We asked readers to share their stories of the Columbus Day storm on Oct. 12, 1952. Here are their recollections:
A LONG NIGHT TO REMEMBER
"We're in the middle of the storm" I told the dancers at the International Cafe in Blaine, where we were playing, "and the lights might go at any time, so be prepared as my microphone will go out too (applause). So, for the storm, we'll play 'Dancing in the Dark.'"
Everyone laughed, and immediately the lights went out as if it were planned. Soon, dancers lit cigarettes and went to the dance floor and danced around to the music. The effect was magical.
Seeing a dance crowd of people represented only by tiny orange points of light is one I'll not forget. My trio, dubbed "Variety," had Ian Smith on piano and Ed Bridges on the bass, and they were laughing at the swarm of tiny, moving orange lights in the pitch-black room, moving in rhythm to the music as we played. Later, the lights came on to mixed applause and a chorus of "boooo!"
On the way home to Bellingham from Blaine after the gig, the freeway was a mess. Tree limbs were scattered around and the stationary bright light up ahead on my right told me something was up. I was right. The southbound train was stopped on the tracks with a series of trees crossing its path. We pressed on witnessing the scene and shaking our heads. "What's next?" we asked.
By the time we arrived in Bellingham we had only seen a few things, however, that were not normal. The city would be in a historic mess and we knew it, so rather than go home (1:30 a.m.) we opted to drive around town to see what the damage was like. Downtown was disappointingly normal.
But as we drove along F Street approaching Battersby Field I noticed that the stadium roof was moving. I pointed it out to the guys. With the wind coming from the southeast, it was somewhat at our backs, coming in at a safe angle to observe. We sat at the intersection of F Street and Girard with the motor running and watched the increasing undulation of the huge structure before us.
After a short time it was clear that the roof of the stadium was coming off! We seemed out of danger, but it was dicey as the power lines above us worried me and I considered moving to a safer place.
Before I could choose a new and safer vantage point, the entire roof of the stadium lifted (all together: WHOA!), then took to the air with its entire L-shaped construction floating, then crashing harmlessly about 30 feet to the northwest. In other words, right in our path on F Street.
It was over quickly and there was no apparent damage to the houses or nearby power lines. Somehow it miraculously made it through without causing a disaster of any apparent consequence.
I suspect that with all the noise of the storm, that some of the residents in houses nearby simply slept through the entire event. Boy, were they in for a surprise the next day, if they did.
We talked about the incident as I drove the guys home, and we all agreed that it was one we would not soon forget. Battersby took a battering from the storm, it seemed to me, but Bellingham survived admirably, it seemed to me.
- Bob Storms, Ferndale
TRAGEDY NARROWLY AVOIDED
I was a young mother of four children, age 18 months to 6 years old, at the time of the Columbus Day storm. I was busy in the kitchen while my children played in the living room with a 3-year-old boy I was baby-sitting. The wind was howling around our two-story home and leaves and small twigs were smacking against the windows as I worked.
There was a road grader working the gravel road in front of our house and all five of the children were making a game of watching it slowly come up the road, then go back down. They would climb up on the couch in front of the huge, heavy, plate glass window at the front of the house to watch, and as it went back down the road they would run to a side window. I could hear the laughing and their little feet as they ran from window to window.
Then there was a powerful gust of wind and I heard a loud noise, like something exploding. The children's laughter and all noise from the living room stopped. I ran to see what had happened and found five frightened children standing in the center of the room staring in shock at the couch they had just been on.
Huge sheets of thick glass were standing where they had been. The window had been completely blown in. If the children had still been on the couch, this would have been a horrible tragedy.
I am still thanking the Lord for protecting them. Our garage was blown over too, but it didn't seem very important at the time.
- Beverly Banks-Hammer, Bellingham
PUNT INTO THE WIND NETTED NEGATIVE YARDS
Friday, Oct. 12, 1962, I was a senior at Ferndale High School and running back for the football team. I also was the punter.
Friday night's game began as others had, with what seemed like a typical blustery October evening. There had been talk of possible high winds coming, but that wasn't the kind of news that would change the football schedule in Ferndale. The game was on, wind or no wind.
Things got off to a fairly normal start, with the Golden Eagles in control in the first part of the game. However as the game progressed, things began to change as the strength of the wind gusts began to build.
Somewhere mid-game, Ferndale had the ball on a fourth-down situation and I was called upon to punt. I recall as I was about to take the snap that the wind was gusting heavily into my face and I knew I would need to keep the ball as low as possible to get it downfield.
The kick went as planned, barely clearing the heads of my teammates as it sailed over their heads. Right then, a very strong gust took control of the ball and sent it flying back over my head, tumbling down the field behind me.
