Meigs saves the day: flying to my wedding during the blizzard of 1967

In approximately 1964, a salesman for the then-manufacturer of computers – General Electric – was introduced to a blond, female GE computer programmer who had just relocated to the Chicago area from GE Computer headquarters in Phoenix. In the normal course of events, though the salesman was soon transferred to Cincinnati and appointed sales manager in that city, they became more and more friendly and, subsequently, became engaged to be married. Their names were Caroline and Peter.

Caroline’s parents lived in the northern Chicago suburb of Kenilworth, so plans for the wedding included a ceremony at the Kenilworth Union Church followed by a celebration at the Glen View Club. The date chosen for these activities was January 27, 1967.

Cincinnati was the location of a large and impressive installation of GE computers at the GE Flight Propulsion (jet engines) Division’s extensive facility. On January 25, 1967, a salesman from Chicago hosted decision-makers from one of his large prospects to visit this impressive installation. But it was a surprise to Peter, when he arrived back at his office after a day of customer visits, to find the group from Chicago sitting in the office.

The Chicago salesman offered the following explanation: “It’s snowing in Chicago and Indiana, and there won’t be any open roads or airline flights to Chicago until next week” – a prediction which turned out to be absolutely correct.

Chicago blizzard of 1967
The Chicago blizzard of 1967 was historic.

This announcement tended to make it seem somewhat difficult for the groom to get to the suburban Chicago wedding by Saturday night – two days later. Friday, Peter checked, as well as he could, alternative methods for getting to the Chicago area in time for the wedding. For example, he called Delta Air Lines. When told that there would be no flights to Chicago over the weekend, Peter said, “Well, that’s unfortunate. I was hoping to get to a wedding.”

The Delta agent said, “Well, I hope it wasn’t yours.” Peter responded that it was. The Delta agent said, “Hold on a moment.” After a minute of so, she came back on the line and said, “I don’t know what good it will do you, but you have a reservation on every flight from Cincinnati to Chicago from now until Monday morning.” Peter was impressed – and grateful!

Saturday dawned clear and sunny – not only in Cincinnati but also in Chicago and Milwaukee. Since Milwaukee had not received nearly as much snow as Chicago had, Peter checked with the proper railroad and determined that if he could get to, and land at, Milwaukee, he could take a train to Chicago. And he was struck by a moment of inspiration!

In college he had learned to fly. A friend had told him how fascinating flying was, so he worked for, and subsequently received, his private pilot’s license.

Flying a small plane was so compelling that he had had the inspiration to update his skills. While attending graduate school, he had found an air traffic controller who was also an instrument instructor, so Peter flew with him two nights a week from midnight until 2 am. Subsequently he received not only an MBA but also an FAA-issued Instrument Rating.

At the time of his proposed wedding, Peter owned a J-model Bonanza. He had recently purchased it from the local Beech dealer. It had previously belonged to a gentleman named Merrill Meigs who had traded it for a new Bonanza for his use while he was “still young enough to enjoy it” (he was 84 at the time). After the radios were replaced, the interior was re-upholstered, and the airplane was painted, it was a very nice, low-time airplane. Here was the solution to getting to Milwaukee!

He called the mechanic who maintained his aircraft – who, he knew, was qualified to fly his airplane as well as fix it – and asked him if he’d like to take a little trip to Milwaukee and back Saturday morning. The mechanic thought that sounded like fun and asked if he could bring his son with him. Of course he could!

The following morning, the three travelers were headed for Milwaukee in bright sunlight and clear skies.

The route from Cincinnati to Milwaukee results in a flight up the shore of Lake Michigan from the Indiana state line to Milwaukee and, incidentally, directly over Meigs Field. This remarkable airport (named after the original owner of Peter’s plane) was built on the lakeshore opposite downtown Chicago and subsequently torn up on orders of Mayor Daley so his wife could build a park there.

Meigs airport
Meigs was once one of the most convenient airports in America.

Peter monitored the usual radio frequencies for Air Traffic Control and O’Hare Airport. There was not a sound. All air traffic in the area had ceased a couple days before. Then he looked out of the window of the plane at Meigs Field, and, to his surprise, saw bare concrete. Not expecting a response, he called Meigs tower. Meigs tower answered immediately. Peter asked if the airport was open and the answer was “yes.” He asked how they accounted for the fact that all other airports in the area had been closed since Thursday because of heavy snow, and Meigs was open. The response was that they had been snowed in at the airport since the previous Thursday and there had been no activity available to them except driving a plow.

So Peter’s airplane became the first to land in Chicago after the big snow of January, 1967.

Peter walked into the terminal and encountered several people – in uniform – standing behind the counter ready to collect his landing fee. He said, “Well, I’m here.” The response was, “So now what are you going to do?” Peter responded, “I’ll catch a cab.” All behind the counter laughed loudly. One said, “There hasn’t been a cab here since Thursday!” Peter again responded, “Well there’s one driving up in front now!” Followed by the amazed stares of the airport staff, he went outside and got into the cab.

The lady cab driver was one of a few brave drivers who was trying to get around the city on the poorly plowed main streets. When asked why she stopped by the airport she said, “I saw an airplane land and thought someone might need a cab,” which, of course, was a gross understatement. She took him to a commuter train station.

Carrying his suitcase full of wedding and resort clothes – as well as a golf bag – he boarded a train for Kenilworth. In Kenilworth, aided by a merciful resident driving by, he made his way down Kenilworth Avenue to the home of his future in-laws – only to find that the bride’s mother, assuming that the groom would not be able to get there Saturday, had postponed the wedding until Sunday and had arranged to have all of the potential attendees so notified.

So the rehearsal dinner was held that evening, and the wedding was Sunday. The couple have now been married forty-nine – and a fraction – years.

3 Comments

  • I love this story! It took me a few minutes to figure out the mechanic was to fly the plane home and put it away while Peter went on his honeymoon. Great utility and no loose ends. I like it!

  • Great story! This is one of those inspiring moments in life where everything works out despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Thank you for sharing it!

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