MUSEUM PROGRAM FOCUSES ON BOOK ABOUT 1888 BLIZZARD
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Lois Thieszen Preheim first heard about the infamous blizzard of Jan. 12, 1888 from her mother-in-law, Siglinda Waltner Preheim, shortly after she was married.
“I tucked it away in my memory bank,” she told an audience assembled at the historic Bethel Church at Heritage Hall Museum & Archives Sunday night, “and it kept growing from there.”
The result was the very thing the audience came to hear about at the museum’s Sept. 19 program — her book, Trailing the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard that tells the story of the winter storm that devasted lives and livelihoods from the Great Plains of Canada, through Dakota Territory, Nebraska and Kansas, and south through Texas. Among the accounts is the story of the five boys who froze to death east of Freeman trying to find their way to shelter after leaving their schoolhouse as the storm raged.
Sunday’s program utilized a Q&A format between the author and Marnette Hofer, executive director at Heritage Hall Museum & Archives, and was conversational in nature. Thieszen Preheim also read several passages from her book and answered questions from the audience.
Thieszen Preheim, a Freeman Junior College graduate who today lives in Newton, Kan., said she spent more than four years researching and developing the stories that would fill 10 chapters that she describes as “historic fiction.” While the accounts are rooted in the facts of that fateful day, the stories are told from the perspective of those impacted by the blizzard and include some interpretation.
When thinking about writing the book, she told the audience, “do I have something to say that hasn’t already been said?”
“The chapters were all fun to write,” Thieszen Preheim told the audience. “They sort of wrote themselves.”
The account of the East Freeman story is told from the perspective of Maria, or Mariean, the mother of one of the boys who died and who insisted her two sons not go school that day.
“The calm weather of January 12, 1888, does not feel right to her,” Thieszen Preheim writes. “There is foreboding in the air.”
The Freeman account includes a short history lesson of the migration to America by German immigrants seeking religious freedom but focuses mainly on the blizzard and the days that followed, and the Sunday in which word that the boys’ frozen bodies had been found.
It’s just one part of a much larger story that needs to be preserved.
“We have to remember the stories and pass them on,” said Thieszen Preheim. “Nurture wondering. Don’t lose your sense of wondering.”
Trailing the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard is available for purchase at the Heritage Hall Museum & Archives Mercantile. Hours the remainder of September are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The museum will be closed Oct. 1-10 for renovation; it will reopen using fall hours, which are Monday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.