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Dorothea Nordstrand Remembers Ice Skating on Green Lake in 1930
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In this reminiscence, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) recalls the winter of 1930 when Green Lake froze over. The freeze became the occasion for a carnival of bonfires, skaters, waltz music, and the supreme sensation of flying over Green Lake ice. This piece originally appeared in The Seattle Times in 1993 and is reprinted here with kind permission. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.
Frozen in Time
In the winter of 1930, the Granddaddy of all cold snaps hit Seattle with a great, frigid fist, turning the ground to iron. It was bone-chillingly cold, but clear, most unusual by mild Seattle standards.
From our home above Green Lake we watched a border of thin ice form along the edge of the lake while frost crystals glittered like diamond dust in the suddenly stiffened grass. As the bitter cold continued, hour by hour, the thin ice thickened and spread outward toward the center of the lake. Flocks of ducks swam in ever-dwindling patches of open water until even that was gone, and the ducks were left to bump and bumble their way to shore like so many feathered clowns to where they could huddle together in the shelter of cattails and reeds.
And still the weather stayed freezing cold and the ice continued to thicken. The brave, or foolhardy, tempted disaster by venturing out onto the slippery surface, retreating when they heard the telltale creak and snap that spelled danger. Day after day the ice grew until, at last, headlines in the local newspaper proclaimed in letters three inches high:
ICE THIRTEEN INCHES THICK ON GREEN LAKE
Someone drove an automobile straight across the ice from beach to beach and back again. Popcorn, hot dog, and hot chocolate stands appeared like mushrooms after a rain.
And the skaters came! Hundreds of them made a kaleidoscope of color by day. At night huge bonfires blossomed along the shoreline. Musicians drifted in and the lilting notes of "The Beautiful Blue Danube," "Waltz of the Flowers," and "The Skater's Waltz" added to the feeling of festival. Young and old donned skates to skim across the ice, faces shining in the flickering light of the bonfires' leaping flames. It was Mardi gras on Green Lake.
I was 14 years old, that winter, and had never worn a pair of ice skates in my life. My Aunt Ida lent me a pair of clamp-on blades that fastened to my sturdy shoes just like my old, familiar roller skates. Bundled into a warm jacket, with a striped stocking cap pulled over my ears and a long, red scarf wrapped around my neck, I joined the throng. I was wobbly and uncertain, but I was part of the carnival.
Couples went gliding past me in perfect rhythm and I envied them their ability and grace. Then, like an answer to my unspoken wish, a tall boy whom I recognized as a schoolmate, came skating toward me, hand outstretched in invitation. We clasped crossed hands in the skaters' way and suddenly it became easy. Strides matching, and we flew across the ice like the wind, my red scarf whipping out behind like a banner. Across the lake to the bonfire at West Green Lake we sped, then back again in perfect accord. We joined with the skaters flowing around and around the edge of the lake like dancers in a ballroom.
A clear, silver moon arose to add the final touch of perfection to that already wonderful night. Finally, he brought me back to shore and we waved goodbye. I unbuckled my skates and walked home. I had reached as high as the stars and there was nothing left to stay for.
That was over 60 years ago, but I can close my eyes and hear the swish of sharpened blades on the ice, feel the frosty chill of the breeze against my face, and experience again that sensation of flying.
Green Lake has never again frozen like that, but it did once in my lifetime, and I will never, ever, forget it.
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