Providence’s Ever Ready Diner mentioned in story of Blizzard of 1978


A Providence Journal article from Sunday February 3rd has a wonderful story about a retired policeman (Edmund Malloy), who at the time was a sergeant and his exploits during the memorable Blizzard of 1978. It mentions Providence’s Ever Ready Diner, at that time located on Admiral Street adjacent to the Chad Brown Housing Project. The diner, originally operated in Waterville, ME as Art’s Filling Station has had a few lives and operating locations including Lawrence, Mass., Peterborough, NH and Southbridge, Mass. (with at least 2 stops at the Worcester Lunch Car factory for updating) before landing in Providence. It is now in the possession of the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University (Providence) and being restored. Anyway here is the story by Tom Moody, a Providence Journal staff writer…

Found and lost: a police officer’s quest

PROVIDENCE — Thirty years now and he’s still looking for her. He will be in a restaurant or department store when a clerk’s name tag grabs his attention: Tara. If she looks about the right age and is white — one of the few facts at his disposal — the retired police officer will pose the question he’s asked hundreds of times, always adjusting for the passage of years since the Blizzard of 1978.“Are you 30 years old by any chance, because there was this little girl….”

You save someone’s life, Edmund Malloy has found, and you become bound to that person.

Whether you ever see her again or not.

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. Edmund Malloy, 69, with thick silver hair, stands in a leather jacket in the window of the Dunkin’ Donuts shop on Admiral Street, gazing out at Route 146 about a quarter-mile away.

His story … her story started out there on that Monday afternoon of Feb. 6, 1978.

It started as a nice day. It ended with the worst snowstorm in memory bearing down on Southeastern New England, eventually claiming 21 lives, paralyzing sections of the state for days under feet of snow and leaving a lasting imprint on the collective psyche.

Every big snowstorm since has been compared with it. None has surpassed it in drama.

“It was a hurricane of snow,” Malloy remembers.

Back then a diner stood where the doughnut shop is now. The Ever Ready Diner would become an oasis for hundreds of people stranded out on the highway, who, when their gasoline ran out, slogged through the drifts of snow that were slowly enveloping everything.

Back then, Edmund Malloy, now of Chepachet, was a 39-year-old police sergeant and the assistant director of the Providence Police Department’s training academy, up around the corner from the diner.

When the storm started that afternoon, downtown headquarters ordered all day-shift officers to stay on beyond 3 p.m. “They froze us in and said wait until you are relieved. But relief officers never came. I was the only sergeant working that area. We ended up there for seven days.”

Normally, the training academy, a large two-story brick building adjacent to the Chad Brown housing project, ran on a small staff. But as the snow continued to fall — first one inch an hour, then two, then three — and gusts reaching 67 mph sliced snow through the seams of closed doors, the academy quickly crowded.

“The weather just got so bad we were losing cruisers,” Malloy says. “They were breaking down all over the place and the guys were walking back to me. I had a rag-tag army” of officers from police districts all over the city.

The Ever Ready Diner had a faithful following of patrons who came regularly for its hot dogs, beans and sandwiches. But on the day of the blizzard it was simply the first warm spot off the highway for scores of cold and stranded motorists. The lucky ones squeezed inside. Others shivered outside, their backs turned against the cutting winds and the grit of snow stinging their faces.

Word of the crowd filtered up to the training academy. Malloy dispatched the World War II-vintage panel truck that the academy had handy to pick up people at the diner and bring them to the academy. Malloy drove his cruiser down to the diner to supervise.

“It was terrifying for a lot of people down here,” he says. “This was catastrophic. They were worried.”

Hundreds were moved to the training academy. Officers directed women upstairs, men downstairs. Officers looking to feed the growing crowd were given permission to gather food and drink from some of the stores already looted — provided they left a note of what they took.

Most everyone who wanted to be evacuated to the academy had been when, Malloy remembers, a trucker came into the diner, one of the last motorists to walk off the highway.

The trucker told Malloy that on his way past the scores of abandoned cars on the highway he had come across a woman and a baby in one car. He tried to coax them to come with him but they wouldn’t.

“Are you sure you saw them?” Malloy asked him.

“I’m positive,” the trucker said.

HE GAVE Malloy a rough location of where he thought he had seen them. Malloy looked out at a wall of blowing snow, which had now turned black with the night.

