Church steeples, horse-drawn sleighs, picket fences, snow-covered fields…is this what you think of when you picture an old-time winter in New England? The cultural and historical roots of these images go back to Colonial times, but the historical reality isn’t always so idyllic. On January 19, 1810, a strange and sudden cold snap, accompanied by violent winds, plunged the region into a sudden deep freeze that nearly everyone who lived through it remembered vividly for the rest of their lives. As the wind tore apart roofs, shook down barns and snapped the masts of sailing ships like toothpicks, New Englanders braced for a punishing assault from the weather. When it was over, the memory of the “Cold Friday” gave them a new benchmark for measuring extreme weather, and the story of one particular family’s tragedy, printed in a single newspaper, somehow became one of the most often-told tales in all of New England’s 19th century folklore.
In this revealing episode, the first in the second season of Second Decade, historian Sean Munger dusts off tales of New England’s Cold Friday that never made it into the history books, but which form part of the fabric of the region’s popular past. Here you’ll watch in astonishment as early “weather watchers” document the extreme nature of the event; you’ll learn how a previous event, the “Dark Day” of 1780, set the mold for remembrance of Cold Friday; and you’ll see how the personal tragedy of the Ellsworth family of Sanbornton, New Hampshire ultimately became the 19th century equivalent of “clickbait.” You may want to turn the heater up for this one—it’s quite a chilling tale!