Blizzard of 1960

Earlier this month, a winter storm hit the National Doubles.

A serious nor’easter slammed into Philadelphia on the Friday of the tournament. The wind was tremendous, the snow cascaded down when it wasn’t raining. Over a foot of snow.  Trees down, power out. About twenty matches were postponed.

At the dinner dance on Saturday, we all swapped transportation tales. Shane Coleman told me about a thirteen-minute drive from Cynwyd to Germantown Cricket took him three hours. Kim Clearkin, a US Squash staffer, spent four hours driving from the Cynwyd to the tournament  hotel, normally a trip that might take twenty minutes in traffic. My go-to story was about my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. They got on an Amtrak train in Boston at 9am Friday morning and arrived in Wilmington at 2:30pm on Saturday.

It vividly reminded me of another epic storm to hit the East Coast on the Friday of a national championship—the 1960 men’s National Singles in Rochester.

Just like this year, a storm swept in on Friday morning. It dumped over twenty inches of snow on upstate New York. The Thruway was shut down. Buses, trucks, cars: all were stranded. For Rochester it was a major storm in the worst winter it has ever had—the city received a record 161.7 inches of snow that winter.

The transportation mishegoss that day in 1960 was even more remarkable than what we saw in Philadelphia earlier this month. Dick Rothschild and Billy Tully were hit from behind by a skidding truck, sent into a gully and waited five hours before a tow truck dragged them back onto the road.

A group of New Yorkers had their flight to Buffalo diverted to Pittsburgh. There they split up. Two (Ned Bigelow and Jack Tappin for those scoring at home) got the last seats on a train heading to Rochester. Joe & Fran Hahn got on a flight to Erie, PA, then another to Buffalo and then a train to Rochester. Stew Brauns and John & Phoebe Weeks flew on an empty plane to Buffalo and then took a train to Rochester, arriving twenty-four hours late. And Treddy Ketcham and Paul Steele chartered a helicopter in Pittsburgh which was canceled when the helicopter was called to rescue stranded motorists.

Two other New Yorkers (Pete Truesdale and Reg Johnson) slept on the cold floor of a gas station. Another player left his luggage, including his squash clothes, on a stranded bus and walked for miles in the blizzard to the nearest town.

A group of Detroiters (Rick Austin and John & Alice Greene) driving via Canada had to bivouac in their car on the side of the road for the night, running the engine for ten minutes every half hour to keep warm.

A trio of Philadelphians (Carter Fergusson, Jimmy Whitmoyer and  Howard Davis) took a flight at dawn on Friday. The plane circled Rochester and then Buffalo for three hours before returning to Philadelphia. They then took a train to New York and then an overnight train to Rochester.

Part of the Buffalo contingent, only ninety minutes away, traveled five hours by car, while another group took the New York Thruway and never made it. One Philadelphian, Ned Madeira, struggled into the Genesee Valley Country Club Sunday morning.

Frank Smith, the head pro at the club, received thirty-two long-distance phone calls on Friday evening. “They were,” wrote Bob Lehman, “mostly to advise ‘where I now am’ whether stuck in car, at wrong airport or waiting for train, and to complain about the scarcity of dog sleds.” The next morning Smith rented a bulldozer to clear access to the Rochester Medical School’s courts where the National Team matches were to be played.

Only seven men ended up not making their first match on Saturday (Steele—that helicopter never materialized; Dave Johnson, Henry Foster, Bill Danforth, H. Sloane, C. Murphy and F. Borden) and defaulting in the main draw and three in the 40+ draw (M. Zimmerman, Mike Solin and, again, the helicoptering Treddy Ketcham). Amazingly, there were apparently no defaults among the thirteen teams in the five-man National Teams.

The other thing of interest, lost in the storm, was that the matches were for the first time in National Singles history broadcast on television. Once Brauns arrived he led the commentary. The broadcast was on closed-circuit television just within the club—Smith felt that the gallery was too small for the expected crowds. Everyone in the gallery was wearing coat-and-tie, including the cameraman. Time for a SquashTV dress code?