The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin
(p.85) Chapter Four <1st half>: Indications
The person charged with the job of predicting the origin and movements of this spiraling atmospheric disturbance was a thirty-nine-year-old career officer by the name of Thomas Mayhew Woodruff, first lieutenant, Fifth Infantry, United States Army. Woodruff was a good man, well educated, gently born, unfailingly courteous, who took his work seriously and did his duty conscientiously.
The fact that so many people died when the potential energy of this disturbance was released over the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa, on the afternoon of January 12, was by no means Woodruff’s fault. Given the state of the art of weather forecasting in 1888, Lieutenant Woodruff did the best he could. He simply didn’t know enough to do any better, and he didn’t have the means to make effective use of what knowledge he had.
It’s questionable whether anyone in 1888 could have done more. Lieutenant Woodruff’s failure, if one can speak of human failure (p.86) in the face of a storm of this force and scale, is that he lacked imagination. A common failing in a person trained and drilled all his adult life in military discipline. A common failing in an age hell-bent on material progress and territorial expansion. A common failing in any age, perhaps.
It was nearly midnight on Wednesday, January 11, before Lieutenant Woodruff reached a decision about the indications, the term then in use for the weather forecast, and was satisfied to make it final. He knew that once he handed the slip of tissue paper to his assistant, Sergeant Alexander McAdie, there was no going back.
Lives and fortunes depended on his choices, but as a soldier who had fought in the quicksilver skirmishes of the frontier, Woodruff was well accustomed to that. He picked up his pen, filled it with black ink, and scrawled out the forecast for the following day in his nervous, slanting, but perfectly legible cursive:
January 12, 12:15 AM: Signal Office War Department, Saint Paul. Indications for 24 hours commencing at 7 AM today. For Saint Paul, Minneapolis and vicinity: Warmer weather with snow, fresh southerly winds becoming variable. For Minnesota: Warmer with snow, fresh to high southerly winds becoming variable. For Dakota: Snow, warmer, followed in the western portion by colder weather, fresh to high winds generally becoming northerly. The snow will drift heavily in Minnesota and Dakota during the day and tonight; the winds will generally shift to high colder northerly during the afternoon and night.
Woodruff had decided not to issue a cold wave warning. Instructions from Acting Chief Signal Officer Brigadier General Adolphus (p.87) W. Greely were extremely clear in this regard. “The exact meaning of the term ‘cold wave,’ ” Greely had written, “implies that the temperature will fall below forty-five (45) degrees, and that in twenty-four hours an abnormal fall of fifteen, or more, degrees will occur.”
Woodruff himself was something of an expert on cold waves, having written a pamphlet on the subject back in 1885, shortly after he had been detailed for Signal Corps duty. As he well knew, the overwhelming majority of cold waves that hit the Upper Midwest originated east of the Rockies, and swept east or southeast down from Montana. Temperatures would plunge first in Helena, then Bismarck and Deadwood in the western reaches of Dakota Territory, then Huron and Yankton in southern Dakota, and so on until the cold air reached his own forecast office in Saint Paul.
But after studying the 10 P.M. (Eastern time) observations telegraphed from Signal Corps stations to the west, Woodruff concluded that a cold wave warning was not warranted for the next day. Caution was called for, not alarm, especially given how tenuous his position in Saint Paul was. Greely himself had sent Woodruff west to open the office in Saint Paul as part of an experiment in decentralizing the government weather service. Though he had only been forecasting from Saint Paul since October, already Woodruff had issued many more cold wave warnings than his counterparts at the Signal Corps headquarters in Washington had issued the previous year. Better not to cry wolf.
At a few minutes before midnight of January 11, 1888, Woodruff handed the slip of tissue paper, with the indications for the twelfth, to Sergeant McAdie, and instructed him to encode the message and then transmit it by telegraph to the Saint Paul Western Union office, from which it would be distributed to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington; to the Saint Paul District Telegraph Company; to the Associated Press and the major newspapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul; to the Signal Corps observers in Milwaukee, Bismarck, Rapid City, and Fort Custer; and to Private Brandenburg of the Minnesota State Weather Service, who (p.88) would see that it was distributed to sixty-seven volunteer observers in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
This was the routine routing procedure for the midnight indications. Entrusting an officer at a branch office with the task of forecasting the weather was, as both Woodruff and Greely well knew, a bold and radical move. Since 1870, when the Army’s Signal Corps first took charge of the nation’s weather, all forecasting for the United States had been done by a select handful of “indications officers” working at the Signal Office on G Street near the War Department in Washington, D.C.
