During “The Big Snow” of February 1916, twenty-nine inches of snow fell on Seattle during one memorable day. Here, L.C. Twito skis along 6th Avenue near University Street. He and other Norwegians made their own skis and thus had no problems in getting around town. Photo from the Collection of the Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, 1999.020.013.
  Written in the Snows  
  Across Time on Skis in the Pacific Northwest  
  By Lowell Skoog  
A Far White Country
  Henry Steinkopf and the borrowed skis  

 
 
When Henry Steinkopf Borrowed
His Neighbor’s Skis Misfortune Followed Fast.


And He Always Had Regarded
Gunnar Storksjol as a Friend.


Henry Lost Everything, Even His Temper,
and Gives Facts in Extenuation of Deed.


From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 6, 1916:

T o the Editor: There has been a piece printed in your paper about my trial in the police court for assault with murderous intent upon one Gunnar Storksjol, of this city. Now that I have paid my fine and justice has been satisfied I would like to present my side of the story.

In the first place your reporter erred when he referred to me as having “blood in my eye.” My eyes are, in fact, somewhat astigmatic, and I wear glasses to correct this defect. If he meant that I was pugnacious, as he may have intended, I wish to state that for fifteen years I have enjoyed the reputation of being the model citizen of our neighborhood.

I am the father of three children, two girls and a boy, am just a little under five feet four in height and perfectly lamblike except under great provocation.

Nothing but a Friend.

Mr. Storksjol is my nearest neighbor on the right. He is a native of Norway, though a naturalized citizen I believe. Until the day of the big blizzard I have never had occasion to regard him as anything but a friend. I can only believe now, in all charity, that he is well-meaning but misguided.

Last Wednesday morning our family grocer telephoned to my wife that if we wanted anything we would “have to come and get it,” since his delivery wagon could not get through the drifts.

As the grocery is but eight blocks away from my residence, though at the summit of a three-block hill, I told my wife I would go after what supplies were needed.

“Henry, wait a minute,” said she, as I wrapped myself snugly into an overcoat and donned my galoshes. “I want you to mail this letter to Cousin Julia on your way.”

I stamped the letter and placed it in a conspicuous manner in the pocket where I keep my cigars. Then I tied a short piece of string about my index finger as an additional reminder of my errand, for it has long been a sore point between my wife and me what becomes of the letters she gives me to mail.

The Neighborly Interest.

Thus equipped I set out from home with a large basket on my arm. At my front gate, as I foundered into the drifts I met my neighbor, Mr. Storksjol. He was shoveling snow off his sidewalk.

“You been going far?” he asked.

“To the grocery,” I answered.

“She been pretty hard walk,” said Mr. Storksjol. “Wait, I’ll lend you my skis.”

I had often seen these skis standing in Mr. Storksjol’s home and had frequently joked him about keeping skis in a sunny clime like ours.

I admit, Mr. Editor, that I had never been nearer to riding on skis in my life than when I skimmed in fancy with some mountain hero at the motion picture theaters, but such is my wild, adventurous nature, smother it though I will with a veneer of civilization, that my primitive pulse beat high at the thought of skimming over the crust to bring sustenance to my wife and little ones. In fancy, I saw myself dashing lightly home through the blinding storm, my arms laden with life-giving food, while my wife and babies clustered at our front windows and cheered my return with their plaintive cries. Perhaps, too, some of the neighbors might be watching: if so, what cared I?

Like a flash I said to Mr. Storksjol: “Lead me to ’em,” meaning, in my jocular way, that I assented to his proposal.

Science is Explained.

He brought out the skis and strapped them on to my feet, explaining, as he did so, the science of their use.

“I wish I had loparsko to lend you,” said he, “like the jumpers used at Holmenkollen, but I have not seen such shoes since I left the old country. You shall have my ski-stav and you can pigge vaen, anyhow. When I was a young fellow in the old country, I learned on Osterdalen ski, but maybe you will be safer on these skis, yes.”

“That’s all right,” said I quickly. “Bring on the Osterdalen if you’ve got any.”

Mr. Storksjol laughed. “No, no,” he said; “these been pretty good ski for you, anyhow. The paabinginger, what you call harness, that is the safest kind; she took the big prize at the Holmenkollen tournament. You shall do nicely now.”

So saying, he buckled the last buckle and handed me the stick, which he quaintly called the ski-stav.

I pushed myself forward and was surprised to find how readily the skis responded. In fact, they responded so readily that I suddenly bent double, then raised one foot aloft and sought to regain my balance. I swerved with astonishing suddenness and only caught myself by jamming the pole into a deep drift.

He Did It Splendidly.

“Fine, fine,” cried Mr. Storksjol. “You already can do the Telemark swing. I never saw it better from a beginner.”

I did not give any sign that my success was accidental. Just then my neighbor’s wife called him to the house and I was left to make my own way over the drifts.

For the first few blocks I think I did pretty well. Sometimes the skis suddenly spread apart in opposite directions, leaving me in a somewhat awkward position, it is true, but with a merry confident laugh I regained my balance. At other times I found trouble because the skis would cross one another and once or twice I sat down rather suddenly in the deep snow. However, I am not one to be readily discouraged.

When I arrived at the three-block hill, on the crest of which stands the family grocery, I encountered my first trouble. Work as I would with my ski-stav I found myself ever slipping down the hill. In fact, for every foot I gained I lost three if I may be allowed the expression. It needed no great scientific training to understand that at this rate I would get home before I got to the grocery.