Shortly after that, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the game was cancelled. The announcer warned that this was a dangerous storm and people were asked to return to their homes immediately.
- Bob Moles, Bellingham
SURVEYED SUNNYLAND DAMAGE
It was a Friday night, if I remember correctly, and we were at Civic Field watching Bellingham High School play football against either Seattle Prep or the Everett Seagulls. I think it might have been homecoming, as there was a large, red platform stationed at the 50-yard line for the halftime royalty presentation.
As the game wore on, it became evident that the wind had started to pick up as the goal posts started to sway radically, and sometime during the second half the platform flipped over. Toward the end of the game, the public address system announced that everyone should go home immediately after the game and that there were winds expected to top 100 miles an hour on the way.
Being 12 years old, I got a ride home with my best friend's older brother, who had borrowed his folks' VW for the evening, and it took everything he had to keep it on the road until we got home.
The next morning I joined up with several of the Sunnyland neighborhood kids for a walkabout to check out the damage. We made our way from Franklin Street down F Street to see if our school, Whatcom Junior High, had any damage. It took over an hour to get there as we frequently stopped along the way to survey fallen trees, toppled chimneys, and damaged roofs.
Looking back, I should blame my folks for letting me roam the streets with power lines down, but it's a tad too late for that now. When we got down to the school, it appeared to be OK, but the roof of the Battersby baseball field grandstand was sitting squarely in the middle of Girard Street, and that sight still sits squarely in my mind today after 50 years.
- Kent Holsather, Bellingham
STORM ETCHED IN THEIR MEMORIES
I was 12 and just starting seventh grade at Whatcom Junior High School when the storm hit. I was with my family at Civic Field for football game that night when the storm flexed its arm. I recall there was an announcement that a storm was working its way north towards us ... soon the wind was blowing hard enough to get our attention.
The ball was kicked and the wind didn't allow the ball to move forward, but pushed it back. What called the game was a couple of cheerleaders standing on a plywood platform when a wind gust actually lifted it some with the girls standing on it - something that is embedded in my mind.
The game was cancelled at that point and everyone was encouraged to get home. I don't remember anything about the score at the time the game was called.
We lived at Silver Beach on the lake facing south. My dad had plywood in the carport and brought sheets in and boarded up the inside windows in the living room. The storm raged ... lifting water from the lake most of the night and pelting the house with sheets of water.
I recall basically hiding in my back bedroom and once looking out my window that faces east and seeing a heavy ladder that was lying flat on the ground being lifted up and settling down. I just pulled the cover over my head. We survived the night, with the wind less in the morning but with big swells still rolling in.
My dad was building a bank in town and wanted to check the framing. As we approached Whatcom Junior High and Battersby Field we saw the roof of the bleachers missing and lying on the street. The remainder of the bleachers was torn down after the storm. Dad's framing had weathered the storm, however, and he could now think about having breakfast.
I also recall that the sun came out the morning after, and we kids actually got in the lake to bob in the big rollers. The lake was still fairly warm, since the storm came in fairly early in the seasonal change from summer to fall.
My wife, Jan, the same age as me, lived on Northwest Avenue near Albertson's; her parents owned the Northwest Motel, where the credit union is now. Her recollections about the storm are also clear; windows blown out, an electrical transformer toward Albertson's shorting out and flashing in the night sky.
Of course, when power is out it's nighttime and these things going on - especially the deafening noise of the roaring winds, and the normal fear for kids, and seeing our dads trying to nail up boards over the windows inside the house - this is all etched in our minds forever. It doesn't seem 50 years ago!
- Steve and Jan Hovde, Blaine
CHIMNEY BLOWN DOWN
My husband and I lived on the bluff above Squalicum Creek during the Columbus Day storm. We listened to the radio reports as it came ashore in San Francisco, and followed as it moved in to Northern California and Oregon. When it got to Washington State, we went to bed.
During the night there was a crash. My husband reached for the light switch, but there was no power. He stepped out of bed and onto the ceiling that had come down. The chimney had blown over, taking the roof and the ceiling with it. Fortunately, it missed the bed in which we were sleeping.
We finally went back to bed in another bedroom. In the morning we looked out in our yard and were surprised to see what looked like the Kon-Tiki. Apparently, the garage roof had blown off and landed on our metal clothesline pole that was sticking through the garage roof. The insurance companies were run ragged for weeks.
- Dorothy Gonsalves, Bellingham
PARENTS AN ANCHOR DURING WINDSTORM
Our parents were sticklers for keeping their girls safe and for being on time, so when the Columbus Day storm ended the football game at Ferndale High School, my sister Carolyn and I found each other and together, with some anxiety, headed toward the family car's usual waiting location. To our relief, there it was - our beautiful bronze-and-cream 1958 Lincoln Capri, like a giant lifeboat, taking up more space than any other car. We clambered into the backseat, grateful to be safe.