No matter whether it was a nor’easter bearing down on the New England coast, or a persistent series of squalls threatening to flood the Mississippi, all forecasts, initially called “probabilities,” then altered to “indications” in 1876, were made in the same circuitous way: Observations were telegraphed to Washington headquarters, maps were drawn, and predictions made by the small team of civilian and military meteorologists (most of them commissioned line officers with a few months’ training in physics, math, and telegraphy), and the forecasts were then telegraphed back to the field stations, as well as to newspapers and railroads.
But in the autumn of 1887, under pressure from a group of Saint Paul businessmen worried about the economic consequences of yet another severe winter, Greely agreed to break with Signal Corps tradition and open a branch office in Saint Paul. As Greely wrote later, “The great advantages of knowing sixteen to twenty-four hours in advance that the temperature will fall quickly, apply not only to manifold business interests, but affect the comfort of thousands, and at times the health and life of hundreds.”
By Greely’s estimate, an indications officer in Saint Paul would be able to issue cold wave warnings “from two to five hours” earlier than was possible from Washington. Assigning the post to Thomas Woodruff was an interesting, if somewhat risky, move on Greely’s part, riskier than the general realized at the time.
A handsome, well-groomed man with close-cropped (p.89) fair hair parted in the middle, a bristling Teddy Roosevelt mustache, and a fine prominent nose, Woodruff was a military type more common in the late nineteenth century than in the early twenty-first, an officer and a gentleman. The fact that he was also a weather forecaster was less a matter of personal inclination or talent, than a quirk of government bureaucracy and circumstance.
Since the Signal Corps suffered from a chronic shortage of officers capable of or interested in observing and predicting the weather, General William B. Hazen, Greely’s predecessor as chief signal officer, had started tapping officers from other branches of the Army for Signal duty, generally detailing lieutenants from the artillery, infantry, and cavalry. Relieved temporarily of their other military responsibilities, the lieutenants were dispatched to Fort Myer (near the capital, on a site adjoining Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia) for a training course in signaling, electricity, telegraphy, and the basics of physics, math, and meteorology.
They were issued sabers and taught to ride horses. They learned how to send messages at all hours, and in all weather by flag and torch. They were shouted at and addressed as “fish.” They took apart telegraph transmitters to see what made the “click,” and put them back together. They were supposed to master the craft of tapping out Morse code. Six months later, they emerged as Signal officers. Those select few who showed particular aptitude for the vagaries of forecasting became indications officers.
This was the path that Thomas Woodruff followed starting on February 6, 1883, when General Hazen ordered him to leave his regiment at Fort Keogh on the dry plains of eastern Montana, and report to Washington, D.C., for Signal duty.
By this point, Woodruff already had over a decade of strenuous military service under his belt. Like his father before him, he had attended West Point, where he was nicknamed Tim (nicknaming entering plebes is an old West Point tradition), and graduated fifteenth in a class of forty. Immediately after graduation, he signed up with (p.90) the Fifth Infantry and traveled out to Fort Wallace, Kansas, to join his company.
Though he had grown up in Buffalo, New York, and Washington, D.C., with all the comforts and privileges of old Yankee families, the young Thomas Woodruff took to the West at once. For most of his twenties, he was on frontier duty fighting “hostile Indians,” in Kansas, Montana, and Dakota Territory. In 1876 and again in 1877, Woodruff requested permission to leave safe surveying posts with the Corps of Engineers, so he could fight under Colonel (later General) Nelson Appleton Miles, in his ruthless campaigns against the remnants of the once great tribes of the Plains, the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Kiowa, and the Comanche.
Woodruff was continually in the field during the autumn of 1877, when Colonel Miles pursued Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce holdouts, for fourteen hundred miles across Montana. He fought in the five-day skirmish that ended in the capture of the heroic chief (“The Red Napoleon,” as the press called him) on October 5, 1877, and he was present when Chief Joseph spoke his famous words of surrender to General Miles: “I am tired of talk that comes to nothing…. You might as well expect the rivers to run backwards as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”
Despite his bravery in the field, Woodruff harbored no illusions about the glory of combat. He was well aware of the toll these bloody campaigns took on the U.S. military. “These wars are not welcome to the Army,” he wrote later. “An Indian campaign means to officer and soldier, toil and hardship, hunger and thirst, heat and cold, imminent danger, perhaps sudden death; or if a man fall wounded, certain torture from which death is a happy release.”