Crowd Is Ill-Bred.

In addition to this, several ill-bred children had gathered to watch my progress and I am sorry to report that they greeted my efforts with unseemly laughter. It also pains me to think that several older persons joined the group and openly encouraged the bad manners of the young by their ill-timed jesting. I flatter myself, Mr. Editor, that I have an acute sense of humor, in fact, I am known as quite a humorist at our local church socials and parlor gatherings, but I also have a sense of the fitness of things which ever keeps me from jesting at the misfortunes of others in such a predicament as I found myself at that moment.

Because of this unseemly conduct I have mentioned I became nervous and at length unstrapped the skis and walked up the hill to the store. There my advent, bearing the skis, the ski-stav and the market basket under my arm, occasioned no little interest.

Quickly our grocer executed my orders and filled my basket to overflowing with good things. Undaunted I went out into the storm and strapped on the skis.

Now for the Run Home.

With tingling pulse I contemplated the wild, free swoop down the three-block hill and my skimming return home. I hummed a gay tune as I confidently shuffled away to the brink of the declivity.

Like a flash, in fact, a little sooner than I had anticipated, I began my flight.

As I had expected I skimmed the hard crusts, the skis slipping smoothly and with ever-accelerated speed.

I rose to my full height and uttered a sharp, musical call of glad freedom as I sped. As last I was tasting the sweetness of untrammeled wild life. I felt kin to the soaring eagle in my flight. My heart beat in tune to the pulse of the universe.

Then to my utter horror, I observed a person coming up the slope toward me. The blood froze in my veins.

In vain did I seek to deflect my course, to achieve the Telemark swing which I had previously done so easily. There was no time to accomplish this feat. Scarcely had I seen the person, scarcely had the first alarmed note left my lips when we collided.

Was I in any way to blame, Mr. Editor, that the person should be the Rev. Mr. Lukenwater, pastor of our church? What part had I in his climbing that particular hill at that particular moment?

And I wish here to unqualifiedly deny certain malicious rumors now current, that after the collision when he and I found ourselves facing from opposite drifts, I used language toward a minister unbecoming a Christian.

I may have spoken hastily in the stress of the moment, perhaps I did, but I did not speak any words reflecting in any manner upon the state of the Rev. Mr. Lukenwater’s soul or his hopes of salvation, neither did I make any remarks to the effect that his skull was of “solid ivory,” as some have whispered.

What took place between the Rev. Mr. Lukenwater and me in that snowbank is a matter between two Christian gentlemen. We have both forgiven and forgotten and I have since received a note from the Rev. Mr. Lukenwater, upon the occasion of a generous gift to the foreign mission work of our church, in which he assured me that like a true Christian, he desired that only peace and loving kindness reign between us.

When I rose, somewhat dazed and bruised, from the collision I discovered to my horror that one of the skis had become broken beyond repair. Worse than that the other was so tightly strapped to my foot and the straps so encrusted with snow and ice that it would not loosen. I was therefore obliged to flounder seven blocks through the drifts, buffeted by blizzard, terribly hampered by the dragging ski upon my left limb, crawling at times on hands and knees. In fact, several times I gave up all hope of ever again seeing my wife and little ones, but I won through, thanks to the indomitable fighting blood which is my proud heritage from a family of fighting men.

Exhausted, coated from head to foot with snow and ice, bruised and bleeding, I staggered into the kitchen of my home. Then for the first time did I notice that my basket, which had been so bounteously filled with provisions, dangled from my hand—empty.

The Last Straw.

But my wife, brushing me, straightening my clothing, and soothing me with loving words, affected to make light of the loss. Worse than that, I then bethought me to look through my pockets where I had thrust the change of a twenty dollar bill. That, too, was gone. So was my watch, a prized heirloom.

I cannot paint my emotions at these discoveries and I hesitate to add an account of the capsheaf of my misfortunes, but a regard for truth and a desire to right myself in the eyes of the world demand it.

Suddenly my wife’s cooing voice changed. She pointed an angry finger straight at me.

“Henry Steinkopf,” she snapped, “you forgot to mail my letter.”

I repeat, Mr. Editor, that I lost all that was dear to me save my family because of those deceitful skis. My watch was gone, my money was gone, the groceries were gone, even the string around my finger was gone, but there, dangling from the pocket of my coat so that a breath would have dislodged it, was the forgotten letter.

In that moment I “saw red,” as the phrase goes. I went berserk. I longed only for some person on whom to vent my wrath.

And at that moment the kitchen door was flung open and Mr. Storksjol, thrusting in his head, asked with a coarse laugh, “You like those skis, I guess, wearing them into the house like that?”

It was then that it happened. My only regret now is that I was unable to inflict more damage upon him. The ski strapped to my left foot proved a great handicap. Could I have wrenched it free I think I should have broken it across Mr. Storksjol’s head.

I believe, Mr. Editor, that in my position, you would have done the same.

HENRY STEINKOPF.


This story ran in the Seattle P-I on February 6, 1916. When the story was published, Seattle had been buried in snow for most of a week and odd tales of citizens coping with the weather were becoming widespread. I think this story is fantasy. But I like to think of it as one of those stories that is true, even if it never happened. —Lowell Skoog