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Snowed in under the Dome: Blizzard of '78 Memories from Northwood/West Baden

West Baden '78 Snow Storm
Being snowed in after a huge winter storm may not be your idea of fun.

But getting snowed in at West Baden Springs Hotel after perhaps the craziest snowstorm in Indiana’s history?

“I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to be snowed in during the Blizzard of ’78,” says Judith Dunlap, who was spending her college days here during that era when the students and staff of Northwood Institute were utilizing West Baden Springs Hotel. Dorm rooms, classrooms, dining hall — the entire college was all under one roof (or, well, dome) for Northwood students.

As this week marks the 45th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’78, Judith shares some memories of being snowed in under the dome.


West Baden Blizzard of 78
Standing atop a snowdrift on the steps outside West Baden Springs Hotel.

A journey into town and back at the height of the storm:

“My best friend and I, we decided after our last class was over, we were going to walk to town, eat at The Villager (less than a mile away), get groceries and walk back. We went back to our dorm room to bundle up in layers of clothing for our trek into town. We wore boots – although they were fashion boots and not snow boots – two layers of socks, gloves, scarves, our winter coats, and had onesie pajamas that we used as long johns. We made it to The Villager okay, but we had to walk in the road because the snow was so deep. By the time we were finished and got groceries it was now dark … and the blizzard decides to kick up with the wind and the snow and everything. We headed back to the dome, taking the back entrance because it was closer. By the time we made it to the brick drive we were frozen. Our faces were frozen, our hands and feet were frozen, and my thighs were frozen because my coat was more of a jacket.

Every step was a struggle. We started saying things like, “we made it to the bridge!” then “we’re at the cemetery!” We decided to climb the stairs at the Sunken Gardens entrance because it was closer. We painfully took each step one at a time – actually laughing through our pain because we looked so funny. Our limbs just did not want to move. We seriously looked like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz when he started rusting. We go in the door and make a beeline to the fireplace because there was a big fire going on.”

Speaking of that fireplace in the atrium … it’s purely decorative today, but did burn real logs at one time and got plenty of use by Northwood students during the blizzard:

“After our walk, we were starving again. We went upstairs to put away the groceries and change into dry clothes. We then brought back to the fire, coat hangers, hot dogs and all of the fixings. We had also purchased stuff to make s’mores. The hot dogs smelled so good we had people begging for one, and they even offered to pay, which we declined because we were glad to share our food with our starving friends.”

Northwood student in front of atrium

In these unique living situations, a crippling blizzard didn’t cancel too many days of classes:

“We didn’t want any of the teachers to get snowed in with us – because if they stayed, then we were going to have classes. I think we only missed one or two days of classes, because the teachers would just stay at the Dome. And since our classrooms were all indoors there wasn't a reason to cancel classes. A real bummer for us.”

Cars buried in snow in West Baden
Snow-covered cars in the French Lick Springs Hotel drive. 
(Courtesy Melton Public Library and Springs Valley Herald.)

Still, no shortage of fun and shenanigans out in the snow:
“One night some of the students decided they were going to go out and play hide-and-seek during the blizzard. It turned out to be like Marco Polo because visibility was about zero. That was the night my friend Mary and I decided to stay put in our warm, cozy spot in the atrium, sitting on a couch in front of the massive fireplace. Some of the students braved the blizzard to climb to the top of the dome, even at night.
The students had fun sledding down the golf course at the French Lick Springs Hotel (then the French Lick Sheraton) on cafeteria trays. Or they used the same trays as skis while holding onto a rope and being pulled by a truck around the snow-covered brick driveway. … One of the guys had a Jeep, and he made a killing going for beer runs since nobody else had a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Because the roads were so bad, the National Guard had to bring our food supplies to us.”

West Baden Blizzard of 78

The West Baden grounds, blanketed in the blizzard's aftermath.


They made a couple batches of snow ice cream:

“At Northwood, we had people from different countries – Thailand, Ecuador, even people from warm-weather states – they had never had snow ice cream, of course. We said something about snow ice cream and they’re like, ‘wow, what’s that?’ The snow was really tall and really clean, and I had a brand-new bucket to fill up with snow. We got all the ingredients to make snow ice cream and we made some and put it in the freezer. Unfortunately, the guy from Ecuador forgot to put it back in the freezer so we were disappointed to come back to soupy ice cream. But there was plenty of snow to make more the next day.”

Blizzard of west baden 78

Downtown French Lick in the wake of the storm. (Courtesy Melton Public Library and Springs Valley Herald)


And as the blizzard raged, nothing was better than cozy, peaceful nights in the atrium:

“One of my favorite things to do during the blizzard was to sit in front of the fireplace and talk with one of the RAs. Paul was a little older and had worked at a penitentiary in Texas. He would be there turning down the atrium lights and just keeping an eye on things in the evenings. Even after he would move on, I would continue to sit there listening to the wind howl through the skylights, watching the last embers die out in the fireplace into the wee hours of the morning, sometimes as late as 4 am. It was a great time to contemplate life, or just take in the beauty of my surroundings.”


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