During the Snow Winter of 1880–81, Woodruff was with Major Guido Ilges, fighting the Sioux in Montana. He battled Sitting Bull and his warriors near the Missouri River in the fierce engagement of January 2, 1881. Three Indian villages were destroyed, and some 324 prisoners taken (Sitting Bull not among them). It was during (p.91) that legendary winter that Woodruff recorded a temperature of 63 below zero on his spirit thermometer.
The Indian wars and the extreme weather of the West turned Woodruff into a hardened professional soldier, but the rigors of frontier duty also, rather incongruously, brought out his artistic side. This veteran of some of the most brutal campaigns of the Plains prided himself on his wide reading in literature, history, biography, metaphysics, ethics, and law, and on his accomplishments as a passionate amateur of the gentle arts.
“I am very fond of the arts of painting, architecture, and sculpture,” Woodruff wrote Greely before he left for Saint Paul. “I have made many sketches from nature in water colors; and also made topographical field sketches, and maps.” During his “spare moments” in Indian fighting and surveying, Woodruff made “a large and quite a complete collection of the flora of the ‘Staked Plains’ [dry mesa country in northwestern Texas and eastern New Mexico], and also a large entomological collection.”
He published a series of articles describing the Yellowstone Valley and the Bad Lands of Montana in the Boston Traveller, and an essay on “Our Indian Question” in the Journal of the Military Service Institution, in which he argued that the United States government’s Indian policy was “inconsistent with itself, false in theory, ruinous and cruel in practice, and has in its continued use the ultimate extinction of the Indian race.”
“Under the banners of civilization and Christianity, there have been committed wrongs against the Indian that must cause the most hardened man to blush with shame,” wrote Woodruff in 1881, sounding a note that would be repeated again and again over the next century. Whenever he was granted leaves from military service, Woodruff traveled to Europe. And yet he invariably cut those leaves short in order to rejoin his regiment in its relentless pursuit of “hostile Indians” across Montana and the Dakotas.
Though he was convinced that these Indian wars were unjust and unwise, Woodruff did his duty without question. The words honor, honorable, (p.92) honor-loving, courage, coolness, duty, value, trust, responsibility, justice, character, honest, and proper recur in his writings and correspondence. “Having been educated for the Military profession, my desire is to excel in every thing pertaining thereto,” he wrote Greely.
Woodruff was an officer who evinced and demanded the utmost respect for military discipline, yet he was not embarrassed to set up his easel at the edge of camp as the evening light turned golden, or to wander through the Texas scrub, basket and secateurs in hand, gathering samples of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), and the starry yellow flowers of the Zinnia grandiflora that bloomed miraculously out of the thin, arid soil.
Soldierly and sensitive. Gentlemanly and daring. And quiet, that’s another word that comrades used to describe Lieutenant Woodruff. On April 19, 1882, when he was thirty-three years old, Woodruff married Annie Sampson of Cincinnati, and obtained a six-month leave from military duties. The newlyweds immediately embarked on an extended tour through England and the Continent, after which Woodruff rejoined his regiment in Fort Keogh, Montana, his wife presumably returning to Cincinnati to live with her parents.
The following May, about a month after their first wedding anniversary, Annie Woodruff gave birth to a daughter they named Elizabeth. By then, fortunately, domestic arrangements were considerably easier for the couple, since Woodruff had been summoned to Washington in February to report for Signal duty. When his only child was born on May 9, 1883, Woodruff was enrolled in the officers’ training course at Fort Myer, practically within sight of his boyhood home.
The following summer, he qualified as an indications officer, and for the next three years, he and his family lived peacefully in Washington, D.C., the lieutenant reporting to work in the Indications Room at the Office of the Chief Signal Officer on G Street, while Mrs. Woodruff saw to the duties of running a household and raising a daughter.
(p.93) “Meteorology has ever been an apple of contention,” observed Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian Institution’s first director, “as if the violent commotions of the atmosphere induced a sympathetic effect on the minds of those who have attempted to study them.” Contention reached a pitch of violence and nastiness inside the Signal Corps during the period of Woodruff’s service in the 1880s.