“I knew if I didn’t go out there and look for them,” says Malloy, and they perished, “I’d never be able to live with myself.”

Malloy dropped into his cruiser and plowed through the deep- ening snow in the direction of Route 146. He parked about where the highway’s off ramp today curves toward Admiral Street. From that spot, he reasoned, he could use the cruiser’s flashing lights as his directional beacon if he had to walk far down the highway in the blinding snow.

The heater blared as he bundled himself against the cold.

Malloy, the father of three little children, ran five miles a day with the police recruits. He would need his strength and endurance.

He checked for his long black flashlight and, before opening the door, called headquarters: “Seventy-five,” he began, noting his cruiser number. “I’m on foot, on Route 146, heading outbound,” heading north. “There’s a report of a mother and a baby stuck buried in the snow.”

If he didn’t come back right away, at least now they’d know where to look for him.

Then he stepped out into the fury.

MALLOY LOOKS OUT the doughnut shop window again, 30 years later, and tries to pick the spot down the highway where he had walked. The spot he picks is about a half-mile away.

That night the trek seemed endless. Snow above his knees, cutting his face, the cold meeting his sweating body as he trudged from one car to another, stopping at the side of each to clear a window with an elbow and stab a beam of light inside.

So many cars. It looked as though you could walk to Woonsocket on their roofs.

Time and distance blurred. Not a soul stirred. The wind screamed. Exhaustion set in. Malloy started to wonder if he would make it back. He looked up the line of cars. He would check a few more, then have to head back. The cold had found him and now attacked.

He banged the window of another stalled car, its engine long ago turned cold.

Someone inside screamed.

He cleared off more snow.

More screaming.

Finally he took his flashlight and shined it back on himself, on his silver badge on his coat and on his hat. The hysteria inside calmed.

Malloy shouted who he was. He shouted for them to compose themselves and to open the door. It finally opened. That’s when he saw them.

Three of them.

A young mother in her 20s, her two-week-old little girl — and the baby’s grandmother, about 50 years old.

They lived in Woonsocket, Malloy remembers the mother saying. They had come into Providence for the baby’s two-week hospital checkup and had spent the last several hours stranded on the highway. They had run out of gas and heat.

“Can you walk?” he asked them.

He looked back for his cruiser. He could barely make out the illuminated flashing lights. He looked at the baby. Its tiny fingers had already started to turn blue.

“We’re going to get out of here,” he reassured them, “but we’ve got to get to my cruiser. Can I take the baby?”

He took her gently from the mother and slid her under his coat, holding the baby in there beside his warm body like carrying a football.

The women struggled out of the car. Malloy told the mother to hold onto his service belt and the grandmother to cling to her daughter’s waist. Together they formed a human chain that inched its way back through the blowing snow and darkness.

The baby never moved, never made a sound.

Malloy wondered all the way back to the cruiser whether he had been too late.

“LOOK WHAT I got,” a virtually frozen Malloy announced as he and the women came through the doors of the training academy.

He opened up his steaming coat and showed the baby to the crowd huddling around him.

Her name, he told them, was Tara.

Malloy handed Tara over to the one woman officer at the academy that night. As she warmed the baby, Malloy tried to warm his own chilled body. Once he could feel his feet and fingers again, he walked back outside to a nearby store and brought back some baby formula and diapers for Tara.

By the time he returned, officers told him, a Red Cross unit had arrived in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. They had taken Tara, her mother and grandmother to a hospital for observation. Other pressing matters demanded his attention and Malloy’s thoughts of the baby became overshadowed. Malloy’s duties continued on for days, including, he says, delivering a baby in a Chad Brown apartment the following morning. At least in that case he enjoyed a sense of resolution; six months later, Malloy ran into that mother at the Ever Ready Diner. “Recognize your baby?” she asked him.

She had named her son after Eddie Malloy, the cop who had delivered him.

Meet Eddie Blizzard Smith, she said.

BUT EDMUND MALLOY never heard what happened to Tara.

“People died that night,” he says.

And that little girl surely would have, he says, had he not pounded on that car window when he did.

“She could be a mother now herself,” he says.

And he wonders, as the 30th anniversary of the blizzard nears, whether Tara is telling their story somewhere.

The story she learned from her mother about how an unnamed police officer saved them from the storm.

Here is a link to the original article…