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Duluth Mystery Photo #6: Snowdrift Family

This image seems timely considering recent weather in Duluth, but it’s actually from 1935. It’s an “Illustrated Current News” poster, published by the Marlin Co. The website is selling it for twenty bucks under the headline “1935 news poster: Duluth Minnesota snowstorm; Farnam family ice home.”

The caption on the poster reads something like: “The family of Clinton Farnam was completely isolated during a recent snowstorm … (then it gets hard to read) … they had to dig a tunnel from the doorway to the roadway, which (blurry again) … Photo shows family with friends just after they had evacuated themselves.”

So, this week’s mystery is less of a mystery than usual, but can anyone fill in the blurry parts of the caption and tell us more about Clinton Farnam, his family, and the snowstorm of 1935?

Here is the same Associated Press photo as it appeared in The Milwaukee Journal on Feb. 3, 1935.

Here it is again as it appeared in the Feb. 5, 1935, issue of the Reading Eagle of Reading, Pa.

And here it is one more time, as it appeared in the Feb. 2 issue of the Courtland Standard of Courtland, N.Y.

The text of the caption on this one, for those not wishing to squint or click on the image to see it larger, reads: “Engulfed under four or five feet of snow and drifts as high as 12 feet, St. Louis County, Minnesota, is digging itself out of one of the heaviest snowstorms in many years. Pictured above is a small dwelling completely buried in a drift, a few miles from Duluth. The owner, Clinton Farnam, had to dig a 20-foot tunnel from within to get out of his house when he awakened the day after the storm.”

The photo ran in papers across the country. Note the last one refers to the location as “a few miles from Duluth,” so we might be looking at a scene from a nearby township.

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9 Comment(s)

  1. There’s a Clinton Farnam with five daughters in California as of the 1940 census. Although two of them would have been too young to have appeared here, and that would leave two missing older daughters (who admittedly might have moved out by that time).

    The Big E | Feb 23, 2014 | New Comment
  2. Actually, I misread. I guess it’s four daughters in the house, as I mistakenly added their (two year-old?) female boarder to the count. But if you look at the original Census record, the three youngest children are listed as having been born in Minnesota. Unfortunately the census enumerator was evidently too lazy to record where they lived in 1935, suggesting they’d lived in “same place,” which seems unlikely for a family with a three-year-old daughter born in Minnesota. Clinton Farnam is listed as employed as a draftsman in “public emergency work” during a 28-week period of “unemployment” leading up to the census visit. I speculate about the possibility of a Joad-esque trip to scenic California in 1938 or 39.

    The Big E | Feb 23, 2014 | New Comment
  3. “Snowdrift Isolates Family” works as a synopsis for the entire time I’ve lived here.

    piker | Feb 23, 2014 | New Comment
  4. The missing portion talks about how hard it was to dig the tunnel since they had to melt the snow along the way into a small washtub.

    spy1 | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment
  5. No shit, Big E. It’s called a No Brainer in 1939. Honey, pack the kids because we’re going to California right now! What would you tell your wife after she just narrowly clawed her way out of a snowdrift and you’re bandaging her bloody stumps? “Give the climate time sweetie, I think this place is really gonna be something in 75 years.”

    Herzog | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment
  6. I received some info via e-mail this morning that seems to collaborate that the family moved to California in the late 1930s.

    Clinton Farnam and his wife Eva lived on Hutchinson Road in 1935. The address listed in the city directory is Hutchinson Road, RD 2, Box 251. The following year they lived at 924 W. Fourth St. The last year that Clinton Farnam appears in Duluth directories is 1937 (address listed as 922 W. Fourth St., so there was probably a typo in the house number for either the 1936 or 1937 directory, unless the family moved one door down).

    Depending on which directory you look at, his occupation was listed as draftsman, engineer or civil engineer. He worked for the Dept. of Agriculture during his time in Duluth.

    As “The Big E” indicated, the family resided in Sacramento, Calif. by 1940. Clinton continued to work as a draftsman. One directory indicates that he worked for McClellan Airfield, later called McClellan Air Force Base. Eva was listed as a housewife in most of the Sacramento directories, but at one point is listed as a clerk for Greyhound. Clinton died on Dec. 18, 1960 in Sacramento.

    Paul Lundgren | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment
  7. This may be my house! Everything in this photo is eerily similar, snowdrifts and all. I will post a photo later to compare.

    Deb Salzer | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment
  8. Further mystery: In the last pic, the coats are on and the youngest person missing. It’s odd because you’d think only one shot would go across the country via AP.

    spy1 | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment
  9. Good eye, Spy1. I didn’t even notice the obvious difference until you pointed it out!

    Paul Lundgren | Feb 24, 2014 | New Comment

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