Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Beauty of the Blizzard of 1996

Deborah Künstler, Mort's wife, was a freelance writer and was frequently published in Newsday. Back in the winter of 1996, Long Island was hit with a blizzard.  Here is the article published in Newsday on February 1, 1996 documenting how Mort channeled his creativity and huge amount of energy – by building an igloo to beat all igloos!

The Beauty of the Blizzard
By Deborah A. Künstler

Who can forget the winter of ’93-’94? The miracle of nature was no longer a miracle; it was a nightmare.

By the time the eighth or ninth storm hit, our 9-year-old grandson, Tommy, was tired of playing video games, and sledding had lost its allure.  I’m not the outdoor type, but, fortunately, my artist-husband, Mort, is.  So he laid down his paint brushes, took Tommy outside and decided to build an igloo.

After calling upon our architect son-in-law, Cliff, for structural advice, the two of them and Tommy started their project. Once completed, the ’94 igloo was fun for a starter house but rather small. It was just big enough for Mort, Tommy and one friend at a time to cook cocktail franks over a can of sterno.

In ’95, we had only one major storm, but that didn’t deter Mort and Tommy, who built an even larger igloo. More experienced by then, we celebrated the winter with brunch for five, complete with bagels, lox and coffee.

When the blizzard of ’96 struck, it was bad news for lots of people but not for my husband. “This is fabulous,” Mort said to Cliff on the phone. “We’ll make the greatest igloo ever seen south of Alaska.”

The streets were vehicle-free for good reason; even those with four-wheel-drive cars knew enough to stay home. But Mort, unstoppable in our ’79 Bronco, drove it, plow and all, to Cliff’s studio, dragged him away from his drawing board, and chauffeured him back to our house.

Then he went to work with the plow, piling a huge mound of snow near the kitchen door. Dressed in ski clothes, the two men started shoveling. Our son, David, was home along with everyone else on the East Coast, so he and Tommy joined in the dig.
Scooping out an igloo is hard work. While one person is inside digging, someone else has to shovel the loose snow away from the entrance. (A word of warning: this can be dangerous work and it is necessary to have an adult around at all times. Do not try to build an igloo of this magnitude without having architectural advice on how thick the walls need to be to prevent a cave-in.)

By the time they were finished (about 16 hours of digging, in Mort’s estimation) this year’s effort had become a veritable snow mansion – the walls and roof were about 18 inches thick. Inside, the ceiling rose to more than 6 feet and it was 11 feet in diameter. A plastic plumbing pipe jammed through the roof serves as a chimney.

Such a structure could not be left unadorned, so the next day, Mort and I went to work on decorating the interior. In the kitchen area, we scooped out holes in the wall for wine bottles and soft drinks, and built a shelf for dishes, napkins and glassware. Silverware was stuck horizontally into the icy walls and hooks held our cooking utensils. We brought in a round patio table and surrounded it with four folding chairs. We placed an old fondue pot, from early in our marriage, on the table for cooking. Built-in wooden ledges around the perimeter of the igloo were covered with carpeting samples to serve as additional seating.

We scooped out four niches in the walls for candles and installed a shelf for a basket of dried flowers. On the wall, we hung a framed print of a ship from Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White fleet, in tribute to our community. While not exactly warm inside, we were able to sit with coats on but without hats, gloves or scarves.

Ready to entertain in grand style, we started scheduling dinner parties. We had dinner for seven with friends and their two young sons. We had lunch with our daughter Jane, Cliff, David and Tommy and his friends. Then people started calling us. The word was out. Everyone wanted to see the igloo. A teacher friend suggested scheduling it for a field trip. Schools and offices were open again, so we limited parties to weekends. Our menu became routine: shrimp, chicken noodle soup served in mugs, cocktail franks, smores and hot chocolate. For grown-ups, there was wine and beer; for the younger set, apple cider and soda.  Needless to say, there was no shortage of ice.

Of course, the downside of igloo building is similar to that of building castles in the sand. They tend to be short-lived. Our igloo didn’t make it through the Jan. 19 rainstorm.  And Mort swears it will be his last. “I’m going to do my best to prevent myself from doing it again,” he said last week.

But the men in my family have igloo-building down to a science now, so by the time the next big snow rolls around, he may be singing a different tune. I wonder if we could put a hot tub in one. ~ 

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Knstler, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.