Past Times

Ice skating a rare treat in the South

Skaters got a rare chance to test out their winter gear at Pullen Park in 1940.
Skaters got a rare chance to test out their winter gear at Pullen Park in 1940. News & Observer File Photo

Plunging temperatures inevitably bring comparisons to winters past, and it seems it was always colder “back then.” Even so, it’s hard to believe that in the winter of 1935, it was cold enough for Raleigh lakes to freeze over enough to skate on.

After shivering all day yesterday in the blast of a hard and steady northwest wind that froze the sooty piles of snow on downtown streets into glassy lumps, Raleigh folks were threatened with the possibility of the coldest day of the season today.…

To compensate partially for the extreme cold, high school and college students on vacation here were promised ice-skating on a publicly supervised lake for the first time in the history of Raleigh.…

After seven consecutive days of freezing weather, Lake Howell at Pullen Park was covered with ice over two inches thick. Other lakes and ponds in this vicinity also were frozen fast.

“Ice-skating in this climate is a rare treat,” said Commissioner of Public Works S. J. Ferguson, as he announced last night, after receiving many requests, that the park lake was being prepared for skating today.

Water was being pumped onto the surface of the lake last night to make the ice smoother and thicker today. A policeman and one or two other persons will be assigned to duty at the lake after 9 o’clock today, but Commissioner Ferguson declared last night that the city could not assume responsibility for injury or death at the lake.

“We cannot give you any assurance as to the safety of the ice,” the commissioner said in a formal statement last night, “but as many of you as are willing to venture out on the ice at your own risk will be welcome tomorrow. We cannot guarantee to protect you against the natural hazards of ice-skating in this climate, but we will do what we can to lessen the danger and add to your pleasure.”

Ropes and ladders will be kept on hand at the lake today. Mr. Ferguson warned against overcrowding the ice or skating over the deeper portions of the small lake, which was created last summer.

“We warn you not to send your children alone,” he advised parents. “If you cannot come with them or send them with some grown person, keep them at home. Please remember that we cannot assume responsibility on behalf of the city.”

Without benefit of protection, skaters were reported to be using Pou’s fish pond and other frozen areas yesterday. The N&O Dec. 27, 1935

Five years later, Raleigh once again found itself in a bitter cold snap, and the ice skates came out of storage.

The record cold, most intense here since the winters of 1924 and 1917, caused Superintendent John C. Lockhart to announce that Wake County schools would not reopen until Wednesday morning.

City schools of Raleigh will be open as usual Monday morning, Superintendent Claude F. Gaddy said, but school furnaces will burn throughout the week-end as a precaution against bursted water pipes....

While homeowners struggled to keep their fires burning high enough to offset the unusual cold, all the major fuel companies here reported that they were being compelled to ration coal among customers.

The procedure, as described by one operator, was to deliver a fraction of each order and promise the rest the following day.…

Coal companies canvassed said they were not raising prices despite the flood of orders and shortage of supplies. One company dealing in fuel oil reported, however, that due to a rise in wholesale prices the retail cost of No. 3 grade, the type used in oil furnaces, would advance tomorrow from seven and three-quarters cents to eight cents a gallon.…

Many occupants of single-unit dwellings reported that the long-maintained sub-freezing temperature had resulted in cutting off partly or completely their water supplies. In some cases, blow torches remedied the difficulty.…

For the first time in five years, ice skating enthusiasts here are having a chance to do a bit of gliding.… Skating continued even at night by illumination from flash lights and automobile headlights.…

The afternoon was a chilly one for W. A. Linehan. The ice gave way with him and a rescue party headed by Dr. Charles Bugg got Linehan out of the lake. He reported last night he suffered no ill effects, although he did have to hurry home.

Not skating yesterday was S. Brown Shepherd, Jr., who led skaters of five years ago. He was home with the flu. Tops among yesterday’s skaters were State College students from the North. Most of them had regulation skating costumes and racing skates, while most of the local skates showed signs of long storage. Skaters thronged also to a small pond near the Country Club, and sledding enthusiasts zipped over hills there. The N&O Jan. 28, 1940

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

  Comments