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OLYMPIC HISTORY: To snow or not to snow ...

December 18, 2014
By ALISON HAAS , Lake Placid News

As another winter season begins, all eyes are on the weather forecast, and winter sports enthusiasts have begun to do their snow dances in hopes of bringing significant snowfall and cold temperatures to the Olympic region.

It seems everyone has their own ritual for making snow from praying to Ullr, repeating a snow chant before bed or leaving ice cubes on the porch.

Recently I searched the museum's collections to see if I could come across any old tricks the Lake Placid Club or its ski organization the "Sno Birds" performed to guarantee snowfall in those early winters of the 1920s and 1930s.

Article Photos

Snow was trucked in daily for the ski events due to the poor snowfall during the 1932 Olympic Winter Games.
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum)

One mysterious item in our collection is a sweater that was once worn by Godfrey Dewey as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies in St. Moritz in 1928. Dewey proudly wore this sweater decorated with the United States Olympic patch on his chest while representing the United States and Lake Placid.

What remains a mystery is the Sno Birds patch stitched on the inside of the sweater.

Was this Dewey's superstitious way of ensuring snowfall back home in Lake Placid? Can Dewey's reversible sweater be traced back to originating the custom of school children wearing their clothes or pajamas inside out in hopes of a snow day?

I suppose there's no way we will discover if the significance of this inside patch had anything to do with praying for snow.

However, I can tell you that the son of Melvil Dewey, American librarian and founder of the Dewey Decimal system, kept meticulous files himself on Lake Placid's snowfall and was a true believer that Lake Placid would always be able to hold winter sports events.

Found within the archives are three copies of a winter weather report that Godfrey Dewey created titled "Lake Placid in the Adirondacks from 19181928," which documented the 10-year average snowfall. With an average of more than 16 inches in December and more than 23 inches in both January and February, organizers of the III Olympic Winter Games believed snowfall would be guaranteed for the Olympics in 1932.

In a letter Godfrey Dewey confidently wrote in March 1931: "The actual probability of a thaw at Lake Placid during the Olympic period is very slight ..."

One month before the Games began, Dewey received a letter from the superintendent of the Yosemite National Park extending an invitation to hold the Olympic Winter Games in California "if it should not appear that you are going to have the necessary snow and ice there is no doubt that there will be sufficient snow for skiing and skating in the Park and I would like to extend my personal invitation to you to hold the Winter Games in Yosemite National Park."

Dewey sent a telegram in response to the invitation: "Keenly appreciate spirit behind your offer though impossible to consider snow and ice have never failed for long at Lake Placid in midwinter season."

However, when it came time to host the 1932 Olympics, Lake Placid was faced with the worst winter weather in the history of the United States Weather Bureau.

Snow was trucked in daily from as far away as Maine so the ski events could be held, and poor weather forced the four-man bobsled event to be held after the closing ceremony.

Luckily, organizers had the forethought to safeguard against weather and built an indoor ice arena, which allowed the figure skating events to be performed. Once the Games had officially ended, Lake Placid proved they could stage the Olympic Winter Games with or without snow.

In a letter written a month after the Games by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Count de Baillet-Latour congratulated Dewey saying: "Although the weather conditions and the extraordinary economic situation rendered your task extremely difficult ... the Games themselves brought out the most spirited competition in all the events on the Olympic program. ... It is something Lake Placid and the Lake Placid Olympic organization can always look back on with pride, as a great task masterfully handled."

One can only imagine what would have happened to Lake Placid if the region had experienced even harsher conditions than they were faced with in 1932. Perhaps even the most skeptical of superstitions would have joined the entire town by putting their boots on to participate in a snow dance just to make sure Lake Placid didn't have to accept the invitation to have the Games moved to Yosemite.

To learn more about the history of the Olympic Winter Games, please visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum on Main Street. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For more information about the museum, visit our website at www.lpom.org.

 
 

 

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