Hannah Cooper's Birthday Snow
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Hannah Cooper's Birthday Snow

On the night of January 26, 1840, six feet of snow fell in Warren County. Nothing like it was ever seen before, nor has any single snow fall since, compared with it. Snow had begun falling early in the afternoon, small flakes that drifted persistently down from a sky that looked foreboding. Men working in the woods took a look at the sky, put their axes on the sled and started home early. The oxen, sensing the impending storm hurried along, breaking into a gallop as the sled went down grade. Not a deer, rabbit or bird stirred in the wood, they had disappeared as if by the white magic of the snow. Cows in the log barns were milked early that day, oxen were bedded in their stalls at four o'clock, extra supplies of wood were brought in and piled close to the fireplace. The sky was a strange bluish black, and from it fell the feathery flakes, faster and faster. No wind moved the delicate greenery of the hemlocks, the forest was silent, hushed with the soft silence of suspended snow. It seemed as if nature had paused, was waiting for something. Nature is never wrong, what the woods was waiting for came with the settling of the midwinter's night. It began to snow heavily.

Snow,--it had never snowed like this before! Out of the black vault of the sky the white wall of snow came down, blotting out everything. Nathan Cooper in his log home in Freehold Township stepped out of the door for a took at the sky, he took a square tin lantern with a candle flickering in it and went to the barn to make sure all was snug. In the few minutes he was at the barn his tracks were obliterated, his dim lantern useless, nor could he make out the glimmer of candle light from his kitchen window a rod or two away. The feeble rays of his lantern lighted only the white walls close around him. He felt his way back to the house.

All evening the snow fell faster and faster. There was never a moment's let up. The frozen sky seemed to be falling with the overwhelming downfall of a Niagara. There was no wind, just the straight fall of the snow, faster, closer, like some tremendous force still gathering its strength.

The clock on the mantle, with a wild turkey's wing behind it, showed nine, Nathan Cooper looked out the tiny panes of his window. He could see nothing. A white fluff was already piled a foot high on the sill, obliterating the two lower panes. Watching the snow fall against the glass he could actually see it climb up the glass, watch it grow deeper before his very eyes. He had never known such a storm. The door onto the porch would hardly open. It was useless to try to see anything outdoors. The log cabin was walled off from the world, the nearest neighbor more than a mile away, and there might be urgent need for a neighbor before this night was over.

Midnight. The snow was falling down the wide stone chimney at such a rate it made the fire hiss and steam. Only the hot blaze of pine knots could fight the dampening snow. The yellow candle light made soft crystalline glistenings on the windows, they were all white now. Cooper forced open the door, a sufficient width to let him through, stuck a broomstick into the snow beyond the eaves of the porch. It was more than four feet deep. There was no let-up in the fall but the flakes were smaller now, a little wind was stirring. A high pine bough near the house slipped its load, it fell with a muffled thud. This sound came often now from the direction of the trees. In the fireplace the logs spat and sputtered, trickles of water wriggled down the chimney, made the rough stones steam above the blazing wood. The snow was doing its best to put out the fire, it seemed to be trying to bury everything.

Two o'clock in the morning in the log home of Nathan Cooper in Freehold Township, the snow still coming down. There was real need now of going for a neighbor. Cooper had just measured the depth of the snow. It was fully six feet, up to the very top of a tall man's head. No horse or ox or deer or man could hope to travel, the snow was soft, fresh fallen, a man would sink down to his armpits. Somehow or other Nathan Cooper must reach the home of John Haupin, the nearest neighbor, he must bring Mrs. Haupin back with him. And between the houses was a barrier of soft snow, as high as the crown of his head.

Cooper took his axe and ripped up two broad boards from the kitchen floor. He slid the boards out from the porch, on top of the snow, climbed onto one of them, pushed the other board ahead of him, stepped onto that and brought the first board ahead. By this laborious' method he began his slow journey toward the Haupin home, his candle lantern hooked on his arm. Nature, touched by the brave efforts of the man, to bring help to his wife, relented a little. The snow ceased. But inky darkness still prevailed, landmarks were altered or obliterated, Cooper progressed slowly on his course, holding to it only because he knew the lay of the land so well. Twelve feet at a time, walking along the plank on top of the snow, pushing the other plank out ahead, it was terrific work. But in time a candle showed in the Haupin home. They had seen him coming, caught the moving spark of his lantern, this night call was not unexpected. Mrs. Haupin had hot tea ready for the late caller.

There was no time to be lost. Cooper hurriedly drank two cups of tea, started the toilsome journey back again with the two boards, and Mrs. Haupin went with him. The man and woman standing on one board made it settle six inches in the snow, and Cooper had to pass by Mrs. Haupin each time he carried forward a plank. But there was one great advantage, he could follow his tracks straight home, and Mrs. Hairpin could hold the candle-lantern.

Twice Cooper slipped from the plank and floundered shoulder-deep, towards the end of the trip the candle in the lantern blew out. But step by step, measuring the twelve foot length of the planks like a measuring worm, Cooper toiled his way back to his sick wife, and brave Mrs. Haupin went with him. The round trip took more than three hours.

The woman who waited in the log house, waited for the help that night be indefinitely delayed; her bravery was typical of the women who came into the Warren County woods to help found homes in the wilderness. Before the night was over a baby girl was born in the snow bound home in Freehold Township, that lonely log house buried to the eaves in snow. The baby was named Hannah Cooper. In this year 1930 she is living in Warren County, at Sanford. Mrs. Hannah Sanford was ninety-one years of age on January 26, 1931, a dear little old lady.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 193-196: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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