Nor’Easter With a Temper: Remembering the Blizzard of 1996

I’m looking out my window, seeing the melting aftermath of last week’s winter storm/Bomb Cyclone. His name? Grayson. His temper? Fierce and impactful. All told, snowfall totals were between fifteen and seventeen hard-hitting and widespread inches. But, Grayson had nothing on the Blizzard of 1996.

January 1996

January 1996 marked the halfway point of the school year. I was in seventh grade, and January meant preparing for midterm exams – the first time my classmates and I would be taking them. January would be review time for the exams.

School ended that week, and my parents took my brother and myself out for dinner (we did this every Friday), and to the video store for video game rentals. Your typical Friday night.

It Wasn’t Snowing When I Went To Bed…

January 6, 1996 was a normal Saturday for me. I got up early to go to my routine Saturday morning babysitting job, came home for lunch, and had a friend over. My parents groccery shopped for the post-Christmas family party we were hosting the next day. Until that point in my life (all thirteen years of it!), I hadn’t witnessed any huge snow storms in our area, so we weren’t worried about a little snow. It was already snowing in Washington, D.C. that evening, but we thought nothing of it.

I distinctly recall it not snowing when I went to bed that night, and this forecast isn’t exactly full of spoiler alerts…

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January 7th and 8th, 1996: The Blizzard of 1996

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You may remember him from Good Morning America, but for most of my life, Sam Champion was my local meteorologist. :-)

The next two days yielded heavy snow and wind. Now, a Nor’easter is common in this area (this recent storm was a Nor’easter, and we had a rain-type Nor’easter last January), but a snow event Nor’easter is a Nor’easter on steroids. I’ve always been fascinated by meteorologists saying that if a rain Nor’easter were to be a snowstorm, we’d wind up with a ridiculous amount of snow. I recall the year of Hurricane Sandy that if we’d had snow instead of rain, we would have had five feet of snow.

Can you imagine?!

The Weather Channel: (spoken with monotone) No. No I cannot. I’ll let my huge snowflake paint a picture for you.

I grew up in Southern New Jersey, in an area serviced by both the Philadelphia, PA and New York City media markets. When all was said and done, Philadelphia topped out at approximately 30.7 inches, with New York City topping out at between 20 and 30 inches (depending on where you lived). I grew up in Southern Ocean County, where we had two feet of snow (if you lived along the coast in the same county, you escaped with 10-14 inches).

The repercussions of the Blizzard of 1996 were bad for New Jersey. Roads (including the New Jersey Turnpike for the first time in history) closed, schools shut down for the entire week (including mine), and the snow stuck around for a bit. And from what I recall the roads were bad. When we’ve had snowstorms in the past (and even ones we’ve had in more recent years), life only shuts down for one day. This time, the impact was far-reaching and widespread.

I’ve never seen anything like it since.

All told, we missed five days of school, plus a sixth for the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

“Extreme” Impact

The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale rated the Blizzard of 1996 at “5,” or “Extreme.” The only other storm to receive this distinction is the March Superstorm of 1993. I didn’t recall this storm, but after looking it up, I found out we weren’t impacted by it. The storm resulted in 154 people killed, $1 billion in damage, and nine “disaster area” states.

Once my school reopened, the midterms were a week away, and were postponed due to the lost week.  I don’t recall much about that school year or week standing out, but I found out later on that the school stopped building snow days into the calendar, citing that “we didn’t use them.”

They never did build them in, at least, not while I was still going to school. We also never had a snowstorm quite like it between that time and high school graduation in 2001.

I’ll leave you with another highlight of WABC’s coverage of the storm…

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…as well as the Weather Channel’s Local Forecast for Philadelphia.

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Beautifully Haunting: Dead Mall Culture As Seen By Dan Bell

I’ll get this confession out of the way  – there is something eerie and hauntingly beautiful about dead malls.

Fascination With Dead/Dying Malls

In 2009, I read a Wikipedia article about Dixie Square Mall. We in the “nostalgia business” know this as the infamous site of the car chase scene in The Blues Brothers. The mall itself has a fairly infamous history due to the aftermath of its closure and the years it was left to decay.

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Pictures of the mall’s recent history shocked me initially, turning to fascination and interest. I found myself researching the culture of photographing and filming dying/dead malls in various states of decline.

I won’t be taking up this hobby any time soon, but it is fascinating to live vicariously!

Images of Dixie Square Mall in the most recent years of its long decay (source).

It is incredible how something so decayed and reclaimed by nature is so calm. It is simutaneously haunting and beautiful to see these images. Or, beautifully haunting.

That’s a thing.

