Man in a snow-covered yard with a large Victorian house, water tower, and trees in the background

The Preston house and property with snow, 1932. This house, which burned down in 1956, was located on the Mendocino Art Center property. An unidentified man stands in the front yard behind the board fence. In the rear is the house’s elaborate water tower.  (Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

December 13, 1932 – Mendocino High School closed two weeks early for Christmas vacation, due to poor attendance caused by an influenza outbreak and a record-breaking cold snap. The Beacon warned, “The time lost will be made up at the end of the present term which will necessitate school running well into the month of June.”

The outbreak had begun two weeks earlier when many local residents reported being ill with the flu. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, 35 of the 136 pupils were absent, and the high school closed for the remainder of that week. During roll call on the following Monday, 21 students were absent, and the following day, there were 28 absentees, plus custodian Lee Dodge had also been stricken. The high school again closed for the rest of the week.

On Thursday evening about 5 pm, an extremely cold northwest wind brought snow to Mendocino. Flakes continued to fall overnight and into Friday morning until more than an inch of snow covered the ground. Old-timers agreed that this snowfall was the largest they had witnessed for a great many years, “at least not since the 1880s.” There was a run on the local stores for camera film as everyone wanted to take photos of the snow scenes.

The snow was followed by a cold wave with temperatures in Mendocino dropping to 14 degrees, again breaking records. The snow didn’t melt for over a week. Car owners suffered frozen radiators. Most of the water pipes froze, and many burst.

On Monday following the snowfall, the high school tried once again to reopen, but there were still many absences because of the flu, snow, and extreme cold. The kids got a long winter break, and the high school finally reopened the first week of January. The Beacon reported, “There was a good attendance. The flu epidemic seems to have somewhat subsided and most of the scholars were back in school when it opened.”

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