Vicious gossip and interoffice backstabbing were rife; charges of incompetence and fiscal impropriety rained down from Congress, while Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (the president’s son) loudly demanded investigations into the raging scandals; Signal officers routinely aired their grievances in the press; military old-timers railed that the chief civilian forecaster, Cleveland Abbe, known affectionately as “Old Probs,” had been brought in over the heads of Army indications officers; civilian employees fumed over the endless snarls of military red tape.
All this was bad enough. But there was worse. The chief financial manager of the Signal Corps, a dashing, philandering English-born captain named Henry W. Howgate, was arrested in 1881 for embezzling nearly a quarter of a million dollars (half of which he supposedly spent on prostitutes). Howgate, having absconded when he was released from prison for a single day to visit his daughter, was still at large when Woodruff reported for Signal duty in 1883.
Somehow in this seething atmosphere, Woodruff managed to escape all but the mildest slaps and the faintest whispers of error or misconduct. Now and then Woodruff failed to fill out one of the innumerable military forms properly or promptly enough, and he got into a bit of hot water after reporting some malicious gossip that he had heard while inspecting the Chicago Signal Corps station. On one occasion the chief signal officer thundered that his “serious error of judgment” in transcribing the barometric pressure of Salt Lake City spoiled not only “the original chart…but an entire (p.94) day’s work of the printed charts.”
Compared to Greely’s routine blasts threatening to sack, transfer, discipline, and/or arrest errant or insubordinate Signal officers, this was very mild indeed. But Woodruff’s turn would come. The fact that violent commotions continued unabated in the Signal Corps after Greely assumed control in 1887 upon General Hazen’s death, was a grave disappointment inside Grover Cleveland’s War Department, for Greely had been appointed expressly to restore order.
Indeed, the forty-three-year-old Brigadier General Adolphus Washington Greely looked like the answer to the prayers of those who had despaired of the Corps during the riotous Hazen years. A lifetime soldier, Greely had enlisted as a sixteen-year-old private in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War, and moved up steadily through the ranks of the Signal Corps over two decades.
He was an ambitious, hard-driving, punctilious officer given to fits of peevish displeasure. His superiors admired and rewarded him for feats like stringing eleven hundred miles of new telegraph lines through harsh, treeless south Texas terrain, infested with bandits and hostile Indians, and for aggressively recruiting observers for the growing network of Signal Corps weather stations.
But it was tragedy and terrible failure that made Greely famous. On July 17, 1884, First Lieutenant Greely became a national hero when he returned from Greenland, barely alive, with the five survivors of his doomed Arctic expedition. With the financial support and encouragement of the nefarious Howgate, one of Greely’s bosom friends, Greely and twenty-four men had set out for the Arctic in the summer of 1881, with the overt scientific mission of conducting research and setting up meteorological stations as part of the First International Polar Year (declared for 1882–83).
But like all Arctic explorers before and after, Greely really had his heart set on attaining the pole itself, or at least planting the American flag on the “farthest north.” This was duly attained when, on May 15, 1882, his second lieutenant, James B. Lockwood, set the Stars and Stripes and (p.95) a self-recording spirit thermometer in a nine-foot rock pile in western Greenland at a latitude of 83° 24’N, four miles closer to the North Pole than any white explorer had ventured before.
Almost everything else about the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition was a disaster. In 1882, and again in 1883, supply ships failed to reach Greely’s camp at Fort Conger on the east coast of Ellesmere Island (northwest of Greenland); one ship sank with all the provisions; the other, encountering thick ice, returned home with its full cargo of relief supplies. The expedition’s orders, drawn up in the comfort of Washington, D.C., specified that in the event that the relief ships never showed up, Greely was to move the party south by September 1, 1883—and on August 9 that’s exactly what he insisted on doing, despite the fact that nearly every other member of the crew vehemently objected to leaving the comparatively safe and well-supplied camp at Fort Conger.
In the best of circumstances, Greely, when crossed, could be a waspish martinet: He was a dogmatic, stubborn, uncompromising commander who led not by natural authority or earned devotion, but by rigid enforcement of rules and orders. But the rigors of the Arctic brought out his worst. By the time he gave the order to break camp at Fort Conger, most of his men hated him to the point of violence. But they had no choice: Since Greely controlled the supplies, it was either obey or die.
