Believe all you want in Doppler radar, satellite imagery and computer-based models.
Eunice Merton didn’t need any fancy technology to predict the weather.
For nearly 50 years, the Richfield Township woman deciphered the clues of nature to make semiannual forecasts for winter and summer. She became world famous with her quirky-yet-accurate prognostications based on farm folklore.
Merton called her forecasting technique the “Bangs Corners Bug Barometer.” Named for a local family, Bangs Corners was an obscure 19th century nickname for the point where Richfield, Hinckley, Brecksville and Royalton townships converged.
Merton admired nature in all its glory while growing up on a 160-acre farm off Humphrey Road near the northwest corner of Summit County. She was born in 1894, the second of Edward and Ella Merton’s five children, and had a busy childhood on the farm, planting, tending and harvesting.
She received a public education, graduated from Richfield Center High School and taught classes for a couple of years in a one-room schoolhouse on Black Road, riding to work in a horse-drawn buggy and sleigh.
The land kept calling, however. Merton dreamed of being a horticulturist and landscaper. At age 21, she enrolled in Ohio State University’s school of horticulture, only to receive a terribly rude reception.
“My physics professor was particularly gruff,” she recalled years later. “He told me that regardless of my grades, I would flunk the course. He said that physics was just no subject for a woman.”
Merton complained to the dean, changed physics classes and earned an A from a different professor. She graduated in 1920, the first woman to receive a bachelor of science degree in horticulture at Ohio State.
Petite and sprightly, Merton started out as a flower arranger but gradually worked her way into nursery management. In 1934, she opened the 25-acre Merriam Hills Nursery on her farm. She and her sister, Pauline Gynn, operated a Broadview Road produce stand.
President of bureau
Merton was elected the first woman president of the Summit County Farm Bureau in 1949, earning the nickname “The First Lady of the Land.”
For years, Merton entertained neighbors with her weather predictions. In the fall, if she noticed heavy coats on animals or thick husks on plants, she projected cold winters. In the spring, if insects and amphibians emerged early, she forecast hot summers.
She wasn’t entirely serious, merely spreading folklore she learned from farmers. Her whimsical pronouncements, written in a poetic style, spread far beyond Richfield. Newspapers, wire services, radio programs and eventually television networks all featured stories about the Bangs Corners Bug Barometer.
A harsh winter?
According to Merton, these were ominous signs in fall that a cold winter was dawning:
• “Ghost-like and lingering, the mists of morning cling in the hollow, loath to go.”
• “Thick husks blanket the ears of corn and the hickory hulls are fat and green. The buckeyes are sleek as satin.”
• “The hens act haunted, while the plow horse, lonely for work and one of his kind, chases the cows, high-tailed, for want of play.”
• “The bat hangs back of the shutter, head down, and the barn owl starts her silent swift prowl before the sun goes down.”
• “The cat suns, lazy on the south porch — too lazy to move when the field mouse slips over the threshold to a warm home in the wall.”
A hot summer?
Conversely, Merton saw early warnings in spring that a hot summer was on the way:
• “The old dog prances as proud as if he had two tails.”
• “The redbird poses before his mate with his noisy boasting ‘Ain’t I pretty-pretty-pretty-pretty?’ ”
• “Angleworms trace long paths on the mud, and the rabbit nurses her naked young in the woodchuck hole.”
• “The hungry bees feed in the skunk cabbage blossoms. Spiders and wasps crawl stiffly out of the woodwork.”
• “The cress is greening along the creek. Dandelions and poke sprouts like asparagus are almost ready for the pot. And rhubarb pushes its red fist into the sun.”
Wild and woolly
Merton was enamored with woolly caterpillars, which generally are reddish-brown in the middle and black on both ends. When the ends were larger than the middle, Merton took that as a sign of a cold winter.
In late 1952, she reported a surprising phenomenon: The woolly caterpillars were either all blond or all brunette.
The lighter caterpillars suggested a mild winter while the darker ones suggested a cold winter. Both were right.
In a classic forecast, Merton pronounced: “Old Ma Nature is fooling around like some frivolous flibbertigibbet … Just when you expect the worst, she’ll ease off and kiss you. And when the outlook is most rosy, she’ll deliver that old double-whammy.”
Sure enough, temperatures were mostly above freezing that winter, but the mercury plunged near zero a few times.
The final frost
Eunice Merton remained single until the autumn of her life. In 1960, when she was 66, Merton married Cleveland Press writer Robert Bordner, 61, an Akron native who owned the 140-acre Thanksgiving Hill farm in Peninsula. Bordner’s first wife, Ruth, died earlier that year after a prolonged illness.
Merton had known Bordner for about 20 years. When she was a garden columnist at the Brecksville News in the 1940s, he was the editor. They were both trustees of the Peninsula Library and Historical Society.
Following a private wedding, Merton resigned from her nursery and settled in with her husband in Peninsula. Her weather predictions became less frequent.
The couple spent the next 11 years together before her death in 1971 at age 77. There were no calling hours. Her body was cremated. Bordner passed away two years later.
The Bangs Corners Bug Barometer predicted its final winter. In one of her last forecasts, Merton wrote:
“Slowly the nightly B&O train trails its lonely calls for the crossings down the echoing valley. Each hour now whispers, ‘Hurry.’
“Hang the storm sash. Get out the woolens. Fill the bins and tidy the shelves in the earth cellar. Pile the firewood close by the door. Bitter winds are about to blow.”
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.