Armistice Day storm came as a surprise

     Temperatures were unseasonably mild as area residents looked to the Nov. 11, 1940, Armistice Day football game traditionally matching Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls high schools.
     This year, the contest would fall on a Monday. As game time rolled around, weather conditions deteriorated to the point the game came close to being postponed.
     News accounts report the Old Abes "slogged and sloshed to a 12-0 victory on a rain-soaked, windswept field at Chippewa Falls."

Carried tragic headlines

     While the game brought a banner headline on the Nov. 12 sports page of the Leader-Telegram, the storm was a tragic news event headlined on the same edition's front page.
     Nature had whipped up what many remember as one of the worst storms ever, and before the paper carrying the football game story was published, the storm had claimed lives of dozens as it raced eastward across the country.
      Two Eau Claire men - Theodore H. Geiger and Clyde Detra, duck hunting on the Mississippi River - were early victims. Their bodies and their dead dog were found a few feet apart on an island in the river hours after the storm passed.

Million turkeys perish

     More than a million turkeys were killed by the storm on farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states. In days, market prices reflected the losses. Per pound prices increased 1.5 cents, with young toms selling for 19-22 cents a pound, young hens 25-26 cents a pound and live birds 13-20 cents a pound.
     Early reports on Nov. 12 indicated hundreds of duck hunters were marooned along the Mississippi River bottomlands between St. Paul, Minn., and Northern Illinois.
     On Nov. 13, the news was more tragic. The headlines read: "Duck Hunter Toll Mounts to 15." The storm toll nationwide wad reached 73 deaths.

'Missing' reappear

     While there were 15 confirmed deaths, mostly hunters, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, a number of previously unaccounted for persons began turning up among names of persons rescued from the river or located at some isolated wayside or farmhouse.
     Hunters, many caught out in the storm in light clothing and without food or water, told harrowing tales of struggles to survive.
     "Many came in with frostbitten fingers or toes," this newspaper reported. "Cherished guns, boats, decoys and other hunting equipment apparently counted for nothing in what became a fight by many hunters to save their lives.

Boats abandoned

     "Boats and guns were abandoned all over the area and much of the equipment will never be recovered.
     "Huge bonfires were lighted by some parties and one group which could not find anything but grass and green willows to burn used outboard motor gasoline and oil to set a fire and burn about $40 worth of decoys.
     "Waves in some stretches of open water ran five and six feet high and the wind was so strong that one man could not row against it, even if the waves did not swamp his boat.
     "Planes from the Conrad Flying Service (at Winona) were used in the rescue, work and when a party was spotted, the pilot would dive and circle the group until rescue boats arrived.
     "So high were the waves and so strong the wind, it was found impossible to get out to the islands in ordinary boats, and the trucks were sent to Fountain City to bring up some lifeboats. Tuesday afternoon persons were still being located and rescued."
     By Nov. 14 the national death toll had reached 123, including 51 sailors who died in singings on Lake Michigan. Six ships sank and six more were grounded, while scores of smaller craft were destroyed.
     More than 50 of the deaths occurred in Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Wisconsin having at least nine victims.
     Damage was estimated in the millions of dollars.

--Dave Carlson

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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