NO MAN’S LAND MUSEUM, GOODWELL, OKLA. | It’s eerie to Sue Weissinger, how similar this weather seems to the Dust Bowl era.
Consecutive summers of drought. A warm, dry winter. Storm fronts and pressure clashes without rains.
Heat – lots of heat.
“The only condition not with us today is the soil,” says Weissinger, curator of this spacious house of artifacts saluting the panhandle, a museum maintained by the Texas County Historical Society. “We still have dusty storms, but it’s not like seeing a thunderstorm roll in, thinking it’s dropping rain when actually it’s dropping dust.”
An exhibit here recalls the horrific dust storms of the 1930s that triggered what the museum calls “the best-known migration in American history,” a staggering procession away from the scarred croplands of the southern Plains.
From Texas up to southern Nebraska, photographs capture great walls of dirt moving in on farms, courthouses, neighborhoods, roadways. Winds raking relentlessly plowed cropland would carry different colors of soils from different states, and then, in an atmospheric downburst, the dirt would be dumped on people and all of their possessions.
Cars and tractors were left covered in dust drifts. Children and the elderly would contract respiratory diseases. Housekeepers learned to store their dinner plates upside down beneath a towel.
“They called one day Black Sunday — so black that people thought it was nighttime. Some thought it was the end of the world,” says Weissinger. “You could burn a candle on a table and not see the flame.”
Saving us this summer from so ugly a fate are the lessons we learned from the Dust Bowl, lessons about farming and soil erosion. For the last six decades, crops have been rotated and lands set aside to maintain soil moisture. Among the leaders of this research was H.H. Finnell, who taught at what is now Oklahoma Panhandle State University near the museum.
Anymore, regional oldtimers who still recall the Dust Bowl “were mostly children at the time, and their memories are far different from how their parents experienced it…
“One man I know remembered how he’d be sitting in the back of a classroom,” Weissinger says, “and when the dust rolled in, the teacher couldn’t see him. So that’s when he could sneak out.
“I’m sure his parents would’ve had memories not so fond.”
|Rick Montgomery, email@example.com.