This Day in Military History

January 26, 2005

The hard-fought Battle of the Blizzard (Jan. 26-27, 1986) marked a turning point in the Plumstead-Mansfield Conflict, the three-year territorial dispute that was one of the darkest chapters in the history of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, and perhaps the world.

Hostilities first erupted in the spring of 1984, when a small skirmishing party from the Mansfield Avenue Alliance, armed with a pizza box for use as second base, established an impromptu kickball game in the street directly across from 170 W. Plumstead Ave., right where people never park because of the fire hydrant and the intersection. The West Plumstead Brigade, armed with 4-year-old Jeff Stanbach for use as second base, arrived minutes later just after “Thundercats” ended. Within two hours, more than 23 knees had been skinned, the West Plumstead Brigade invoked its defense pact with Drexel Avenue Corps, and the nation plunged into war.

Both sides had stumbled into a bloody stalemate as the harsh winter of 1986 approached, but the tide was slowly turning in favor of Mansfield; General Jeff Eisner had firmly taken control of that park down the street with the awesome new monkey bars, and the Plumstead Brigade was weakened by the sudden and unexpected loss of Supreme Commander Stan Overhill, who was 16, didn’t really seem to mind playing with 9 year olds and was sent to military school because he really enjoyed burning things.

Plumstead’s newly promoted and daring General and Dungeon Master for Life David G. White saw the heavy late-afternoon snowfall of Jan. 26 as an opportunity to both energize his troops and bust big-time on the Mansfield army. Braving the freezing post-dinner time temperatures and working under cover of darkness, White surveyed the battlefield and dispatched men to several strategic locations marked on his meticulous graph-paper maps of the street.

White’s top field commander, Gen. James “Jimmy” Keaveney of the Drexel Ave. Corps, established heavy fortifications at the intersection of Plumstead and Mansfield, and after splashing his walls with a bucket of water began the immediate stockpiling of ammunition. Heavy artillery units led by Col. Greg Stanbach, a famed marksman and the only person on the street who had made his own nunchucks, began to reinforce defensive positions on Keaveney’s left flank, by the back yard.

Meanwhile, two brash young military engineers, Christian “Old Pollywog” White and Mac “Richard” Dolton, set about changing the face of the battlefield itself. Ordered by Gen. White to secure the high ground, the two officers opted instead to make the high ground. Through the tireless works of the First Paternal Snow Shovel Division, two monumental snow towers of 9 and 8 feet were erected within hours, straddling the main driveway into 170 W. Plumstead. But with troop levels dangerously low and no reinforcements expected until Danny Freeberg came back from vacation next week, Lt. White and Lt. Dolton were left to defend the high ground -- Big Ass Snow Mound and Little Big Ass Snow Mound -- with a small detachment consisting of Christian White of Mac Dolton.

Hostilities began early on the morning of the 27th. Anticipating early morning scouting expeditions from the Mansfield forces, Gen. White ordered troops to their stations at sunrise; within 10 minutes, lookouts spied advance troops from the Mansfield 3rd Armored BMX Cavalry approaching Keaveney’s position. Staying hidden until the Mansfield scouts arrived, Keaveney’s first volley managed to make one kid totally lose his stuff, skid out and probably pee himself and go crying to his mom, but not before delivering a full report to Gen. Eisner.

Eisner, apprised of Keaveney’s position and reputation as, like, a total spaz, split his forces. Half of his troops arrived 20 minutes later at Stanbach’s position on the left flank, only to find stiff ninja-style resistance, like in that movie “The Last Dragon” only not as cool because it’s tough to catch snowballs in your teeth. Stanbach countered the all out assault with the tactic today known as “the Stanbach maneuver”: laughing maniacally while brandishing a garden hose.

The assault on the left flank was largely a feint, however, as the other half of Eisner’s troops was busy performing a brilliant double-whammy flanking maneuver, ingeniously bypassing the Plumstead defenses by walking around the other two sides of block. With Gen. White’s attention and resources firmly fixed on the Western front, and with “Transformers” starting shortly, the only defenders left to anchor the Eastern high ground were Chris White and Mac Dolton. Though severely outmanned and cut off from reinforcements (who were busy eating lunch), failure was not an option. Loss of the snow mounds would give Mansfield unfettered access to the driveway, the underbelly of Keaveney’s fortifications and control of the garden hose faucet on the side of the house. Plus White and Dolton might be subjected to dreaded yellow-washing, a decried torture technique favored by Eisner’s secret police since his recent purchase of a Golden Retriever.

With limited ammunition, White and Dolton held fire until opponents were in close range (a risky tactic but one made possible by how hard it is to run uphill in snow pants). In a stunning display of close-quarter fighting, wave after wave of Mansfield assault was repelled with direct shots to the face, the kind that sometimes drip down your neck and into your shirt. After 15 minutes, however, their snowball supplies were depleted. With Eisner’s troops preparing for one final assault, White and Dolton attached mittens and begin hand-to-hand combat. Running down the snow mounds directly into Mansfield troops, White and Dolton used their downward momentum to assist in atomic white-washings on their nearest opponents, who were 6th graders and therefore totally freaked out big time by the humiliating defeat. The right flank held. Demoralized, Eisner ordered a full withdrawal, all the way back to the awesome park.

Desperate for some victory, and well aware that the next day there would probably be school, Eisner decided to prepare his troops for one final, massive assault. The full Mansfield army would advance at 3 p.m. on Keaveney’s position at the center of the line, hoping to breach the Plumstead line and split Gen. White’s forces in two. Eisner’s plans were overheard, however, by Steven White and Aaron Dolton of the Plumstead Espionage Squad, who were disguised as 5-year-olds making snow angels at the awesome park with their moms.

Gen. White ordered all of his forces to the center of the line, and sent Stanbach to bring up heavy artillery as quickly as possible. The assault began at 3 with a heavy long-range bombardment from the Mansfield troops, but the innovative use of garbage can lid shields prevented any serious damage; then the full army advanced slowly from Eisner’s driveway. The Plumsteaders unleashed their full arsenal on the advancing Mansfieldians: snowballs, iceballs, slushballs. Despite heavy casualties, the Mansfield advance continued. Keaveney led his famed Snow Eaters over the front of the wall; by engaging in close-quarters combat and issuing several devastating Red Bellies, they slowed the advance enough to allow Stanbach to arrive with an extension for the garden hose. Eisner ordered a full retreat, and accused the Plumstead Brigade of being “dirty cheaters.”

The battle was costly both sides: on Plumstead, two whitewashings, three bruises and a purple nurple. But the Mansfield losses were truly devastating: 7 whitewashings, 3 public crying episodes and four lost “Freaky Freezy” gloves. The tide had turned in the favor of the Plumstead Brigade, and Gen. White’s ambitious pursuit of Eisner in the following months would end in the decisive Ball Tag Campaign of spring 1986. Mansfield Ave. was annexed by the Plumstead Republic in 1987, mainly for use in two-hand touch football games.

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