Courtesy of Oak Lawn Library
An Oak Lawn resident uses a sled to carry her groceries after the blizzard of 1967 as she walks along an empty street.
Ask someone who grew up in the Chicago area in 1967 what they remember most about that year and most likely you will receive a couple of answers.
It is either the great blizzard that brought the area to a standstill, or the tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn and other communities that spring. Most likely, Oak Lawn residents will tell you both.
“A Blanket of White: The Blizzard of ‘67” photo exhibit is on display officially beginning today (Thursday, Jan. 26) at the Oak Lawn Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave. The official opening date is significant. That was the day the snow began to fall in Chicago and suburban communities like Oak Lawn. And the snow continued to fall for two days.
When it finally ceased after just 24 hours, 23 inches of snow fell to the ground. The majority of schools had to close and people had difficulty getting to work the following day. Many Oak Lawn residents left work early on Jan. 26 as the snow was coming down at a rate of two inches an hour throughout the afternoon.
Even a busy area like 95th Street had virtually no traffic. Vehicles were stuck on side streets and usually busy corridors. Buses could not move because of the heavy snow. Many people had to walk miles and miles to reach their Oak Lawn destinations.
However, Kevin Korst, the local history coordinator for the Oak Lawn Library, said that most people who have come up to him were younger kids at the time living in Oak Lawn and actually have fond memories of the blizzard.
“You know what came across as much as anything when talking to people about the blizzard is that most of the things that were said were a microcosm of what was going on everywhere else then,” said Korst. “People who I talked to were kids at the time. They recall having a good time. No one could get around. The store shelves were almost empty. A lot of schools were closed for a few days.
“A lot of people told me that they remember going to the store with their parents and they used a sled to carry the groceries,” added Korst.
The snowstorm is a smaller display that can be found on the second floor of the library and shares a larger section dedicated to Oak Lawn’s history dating back to over 100 Years. Over 30 to 40 images from the snowstorm are on display along with some newspaper accounts of the blizzard. Korst said that a larger display will be built dedicated to the tornado that struck the village that April and had a large impact on the community.
While kids were sledding and having snowball fights, the next few days were tough on people trying to go to work. Most kids made it to school and adults made it work on Jan 26. But the snow kept falling and at noon there were eight inches on the ground. O’Hare Airport shut down while businesses began to let employees go home early.
According to some published reports, at least a dozen babies were born at home in the Chicago area. Another problem after the storm was low supplies of heating oil. Trucks could not get access to buildings. The Chicago area began to slowly start digging itself out on Saturday, Jan. 28.
Weather forecasts were not as sophisticated as they are today. Initial reports had for a few inches of snow. On Thursday morning, the total was increased from four to eight inches. It was the greatest snowfall in a day in Chicago area history with 16.4 inches of snow on Jan. 26. This record was broken when 18.6 of snow fell on Jan. 2, 1999.
“I did hear that Mayor (Fred) Dumke, who was the Oak Lawn mayor at the time, did a pretty good job of clearing the streets,” Korst said. “Matter of fact, I heard that most of the local municipalities did a better job of clearing the streets than Chicago. But maybe that was to be expected.”