Potpourri Volume II: The Frozen Four

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Once again it is time to investigate the stories which are interesting, but not big enough to justify their own show. It is time for another potpourri episode. 

This time the common theme is cold, ice, and frozen temperatures. These stories may seem unbelievable but are true. As true as the Stark Family motto that Winter is Coming. 

With that, join me in this second potpourri edition of Everything Everywhere Daily. 


The first story from the back of the proverbial freezer is that of Jean Hillard. 

Jean Hillard was a normal woman who lived in Lengby, Minnesota which is just over the border from Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

On December 20, 1980, a 19-year-old Jean was involved in a car crash at 1 am in the morning. She didn’t suffer any major injuries, but her car wouldn’t function. She decided to walk two miles to her friend’s house to use the telephone. 

The temperatures that night in Northern Minnesota dipped down to -22F or -30C. 

Approximately 15 feet from her friend’s front door, Jean collapsed, falling unconscientious from the cold. 

She was found at 7 am the next morning. After spending 6 hours in the extreme cold, Jean was quite literally frozen solid. Her friend Wally Nelson who discovered her assumed she was dead. 

Wally drove her to a nearby hospital. The doctors there didn’t believe she would survive. Her body temperature was so low that it couldn’t be registered on thermometers which are normally used on patients. Her body was so frozen solid, that hypodermic needles broke when they tried to give her an IV.

Her skin was ashen and her eyes didn’t respond to light. 

All the doctors felt they could do was to try to warm her up with heating pads.

Eventually, they detected faint signs of life. She had a pulse of 12 beats per minute and her body temperature was at 88 degrees Fahrenheit or 31 degrees celsius. 

About three hours after being brought into the hospital she began having convulsions. By noon, she was able to carry on a conversation.

Jean was able to make a full recovery with only some skin damage due to frostbite.

Given that it occurred in 1980, it was called by locals the Miracle on Ice.

The next story also deals with a frozen body, but the results weren’t quite the same. 

On September 19, 1991, two German tourists, Helmut and Erika Simon, were visiting the Fineilspitze Peak in the Alps near the Italian/Austrian border. They went for a hike when they discovered a human body. They thought that the body was that of a hiker, so they contacted the authorities. 

Local police came and tried to extract the body, but the lower half of the body was encased in ice. They came back the next day with larger tools and eventually extracted the corpse along with the items it was buried with.

It was clear that this was not the body of a hiker who recently died in the mountains.  

At the office of the medical examiner in Innsbruck, Austria an archeologist named Konrad Spindler was brought in and he pronounced that this was the body of a man who was approximately four thousand years old. 

The man was given the nickname of Ötzi, from the Ötztal Alps region where he was found. 

The discovery was remarkable because the body was in large part intact. Archeologists often find skeletons, but finding any actual flesh or organic matter is extremely rare. Ötzi basically was mummified. 

What they learned from Otzi was eye opening and would have been to learn from just skeletal remains.

They learned that he stood 5 foot 3 inches or 160 centimeters. From pollen and isotopic analysis of his tooth enamel, they could tell he grew up around the modern-day village of Feldthurns in the Italian Alps. 

In his stomach and intestines, they found that he recently ate ibex meat, dried fatty wild goat, and some bread made from einkorn wheat. 

They found evidence of copper and arsenic in his hair, as well as an almost pure copper ax, which suggested he may have been involved in copper smelting.

He was probably in his 40s and had some problems with his joint as well as some clogged arteries.

His cause of death was probably due to the arrowhead found lodged in his left shoulder. 

He also had over 50 tattoos on his body.

A DNA test found that he has relatives living in Italy today.

His body is on display today at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology.

My third story doesn’t deal with a frozen body, but rather a frozen body part. 

According to legend, in the 1920s a Canadian bootlegger named Louie Liken was transporting illegal booze into the United States. During one of the trips with his brother, they were caught in a blizzard and his foot fell through the ice, freezing his big toe solid.

Fearing that gangrene might set in, they did what needed to be done and amputated the toe with a hatchet and rum. They kept the toe preserved in alcohol. Louie later moved up to Dawson City, Yukon, and brought the toe with him. 

About 50 years later in 1973, a Dawson City local, Captain Dick Stevenson, found the toe preserved in a jar, took it down to the Sourdough Saloon at the Downtown Hotel, and began daring patrons to take a drink with the toe in it.

Thus, the Sourtoe Cocktail Club was born.

To join the club, you simply have to have a drink with a severed human toe in it. As they say, “drink it fast, or drink it slow, your lips must touch the toe.”

Over the last 50 years, the original toe was eventually lost, and several other toes have been donated due to frostbite, diabetes, and lawnmower accidents.

There has always been a $500 fine for anyone who might swallow the toe while taking a drink. On August 24, 2013, a man came into the saloon, ordered a sourtoe cocktail, swallowed the toe, slapped down the $500 fine, and left the building. After this incident, the fine was raised to $2,500.

I have personally had a sourtoe cocktail on three different occasions. 

My final story to round out this frozen four has to do with low temperature itself. 

Few people have experienced truly extreme cold weather. I myself once experienced a -40 degree cold snap, and at that point, the temperature is the same in Fahrenheit and celsius. 

However, -40 is nothing compared to some of the truly extreme temperatures on the planet.

The coldest ever temperature in the Northern Hemisphere was on December 22, 1991, when temperatures in Greenland reached -93.3 or -61.6 C.

This was nothing compared to a July 21, 1983, temperature recorded at the Russian Vostok Research Station in Antarctica. They recorded a temperature of ?89.2 °C or ?128.6 °F. This was a direct measurement by humans.

A satellite measured a temperature of ?93.2 °C  or ?135.8 °F in 2010. 

To put this into perspective, this is about the night time temperature on Mars. 

At the American Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, they have what is known as the 300 club. When the temperature dips down to below ?100 °F  or -73 °C, they get into a sauna set at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and then run around the geographic south pole naked, with nothing but boots and a gaiter over their mouths. 

The Russians have a metric 200 Club where they wait for temperatures to reach -80 Celsius or -112°F, and then set their sauna to 120°C or 248 °F. 

The lowest temperature possible is of course absolute zero, but it is a temperature that is physically impossible to reach. However, scientists have come close. Very close.

In 1999 a team of researchers managed to get a laboratory temperature of 100 picokelvins, which is 0.0000000001 degrees kelvin above absolute zero.