Instead of going directly home, we headed south on I-5 toward Squalicum Harbor to secure our moored boat. The lightless marina quaked and groaned as the boats strained on their lines.
We were unsteadied by the frightening noises and the movements of the docks and boats, but when my dad determined the Tahiti would be OK, he safely navigated us through the very dark, debris-lined rural roads to our home in north Bellingham.
As we reminisce about that night 50 years ago, we do not remember asking my parents how they learned of the storm or what we were supposed to do. We simply knew they would be in their usual spot to take us home.
- Linda Martin Smith (Ferndale High, 1965), Everett
WINDS STRANDED LUMMI ISLAND FAMILY
I was a freshman at Ferndale High and my brother and cousins and I were attending the varsity football game that evening. Just as a Ferndale running back was running for a touchdown, the field lights went out and word spread quickly that everyone should head home.
Our home was on Lummi Island, so my mother (our chauffeur) gathered us and we drove back out to the ferry dock. Once there, we learned the ferry was on the island side and not running because of high waves, so we turned around and drove back to Bellingham to stay with friends, dodging falling trees all the way.
On the island side, the big new ferry, Whatcom Chief, was in no danger, but the older ferry, Chief Kwina, ended up sinking at the dock because someone had left a deck manhole cover not sealed and water coming over the deck filled the engine room, and down she went.
Then the waves bashing the wheelhouse caused it to break off the deck of the ferry and wash ashore. The old ferry was raised and sold by the county and eventually became a fish tender. It's still in service.
- Pete Granger, Bellingham
WINDOW SHATTERED; KIDS OK, DRAPES SHREDDED
At the time of the storm, my husband and I lived on A Street in Bellingham. We had three small children, ages 3, 2, and 4 months.
Our house had a large picture window on the side of the house, in the living room. I'm not sure if it was morning or evening when the big gust of wind hit, but, luckily, the drapes were closed. Crash!
The big window was shattered and the drapes were shredded, and we were scared! Thank goodness no one was hurt! I've always been glad of that, but really mad about the shredded drapes!
I suppose we put some plywood over the window until they could replace the glass. I'm not sure when we replaced the drapes.
- Katy DeBord, Bellingham
SOUGHT SHELTER WITH PARENTS
I was a young child, so I remember very little. I do remember that my brother Charles and I crawled into bed with my parents, seeking comfort from the roaring winds. I heard the next day that the picture window in a neighbor's house imploded due to pressure changes from the storm.
Our summer cabin on Drayton Harbor was damaged by one of the many trees that fell in the surrounding forest. The old cedars fell like bowling pins. I remember someone saying that the winds reached 120 mph.
Having directly experienced hurricanes Ivan and Dennis and the fringes of Rita and Katrina, I am convinced that Columbus Day Storm was right up there in hurricane/typhoon territory!
- Janice M. LeCocq, Florida
MOTHER'S CAR NARROWLY SURVIVED
I remember the "storm." It was a Friday night, I remember, as my parents always went out to the International Cafe to party on Fridays. We lived in Blaine in a house with large picture windows and they were "just a-movin" and scared me a little.
I was 20 and home for the evening because my boyfriend was coming up from Seattle to see me on Saturday. I decided to take a bath to take my mind off the storm and wouldn't you know, the lights went out, so that ended that.
After drying off, I looked out the kitchen window and noticed our little garage doing a "dance." It was moving back and forth and I thought I better let Mom and Dad know. I called down to the International and they decided to come home. They were in a cement block building and were totally unaware of the storm.
They had to go around several limbs, but they got home. Dad backed Mom's car out of the garage and the garage collapsed 10 minutes later! Boy, were they happy I called.
- Joan Liebert Gregory, Blaine
SUNNY NEXT DAY MADE STORM SEEM LIKE A DREAM
We lived on a farm south of Lynden. We belonged to Ten Mile Grange and were having our annual booster night program that evening. Lots of people were in attendance, food was prepared, and tables were set for after the program.
The program was just getting under way when the State Patrol came and told us to all go home immediately, due to the hurricane winds headed our way. So we walked out, leaving everything set for another day.
The house shivered and quaked; we feared the windows might blow in at any time, so we stayed away from them. Our teenage daughter had gone to Blaine to a football game against our school, Meridian. In regard to that, it seems quite a coincidence that Meridian played Blaine again exactly 50 years later.
