In 1936, the Midwest suffered from extreme cold with temperatures falling below -10 degrees. The bitter cold was felt throughout the State but St. Louis was hit the hardest. A few consecutive days of biting temperature led to an ice floe in Mississippi River.

It marked one of the hardest days for residents as coal supplies lessened and transportation was greatly affected. Trains inched their way to the Union Station enveloped with chilling snow. Homeless vagrants were also seen in doorways throughout the downtown area frozen in ice.

Warnings to cross the thin shield of frozen ice

Though this was not the first recorded instance the Mississippi River froze, it was one that was worth remembering. City Engineers warned the general population never to cross the rivers on foot, but some daring people did not heed the warning.

People boldly defied the warning by scrambling to cross the river on Feb. 7. They crossed from Gasconade St., south of St. Louis, all the way to the other end. Several days later, a group of people also crossed from the Municipal Bridge located downtown.

Although ice sheets held strong, temporary breaks would happen because of water level changes. The river was able to hold the pressure for almost three weeks until it started to give away. The first victim to fall into the cold river was a dog who was lassoed out of the freezing water.

It wasn’t the first time

This has not been the first recorded instance the Mississippi River froze. Several accounts have been recorded and 1936 froze over is the third coldest recorded. The St. Louis area has been hit for at least 10 times during the years 1891 up until 1938.

Only after the Alton Lock and Dam were built did ice formation from upper Mississippi to the Illinois River flow stopping the Mississippi River from experiencing another froze over.