After nearly two nightmarish months on drifting pack ice, with winter fast closing in, the party made camp on the desolate wastes of Cape Sabine, some two hundred miles to the south. “Madness,” one of the men scrawled in his diary. They had lost several of their boats and much food on the trek south, and there was no resupply cache and no big game to hunt.
As the dark frigid months dragged on, they ate their belts and boots and trousers, and then they ate the clothing of the men who died. They ate the filthy oil-tanned covers of their sleeping bags, warming them in a nauseating stew of lichen and seal skin. Finally, in desperation, some of the survivors were reduced to dragging the corpses of the (p.96) dead out of their shallow ice graves and carving off strips of flesh to swallow in secrecy.
In the course of that grim winter and spring, the party’s third winter inside the Arctic, eighteen men died, of starvation, of exposure, of suicide, and in one case of a military execution that Greely had ordered as a punishment for stealing food and insubordination. As they starved and froze and watched their comrades die, the men cursed Greely, privately to each other, and in their diaries. “This man (I cannot call him a gentleman) comes among us like a serpent in Eden and creates eternal hatred toward himself,” one member of the expedition hissed in his diary. “To die is easy, very easy,” one of Greely’s men scrawled in his diary as life ebbed away; “it is only hard to strive, to endure, to live.”
By the time U.S. Navy Commander Winfield Scott Schley reached Cape Sabine on June 22, 1884, only Greely and six of the crew were still alive. “He was unable to stand alone and was almost helpless,” wrote Schley of Greely’s condition; “all pain of hunger had ceased; his appearance was wild, his hair long and matted, his face and hands covered with sooty, thick dirt; his form wasted almost to a skeleton; his feet and hands were swollen, his eyes were sunken and his body barely covered with dirty and almost worn out garments which had not been changed for six or eight months.”
One of the six surviving crew members, Corporal Joseph Elison, died a few days later on board Schley’s rescue ship, after both his legs were amputated. Elison had already lost most of his fingers and both feet to frostbite. He weighed seventy-eight pounds. Secretary of the Navy William Chandler and General Hazen were on hand to welcome the six survivors of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition when Schley’s ship, the Thetis, steamed into Portsmouth Harbor August 2, 1884.
Despite the sensational rumors of cannibalism that dominated the press coverage of the rescue, Greely was accorded the full hero treatment, the military promotion (to captain soon after his return, despite the bitter opposition of Robert Todd Lincoln, who as secretary of war had done everything in his (p.97) power to thwart the expedition and the rescue efforts); the book deal (Three Years of Arctic Service was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1886); and, upon Hazen’s death, the appointment by President Grover Cleveland to the post of acting chief signal officer, which entailed an automatic promotion to brigadier-general. Greely prided himself on being the first member of the military to rise from volunteer private to the rank of general.
As chief signal officer, Greely moved swiftly to try to clean up the messes left behind by Hazen. After perusing the reports on field stations filed by Signal Corps inspectors (among them Woodruff, who made an extended inspection tour of New England and the Midwest in the summer of 1887), Greely learned just how bad things had gotten.
One New England observer was taking nude photos of young women in the weather station. An observer in the Rockies routinely fabricated a week’s worth of observations ahead of time and took them to the local telegraph office with instructions to send them off one day at a time, so he could spend the week fishing. Yet another observer was forced to hock all the weather instruments in order to pay his poker debts: He made his observations at the appropriate times at the local pawn shop.
The observers in New Orleans were extorting regular payments from the local cotton exchanges in return for weather data. Woodruff reported that a sergeant in the Chicago office was convinced that a private had been sent out from Washington to “keep a spy on him.” Another observer was, in Greely’s words, “foisting useless instruments of his own invention upon this service at an extravagant price.”
In his first year as chief signal officer, Greely fired a hundred Signal Corps employees. Greely authorized the experimental indications office in Saint Paul, during this flush of reforming zeal, though his choice of Saint Paul as the location had less to do with reform than with politics and pressure from local interests. Indeed, Greely had been lobbied hard that summer by the five prominent businessmen who constituted (p.98) the “meteorological committee” of the Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce.
On August 13, 1887, these gentlemen sent Greely a letter strongly recommending that an indications office be opened in their city (and not in Chicago, as Greely himself desired), in order to enhance the timeliness and accuracy of cold wave and heavy snow warnings. About two weeks later, a second and even more urgent request arrived on Greely’s desk under the firm, clear signature of one Professor William Wallace Payne, and Payne then followed up his letter with a personal visit to Washington, D.C. This clinched the deal.