Meridian lost this year, but Facebook tells me Meridian was ahead 21 to 0 at halftime when the game was called when the lights went out. Anyway, I was quite worried when she didn't make it home until 1:30 a.m. Seems every road they tried they found trees down, blocking their way. Ended up going all the way to Bellingham and back out to get home.
We had been building a shop. Large windows, which had blown out the night before because of heavy wind that night, too, had been replaced, though not securely braced, and blew out again, totally shattering frames and all.
Half a maple tree blew down in the back yard, and the back wall of an old chicken house blew out.
Our power was off, but came back on again the next day. Others didn't get power for several days. We escaped injury and our damage was minimal compared to others.
I have a copy of an editorial from The Herald that compares the difference between this storm with mild temps and the 1950 northeaster with near 0 temps and 75 mph wind. We had chickens at that time; couldn't keep water from freezing, which had to be hand-pumped and heated on a gas stove, cooking and trying to keep five small children happy. Not an easy task!
At least the Columbus Day storm was over in one night. The next day was bright and sunny, making the previous night seem like a dream.
- Elsie Wood, Lynden
WIFE-TO-BE'S ARRIVAL A STORMY MEMORY
My wife, Penny, flew from the East Coast into Seattle for the first time late the afternoon of the storm. (I didn't know her then. We met and were married several years later.)
Before deciding to come to Seattle to help open the children's inpatient unit at University Hospital, she had read that it is "a little more rainy and a little more windy" than her area of New England.
The last leg of the flight was on a small prop plane from Vancouver, B.C. It was the last plane allowed to land that day.
In those days, they wheeled up metal stairs to the door for passengers to walk down. The passenger door was faced away from the wind. She descended, but then a gust of wind literally blew her up against the side of the plane and drenched her with rain.
Her thought at the time: "If this is just 'a little more rainy and a little more windy,' I'm taking the next plane back." (Luckily for me, she changed her mind.)
The World's Fair was winding down and classes at UW had begun, so there were few motel rooms to be found. She spent her first night in exciting Seattle in a Travelodge on Sandpoint Way, one of the last beds available in Seattle.
We've had some pretty good blows since then. But whenever someone comments about the high winds, she says, "You think this is bad, let me tell you about my arrival in Seattle."
My own recollection of the storm is not only about that day, but also the next. A friend and I were having lunch at the Space Needle and, of course, the buzz was about how the restaurant had to shut down the day before and how the staff had to leave, some by the stairs.
When the view rotated around to the south, the air was so crystal clear we could see Mount Rainier, St. Helens and even Mount Adams. But on the far southern horizon was the snow-covered tip of another mountain that "wasn't supposed to be there."
We asked a server, who said they'd never seen that either. It was the top of Mount Hood in Oregon, 175 miles away. I doubt it was ever again seen from the Space Needle restaurant.
- Don Berg, Blaine
WIND FASTER THAN A SPEEDING FOOTBALL PLAYER
I was 11 years old when the Columbus Day storm hit my hometown of Bremerton. I remember the trees in the wooded lot behind our house thrashing in the night, and the candles we lit after the power went out.
But I mostly remember the "peewee" football game I played that evening. Because of the rain, we all had those hooded capes that football players wear in bad weather. In our case, we tried to wear them, because the wind kept blowing them onto the field of play.
I also remember a punter on the opposing team lining up to kick the ball from deep in his own territory; only to have a gust blow the ball back behind the line of scrimmage.
Most of all, I remember our last play on offense before the end of the first half. I played left end, and the quarterback called for a sneaky end-around.
The center hiked the ball. I blocked the player across from me for a count of three, then raced by the quarterback, took the handoff, and ran like the devil around the right side toward the end zone, some 50 to 60 yards away, as I recall.
I was in the open! The wind was howling. The crowd was cheering (maybe). Then I began to huff and puff. The end zone drew near, but not quickly enough. A speedy opponent caught me, and down I went, short of a touchdown.
The wind was at my back, so my only excuse was my lack of speed. The wind was fast. I wasn't.
- Dean Kahn, Bellingham
COLUMBUS DAY BAD; HURRICANE DORA WORSE
Geri Anderson, now 80, lived in Navy housing on Whidbey Island with her husband and their three young children when the Columbus Day storm hit. She recalls live power lines blown to the ground, and the roof of a neighbor's house, where her children attended Bible study, being blown off.
"We spent the evening playing cards by candlelight over at a friend's house," she said in a phone interview.
The storm wasn't the worst that Anderson experienced, however. Two years later, she and her husband bought a house in Jacksonville, Fla. Soon after, Hurricane Dora struck.
"I wanted to get out of there," Anderson said. Ten months later they moved to California.
- Geri Anderson, Lynden