Dan Bell And His Journeys

Columbia, Maryland-based filmmaker Dan Bell explores the fascinating culture of dead and dying malls as part of his You Tube series. His travels have taken him into the dying malls of the United States, including perpetually dying The Gallery at Market East, which I’ve been to. I’m convinced that mall has been dying since the 1980s.

Dan doesn’t just focus exclusively on dying malls, but also dirty hotel rooms you’d never want to rest your head in, and even a K-Mart store in its final gasps of life.

He combines his narratives with his filmed footage and creates opening credits from bizarre old videos. The soundtracks contain stereotypical mall Muzak. The malls he visits are not dead or closed yet, but slowly dying. They’re overrun by mall walkers and Bath and Body Works stores, but not much else.

These are the people who don’t shop in your neighborhood…

Dead mall staples, folks.

Dan Bell’s Dead Mall Series

So, the reason I brought you hear…videos!

Compiled for your consideration by Dan Bell, this playlist of his fascinating (for the niche crowd that loves this stuff) series on the culture of dead and dying malls.

Enjoy!

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Featured Image: Screenshot from “The $100 Mall: The Disaster of Pittsburgh Mills” (June 10, 2017)

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Freedomland U.S.A.

Do You Remember The Freedomland U.S.A. Theme Park!

Just when I thought I discovered all there is about pop culture history, a bit of information comes my way that I have to share. FREEDOMLAND U.S.A.! I have to shout, because this is something awesome, spectacular actually.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood wanted to make a theme park in the north east of the United States to rival that of west coast’s Disneyland. Oddly enough, he had a hand in the creation of Disneyland. He was hired by Walt Disney and is responsible for finding the site to build Disney’s theme park. A few years later, Wood split from Disney and founded Marco Engineering. He would go on to help create Magic Mountain, Pleasure Island and the big one, Freedomland U.S.A..

Freedomland U.S.A.

(Magic Mountain was a theme park Wood opened in 1958)

Wood’s idea was a theme park based on different eras & locations in United States history. He acquired about 200 acres of land in Bronx, New York. The land used to be a landfill which goes to show that cool things can come from garbage.. On a side note, Wood designed the shape of the park itself to look like the United States, without Alaska and Hawaii. On June 19th, 1960, Freedomland U.S.A. was opened for business.
Freedomland U.S.A.

The park featured seven areas of attraction. 1) Little Old New York set in the late 1800’s which had a horse-pulled trolley, a recreation of Macy’s first department store, a brewery sponsored by Schaefer, and a deli. There was 2) The Great Plains set in the 19th century with a replica of an Army stockade known as Fort Cavalry, an apartment sponsored by Borden featuring Elsie the Cow, a merry-go-round powered by mules, the Pony Express which was a ride that took you to the next area of the park, 3) The Old Southwest. There’s a recreation of a gun fight, a Mexican restaurant, an underground train ride through mines, and a herd of cows with a cowboy. Another part of the park was dedicated to 4) Chicago in the year 1871. That year is significant because of the Great Chicago Fire which is featured in this area. Guests and actors help put out a fire using 19th century equipment.
Freedomland U.S.A.

5) San Francisco in the early 1900’s featured a Chinatown, several places to eat, a simulation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and a boat ride. There was a 6) New Orleans section of the park which allowed the visitor to go through Civil War battle grounds, a pirate-themed boat ride, a maze where the walls are mirrors, a bunch of rides one of which was through a simulated tornado. The seventh area was called Satellite Future. The focus here is on space and science from a rocket control room like what you would see at NASA, a moving sidewalk, a simulated rocket flight, and something called Moon Bowl which was a stage that many performers did their thing. Who? How about Bobby Darin!? And Bobby Rydell, the Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee and Patti Page. Whoa!
Freedomland U.S.A.

So what happened to Freedomland U.S.A.? It was simply not making a profit. Every year it was losing more money than it was making. I’m no expert, but I’m guessing that being it was a theme park in the northern part of the United States, it was a seasonal attraction. Unlike Disneyland which is in sunny California, Freedomland was only open from May to October. That’s six months of without revenue. Sadly, it stayed in business for only five seasons and in 1964 shut down.
Freedomland U.S.A.

When I hear stories about places going out of business I always ask, what happened to all the stuff. Much of it was simply destroyed, some rides were sold off to other parks, but there’s something from Freedomland U.S.A. that is still in one piece today; The Canadian which was the steamboat used in the park. According to a 2008 article in the New York Post, it’s docked in Port Chester, New York. It’s also been modernized, so while the shape remains the same, the exterior has a more modern look and it is now called The Showboat.
Freedomland U.S.A.