It’s unclear what Greely knew about the character, accomplishments, and aspirations of William Wallace Payne before the business about the indications office, but by the end of that winter, he was to know much more than he wanted to about all three.
Payne, a man of “genius and enthusiasm” in the words of one contemporary, was a formidable figure in Minnesota intellectual circles, with his finger in many scientific pies. Weather was one of them. Timekeeping another. Hired in 1871 as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the fledgling Carleton College in Northfield, south of Saint Paul, Payne persuaded the Carleton trustees to build the first astronomical observatory in Minnesota.
Payne then acquired, at his own expense, a three-inch Fauth transit circle, by which he could measure the positions and motions of the stars and planets, and two state-of-the-art Howard & Company clocks. Thus equipped, he could determine the time more precisely than anyone in Minnesota, indeed, more precisely than just about anyone anywhere in America.
This was a matter of no small importance in a country that was rapidly reinventing itself as an industrial and financial giant. Payne himself strung the wire that connected the readings of his Howard clocks to the nation’s telegraphic network, and thus put his observatory, and Carleton College, on the map as an official time service. For years the local railroads set their clocks by the signal sent out by Professor Payne, and starting in September 1881, (p.99) Payne also relayed the signal for the daily time ball drop in downtown Saint Paul, by which residents set their watches (the New Year’s Eve ball drop over New York City’s Times Square is a vestige of this practice).
A fierce rivalry developed between Payne and the U.S. Naval Observatory, which also provided a daily time signal. Not only did Payne pride himself that his time was more accurate than Navy time, but he railed against the Naval Observatory for contracting with Western Union Telegraph Company to transmit its time signal around the country. Payne considered Western Union to be greedy, monopolistic, and inefficient, and he never lost an opportunity to blacken the company’s name, and thwart their increasing control of telegraphy.
During the winter of the blizzard, Payne’s private campaign against Western Union would figure in his bitter conflict with Lieutenant Woodruff. With an observatory at his disposal, it was easy for Payne to add meteorological observations to his other scientific endeavors, and in November 1881, he started taking official thrice-daily readings for the Signal Corps (the chief signal officer decreed that these observations be synchronized to Eastern time, with the first observation made at 7 A.M., the second at 3 P.M., and the third at 10 P.M., which meant that observers on the West Coast never got a decent night’s sleep).
Two years later, Payne became director of the Minnesota State Weather Service, the newly organized Minnesota branch of a largely voluntary state-level network set up for the purpose of gathering weather data, disseminating warnings, and reporting to farmers on conditions affecting their crops. It was in this capacity that he wrote to Greely on August 25, 1887, about the need for an indications officer in Saint Paul.
Greely endorsed Payne’s proposal and, for a bureaucrat, acted on it with amazing speed. Within a matter of weeks, he had selected Woodruff for the post, and he had a member of his staff fire off a letter ordering the lieutenant to “proceed to Saint Paul, Minnesota, and establish in that city, not later than October 20, 1887, an office (p.100) for the purpose of making weather indications for north western states.”
The orders stated explicitly that this new office was being established “for the purpose of better serving the stock-growing and other interests in the northwest, and with a view of furnishing the information to the public more promptly.” Stock-growers first, the public second.
Woodruff was on the road inspecting Signal Corps offices when word of his transfer arrived, and he hurried back to Washington at the end of August to consult with Greely about his new responsibilities. Before departing, he took a ten-day leave to vacation at Nonquitt Beach near New Bedford, Massachusetts, presumably with his wife and four-year-old daughter. It’s unclear whether Woodruff brought his family with him to what he later called the “outpost” of Saint Paul, but it seems unlikely.
As the sole forecaster for a region larger than New York and New England combined, he would be working for the next six months from nine in the morning to midnight, six days a week (with a five-hour dinner break between the afternoon and nighttime observations), with no leave, not a schedule conducive to family life.
Even Greely expressed concern that Woodruff would find this relentless routine to be “confining.” “It is desired,” Greely wrote in his characteristic stiff formal style, “that you shall reduce it [your work] to such an extent that its continuance during the winter will not be detrimental to your general health.” Woodruff departed for Saint Paul on October 13 and arrived two days later.
continue to the second half of Chapter Four …