The truth behind the legend

What really happened during the storm of ‘78?

Cartoon by: Mikala Piller | Cartoonist

There was a blizzard that closed campus in 1978, allegedly resulting in empty liquor store shelves and rowdy Bulldogs causing college presidents to make a pact to never have a snow day again.

After 39 years, tales have been told, but what really happened that blizzardy day?

The storm hit Thursday, Jan. 26, and didn’t stop until Friday, Jan. 27, resulting in 30 inches of snow—a record 24-hour snowfall according to

“This was a true winter, the kind of winter we do not have anymore,” said Ferris Archival Associate Mary Gallagher-Eustice.

According to Gallagher-Eustice, who in 1978 worked in the university’s library, the storm was one of the worst, but liquor stores were not sold out and the storm is not the reason behind the lack of snow days.

“As the years go on, the snowfall gets deeper, the wind gets higher and harder. It cracks me up,” Gallagher-Eustice said.

But having lived through it, she knows the truth.

According to Gallagher-Eustice, president at the time Robert L. Ewigleben was out of town, so the vice president of academics made the call to close campus. The state of Michigan declared it a state of emergency, while Ewigleben declared it an act of God.

Classes were cancelled that Thursday and Friday.

“(On Campus) it was like a giant snowball fight,” Gallagher-Eustice said. “At first everyone was like ‘whoa, this is unreal’ and then all of a sudden the students realized they weren’t going to have classes, so everyone started flooding outside.”

“We used to have food trays, and all of a sudden a thousand food trays were missing from dining because people were using them as sleds. And they made great sleds.”

According to Gallagher-Eustice, the library remained open, along with the Rankin Center for dining purposes.

According to a 2010 Torch article by Dan Hamilton, the rumor about Grunst Brothers Sport Center and Party Store selling out was indeed, just a rumor.

According to the article, Grunst Brothers did have an impressive day, but they did not sell out of inventory. The owner did say it could have been possible for smaller stores in town at the time to sell out, and he did remember seeing students coming in on toboggan sleds and cross-country skis.

Gallagher-Eustice does not recall seeing any drunkenness throughout campus, but she does remember people packing snow up against Cramer and jumping out of the windows. 

“We had skiers, downhill skiers, people on sleds, snow angels,” Gallagher-Eustice said.  “It was cold. Some of the library staff even got into a snowball fight. You know, like, what else can you do?”

“By Sunday everything was back up and running. On Monday we were still all shellshocked, and that’s when the rumors started,” Gallagher-Eustice said.