Check out the videos below to see what how fun Freedomland U.S.A. was to the visitors of the park.

[Via] All Classic Video

[Via] Hugo Faces

Saturn V

1,969 Bricks For Mankind: Lego’s Saturn V Goes To The Moon!

Did I hear someone yell “Spaceship!”? Just in time for the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing, Lego is rolling out a massive set that originated from their fan submission portal, and it’s going to be one giant leap for casual Lego architects.
Saturn V

The set, weighing in at $119.99, has – appropriately enough – 1,969 pieces which add up to an over three-foot-tall faithful model of Werner von Braun’s mighty Saturn V rocket, the giant booster that sent astronauts to the moon.
Saturn V

But this huge Lego rocket isn’t just accurate on the outside.

The rocket can actually “stage” – meaning it comes apart where the real one did when the fuel in one section was completely spent, exposing an “engine” that would send the rest of the rocket on its way. The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage rocket, as is its impressive Lego counterpart.

The third stage “petals” open – again, accurate to the real thing – to expose the lunar module, allowing Lego astronauts in their Apollo command & service module to turn around, dock with the lunar module, and pull it free of the rest of the rocket.

And oh yes, did I mention Lego astronauts? There are Lego astronauts, but they’re tiny compared to the usual minifigures. (A Saturn V scaled to typical Lego minifigures would be…a lot taller than three feet.)

The Lego lunar lander can indeed land, and the command module can separate from the service module for “splashdown”, complete with flotation balloons. Basically, budding mission managers can replicate every phase of an Apollo mission to the moon with this gigantic set.

If you’re anything like me and have a soft spot for the early days of the American space program and its bold strides into the future, you’ll be waiting for this set to hit stores on June 1st. With the number of pieces and the size of the model involved, it’s not for the faint of heart…

…but then, going to the moon never was.

[Via] GigaScience

Someday, My (Space)ship Or Space Shuttle Will Sail

The year: 1981. Pac-Man fever has incurably spread across the country. Both Mork and Mindy are still on the air. There are still pitched Battles of the Network Stars being fought on a yearly basis. The Sony Walkman has been on the market for a little under two years.

Oh, and Space Shuttle Columbia just blasted off for the very first time a couple of days ago, and is going to land very soon.

Now nearly six years since the last Space Shuttle lifted off, it’s almost unimaginable that a TV network would devote 3+ hours of wall-to-wall coverage to a perfectly ordinary Shuttle landing…except that this was the first time that a Shuttle returning from orbit ever came in for a landing. Every American space mission before this sunny April day in 1981 had ended with a splashdown in an ocean. But not this one.
[Via] Golden Pacific Media

It’s a slice of history, like a time machine: the first manned American space flight in six years was a big deal. And while it had taken longer to get the Space Shuttle airborne – on a scale of years – due to technical delays on the bleeding edge of new technologies, it had finally taken to the sky, something that looked more like a space fighter from a movie than it looked like a metal can with windows.

And perhaps most bittersweet of all, it had yet to let anyone down. The promises, made throughout the ‘70s ever since the Nixon administration had signed off on the Shuttle’s basic design, of routine, weekly flights to orbit, of a massive space station built by the 1990s that would be a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system…none of them had been broken yet. The reality of getting Columbia ready for her second flight hadn’t set in yet.

Nobody knew how difficult or costly it would be…or, just a few years later, how dangerous, as NASA tried to fly its fleet of Shuttles more and more frequently.

I remember watching the landing coverage at a friend’s house, the site of a spring break sleepover. He was ready to fire up the Atari, or go outside and kick a ball, and I wasn’t ready to budge. Like other budding space geeks who had grown up in a decade during which American astronauts had simply stopped going to space for years on end, it had all been building up to this – the lovingly illustrated National Geographic issue devoted to telling us what would happen “when the Space Shuttle finally flies”, the fleet of die-cast metal Space Shuttles that circled above the surface of the Earth (in my pockets), the plastic model kits of a non-fictional spacecraft that had never gotten around to flying…
Space Shuttle
(And yes, each one is actually a specific shuttle, in the order that I got them as a kid, and as such is sitting next to its name. The one with the tail cover is the Enterprise.)

For just a moment, the future was bright.

As of March 2017, we are now in a longer gap between spaceflights launched from American soil than the gap between the final Apollo mission (1975’s international Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight) and the first Shuttle launch. When the next crew of astronauts blasts off from the U.S., whether they’re aboard NASA’s Orion, or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner, or something else, here’s hoping that my kids get that same sense of wonder – even if it’s a similar kind of naïve, momentary wonder – as I got from watching this: a moment where, in the future, anything could happen.