Smallscreen Reviews

History 'Black Blizzard' on Oct. 12 - hopefully never repeated

By April MacIntyre Oct 8, 2008, 6:24 GMT

History 'Black Blizzard' on Oct. 12 - hopefully never repeated

The great Dust Bowl horrors of the thirties, aka the "dirty thirties," were things I vaguely remembered from history classes. 

My New England curriculum did not present the whole story of the ten-year plague that killed and rendered a region in the United States poor and broken.

I learned so much watching the History documentary "Black Blizzard" and was amazed at the trials and hardships people of New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas endured.

If you think things are rotten today, watch this two-hour doc on Sunday, it will give you some perspective on how bad "bad" can get.

History has presented a thoughtful and arresting timeline and given you a front-row seat on a period of U.S. history from 1930-1940 when America's heartland was ravaged by a weather phenomenon that became known as a "black blizzard."

Producers assembled scientists and special effects experts to recreate the black blizzards in amazing detail and reveal that this was a man-made disaster. It was the uprooting of hardy plains grasses that could withstand drought by the planting of the cash crop of the day, wheat.   

Hordes of immigrant farmers who were given huge plots of land by the government to settle, combined with a crop that was water hungry and then a hundred-year drought added up to an environmental disaster.

Literally, the golden goose of the wheat crops dried up before the farmers eyes, combined with the great 1929 stock market crash which sent commodities crashing too. Wheat, once nearly $4 a bushel, dropped to 40 cents. 

Families were devastated, and slowly everything dried up.  Then the winds set in.

A 400-mile-long swath of land covering 100 million acres of western Kansas, eastern Colorado, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas and New Mexico were battered by gale force winds that carried away millions of tons of topsoil farmland. 

Imagine the sky suddenly going dark in the middle of the day. Searing heat over 100 degrees that dropped at the onset to 50.  It is a true description of what happened in the Midwest of the United States during the 1930's depression years in the Dust Bowl.

Livestock suffered terribly and died agonizing deaths in the fields.  Children were felled by "dust pneumonia" and showed up at doctor's doors with lungs filled with black dirt, often times killing them in days. 

The freakish heat of Kansas that for two years topped 120 degrees daily caused more problems: The insects of the desert.  Centipedes, spiders and locusts plagued everyone in biblical proportions.  Homes were covered inside and out with vermin, grime and dirt, and people went mad from the stresses of it.

Like a vivid Hollywood special effect, the archived films and photos painstakingly assembled show the scope and fearsome wall of the black blizzard which emerged suddenly, over and again in the horizon.  

A ferocious ominous wall of sediment that seemed like a moving mountain range generated enough static electricity to power New York City.  It knocked people down when they touched a car door or a fence and lit up the skies.

Not until a particularly big black blizzard made it to Chicago, New York and then Boston did the media finally give the decade of hell proper news coverage to the rest of Americans.  The misery was the inspiration and setting for the American classic, John Steinbeck's 1939 book, "The Grapes of Wrath."

In this poignant and must-see documentary, you will hear the story of the people who refused to leave their land and learn the history of the Great Plains and how it came to be settled.

Rating: TVPG Running Time: 120 minutes

History will show this important doc on the following days:

Sunday, October 12 08:00 PM
Monday, October 13 12:00 AM
Saturday, October 18 08:00 PM
Sunday, October 19 12:00 AM
Sunday, October 26 05:00 PM 

 



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