hurried to get them in, & quickly closed all doors & windows. Then the wind came, & fine dust sifted into, through, & over everything. The air was never really calm, & that is where I learned to have the wind at my back when I was hanging washing on the line. Otherwise, I got slapped in the face by wet clothes.” (Kathleen McCulley Puffer)
Tell us your storm story. What’s the worst storm you ever lived through?