Legendary Minnesotan – The Lengby Woman That Froze Solid and Lived
The Lengby, Minnesota Wikipedia page lists three notable things about the town. 1) "A post office called Lengby has been in operation since 1898" 2) "Lengby had a depot on the railroad," and 3) "In 1980, Jean Hilliard survived being frozen for six hours in sub-zero temperatures."
Read that last one again because she's today's Legendary Minnesotan.
A story in the January 3, 1981 edition of the New York Times starts with...
"Jean Hilliard was literally frozen stiff, 'like a piece of meat out of a deep freeze,' when a friend found her in the snow after a night of 22-below-zero temperatures. But the 19-year-old has made an unusual recovery."
As you might expect, she got to be on the Today Show and the story went worldwide. It was 1981, so just radio, TV, and newspapers (and maybe magazines) carried the story and that was it. Story done. All this time later, though, the internet again delivers amazing stories for us to see. Every few years this story comes up and new people see it. Like me. Today. Right now.
Hilliard was interviewed in 2018 for an MPR story and her version is far less glitzy than almost every printed account from the 80s.
Basically, the unglamorized story is Hilliard went to town to meet a friend, headed home around midnight, took a shortcut, and slid into the ditch in her dad's Ford LTD. Remember rear-wheel drive? Yeah. Exactly.
It was -20 degrees, a not unusual thing for a Minnesota winter about five and a half hours Northwest of Rochester, near Foston, Minnesota. She knew a friend lived not to far away, so she started walking in her cowboy boots and, eventually, saw the friend's house, and not much more.
The MPR story continues...
Later, people told her she'd made it to her friend's yard, tripped, and crawled on her hands and knees to his doorstep. They said she lay there for six straight hours, with her eyes frozen wide open. Hilliard doesn't remember any of that.
Hilliard Found Frozen
She must have gone down around 1 AM because at 7 AM the friend walked out the door and found her.
Mr. Nelson found her as walked out the door at 7 o'clock the next morning. Her body was so stiff that Mr. Nelson loaded her ''diagonally'' in the back seat of his car and headed for the hospital. (New York Times)
At the hospital, they found a pulse, but just barely (12 beats a minute). She was so frozen, they couldn't get an IV needle into her skin. She was so cold, the hospital thermometers, which only went down to 88 degrees, were useless.
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The hospital ended up wrapping her in electric blankets and, after several hours, she started to warm up. By noon, she was conscious, asked for water, and worried about what her dad would say about ruining the LTD.
She stayed in the hospital for quite a while but left under her own steam with no physical or mental health issues to report. She got married, had kids, and got divorced. According to MPR's reporting, she lives in Cambridge, Minnesota, and works at the Wal-Mart...and wonders if her life would have been different if she could remember the six hours she was unconscious.
But she can't...it's like she fell asleep in front of her friend's house, and woke up in the hospital.
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