Guest Blog Entry by Shayla Carey
This January has been extremely cold, with polar vortex winds driving arctic air straight down to our little section of the world. Though Landis Valley doesn't take daily thermometer readings, the nearby Lancaster Airport does and our coldest temperature was recorded there four times this month: a frigid -1°. According to Eric Hörst, director of the Weather Information Center at Millersville University (WIC), this January is shaping up to be the 7th coldest on record (since 1914) for Lancaster.
Weather forecasters and websites like to put up the “Real Feel” temperature, but it is still only a number, one of many ways to say the same thing that Henry Harrison Landis wrote in his diary over one hundred years ago. His sporadic records tell of some days hitting as low as -2° (Wednesday, January 14, 1914), though the official low for that day was -3°, according to the WIC. We like to think of the old song line, “Jack Frost nippin’ at your nose,” rather fondly, but Henry saw the reality a bit differently. He eloquently reports that “The weather is so cold there is no pleasure being outside of the house.” That morning he was “Rather late getting down stairs. Awful cold but the sun came up bright and clear but the thermonator [sic] said 2 below and when I went out I found it biting cold.” Apparently, Jack Frost got a bit nasty that year, as he did this one.
January wasn't always so bleak for the folks in Henry’s world—or cold, for that matter. On New Year’s Day, 1881, he writes about his boys “keeping holaday (sic). The[y] each have a little sleigh and they are out the whole day.” A few days later that same year, he mentions that he “Took the boys to school this mor[n]ing. A fresh snow of 6 inches. Sleighing very good.” On January 25, he notes,
“This after John Lawrence and the boys took the teacher and went to visit schools. There were 6 sleighs of them and the whole school went along… Then [the] boys came home about 4 o clock. They had been at Fruitville and at Gamber’s School house.”
In fact, he mentions the fine quality of the sleighing often that month. This is a good thing, as he hauled not only people in his sleigh in 1881 and ‘82, but wood, tobacco, and shoats (weaned piglets) as well.
These accounts are of only parts of Henry’s January days—an important part. Sometimes the weather cooperated with his farming, as when his pigs survived the cold and Emma’s chickens produced a good amount of eggs. Sometimes, though, it didn't cooperate, like when, in February, 1881, meltwater came into the tobacco cellar and threatened his crop.
All in all, Henry’s diaries fill in details that data can leave behind. It’s a reminder that diaries are invaluable, even if the characters are long gone and the landscape has changed beyond reckoning. Some things, like the feel of biting cold on a January day, never change.
Winter is traditionally a time of hunkering down and improving the mind. Come to one of Landis Valley's Winter Workshops and discover skills you never thought you had.