My father claimed that decades ago the Mississippi River would freeze over to such an extent that his father was able to drive their cars across it to St. Louis (I assume 1920s vintage, perhaps earlier). Could this be true? Are there photos? -- D.H., of Granite City
You can bet people weren't worried about global warming back in 1899.
From Feb. 11 through about Valentine's Day, the Great Blizzard of '99 iced over the entire length of the Mississippi River. That's right -- from its source in Minnesota right down to New Orleans, which reported ice an inch thick at the river's mouth. Even snowbirds in Tallahassee, Fla., shivered in minus 2 temperatures, the Sunshine's State only recorded negative reading ever.
Here in St. Louis, a frozen-over Mississippi has happened at least 10 times between 1831 and 1938, according to meteorological data. And it was during times like those that, yes, people were able to make their way across the river without a bridge.
Don't believe it? Check out www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/4150865708. With the Eads Bridge behind her, you'll see a woman in what looks to be her Sunday finest carefully negotiating her way across what looks to be a treacherous icescape. In the distant background you'll see dozens or perhaps hundreds of people in a long line from shore to shore taking advantage of the unusual phenomenon.
Because the Eads was finished in 1874, I haven't found any pictures of cars driving across the ice here. Besides, the way the river ice often forms would make for a difficult passage, especially for those old jalopies. It's not exactly a hockey rink that's just been Zambonied.
But that didn't stop other vehicles. The year before the Eads opened, there were reports of horse teams crossing. In fact, two years later, Chris Hilliflicker, a saloon owner, reportedly set up a tent halfway across, fired up a coal stove and served drinks to help warm those passing by. In 1893, coal wagons apparently dared the crossing to avoid the bridge toll.
However, if you didn't have a bridge nearby, it appears some cars did dare the slick route. According to Sharon Sanders, a librarian at the Southeast Missourian at Cape Girardeau, folks did drive across the river in southeast Missouri.
"There are pictures of automobiles being driven or attempting to be driven across the ice. I have heard of a photo, but not seen it, of an early car sinking in the river after the driver tried to cross the ice. I can also recall in the 1970s someone attempted to drive a Ford Bronco across. It sank, too."
With the addition of the lock-and-dam system, Mother Nature can't give us such a cold shoulder anymore as the U.S. Coast Guard keeps a navigable channel open year-round here.
Where can I complain about the shockingly loud TV commercials? I thought these were supposed to be outlawed now. -- P.W., of Shiloh, N.C., of Freeburg, et al.
Apparently, the CALM Act isn't making some folks any calmer.
That's the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation law that took effect Dec. 13, requiring a commercial to be no louder than the average volume of the program accompanies. Believe it or not, some companies backed this measure because they found viewers were muting the sound or even changing the channel, thus missing their expensive advertising.
But if you think you're still being blasted by car dealers and gold buyers, you're encouraged to report offenses to the Federal Communications Commission. Fill out the complaint form at www.fcc.gov/complaints. Just click on the "Broadcast" circle, hit "next" and then click "Loud commercials." Or call 888-CALL-FCC or write the FCC Complaints Division at 445 12th St., SW, Washington, DC 20554. (You could also call or write the offending TV station, I suppose.)
Just remember the key word is "average." When it comes to volume, most TV shows have highs and lows. If there's a quiet scene right before the commercial break, an ad of even average volume may jolt you but it's not illegal. The FCC, however, would have to be the final arbiter of that. Of course, if the ads bug you too much, you may have to record all your shows and use the remote to zip past the commercials during playback.
What role did a cast member of TV's "Perry Mason" play in giving us "The Greatest American Hero"?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: Many of us think of a unicorn as this beautiful white horselike animal with a golden horn on its forehead. But perhaps the earliest reference -- by the Greek physician-historian Ctesias -- described it as a wild ass with a roughly 3-foot-long horn that was white at its base, black in the middle and red at the tip. Interestingly, it matches the colors on the flag of the Georgian Kingdom during the reign of King David IV (1073-1125).
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com