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January 3, 2023

In 1936, the Mississippi River Was Frozen Allowing Individuals to Walk Across the River to Illinois

In February 1936, the Midwest suffered from extreme cold with temperatures falling below -10 degrees. The bitter cold was felt throughout the State but St. Louis was hit the hardest. A few consecutive days of biting temperature led to an ice floe in Mississippi River. It marked one of the hardest days for residents as coal supplies lessened and transportation was greatly affected. Trains inched their way to the Union Station enveloped with chilling snow. Homeless vagrants were also seen in doorways throughout the downtown area frozen in ice.

Though this was not the first recorded instance the Mississippi River froze, it was one that was worth remembering. City Engineers warned the general population never to cross the rivers on foot, but some daring people did not heed the warning. People boldly defied the warning by scrambling to cross the river on Feb. 7. They crossed from Gasconade St., south of St. Louis, all the way to the other end. Several days later, a group of people also crossed from the Municipal Bridge located downtown. Although ice sheets held strong, temporary breaks would happen because of water level changes. The river was able to hold the pressure for almost three weeks until it started to give away. The first victim to fall into the cold river was a dog who was lassoed out of the freezing water.

This has not been the first recorded instance the Mississippi River froze. Several accounts have been recorded and 1936 froze over is the third coldest recorded. The St. Louis area has been hit for at least 10 times during the years 1891 up until 1938. Only after the Alton Lock and Dam were built did ice formation from upper Mississippi to the Illinois River flow stopping the Mississippi River from experiencing another froze over.

Three men prepare to walk across the river from the foot of Gasconade Street in south St. Louis on Feb. 7, 1936, after a massive ice jam covered the river. They managed to get across.

People walking across the frozen Mississippi River from East St. Louis to St. Louis on Feb. 12, 1936. The Municipal (later MacArthur) Bridge piers are in the background.

Three women standing on the frozen Mississippi River on Feb. 15, 1936.

R. D. Schmickle of the U.S. Geological Survey prepares to operate a device that measures the speed of the Mississippi’s current on Feb. 22, 1936. He is lowering the torpedo-shaped instrument into a hole cut into the river ice atop the middle of the channel.

U.S. Geological Survey engineers measure current over the channel on Feb. 22, 1936, near the foot of Davis Street, in Carondelet.

A man examines some of the chunks of ice along the St. Louis riverfront on Feb. 26, 1936, after the ice jam across the Mississippi river began breaking up.

The breakup of the ice jam on Feb. 26, 1936, mangled the Missouri Pacific Railroad approach to a ferry landing at the foot of Davis Street, in Carondelet. The ferry ran to East Carondelet, Ill.


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