And in New York:
Monday, March 13, 2017
The blizzard of '88
And in New York:
On March 10, temperatures in the Northeast hovered in the mid-50s. But on March 11, cold Arctic air from Canada collided with Gulf air from the south and temperatures plunged. Rain turned to snow and winds reached hurricane-strength levels. By midnight on March 11, gusts were recorded at 85 miles per hour in New York City. Along with heavy snow, there was a complete whiteout in the city when the residents awoke the next morning.
Despite drifts that reached the second story of some buildings, many city residents trudged out to New York’s elevated trains to go to work, only to find many of them blocked by snow drifts and unable to move. Up to 15,000 people were stranded on the elevated trains; in many areas, enterprising people with ladders offered to rescue the passengers for a small fee. In addition to the trains, telegraph lines, water mains and gas lines were also located above ground. Each was no match for the powerful blizzard, freezing and then becoming inaccessible to repair crews. Simply walking the streets was perilous. In fact, only 30 people out of 1,000 were able to make it to the New York Stock Exchange for work; Wall Street was forced to close for three straight days. There were also several instances of people collapsing in snow drifts and dying, including Senator Roscoe Conkling, New York’s Republican Party leader.
Many New Yorkers camped out in hotel lobbies waiting for the worst of the blizzard to pass. Mark Twain was in New York at the time and was stranded at his hotel for several days. P.T. Barnum entertained some of the stranded at Madison Square Garden. The East River, running between Manhattan and Queens, froze over, an extremely rare occurrence. This inspired some brave souls to cross the river on foot, which proved a terrible mistake when the tides changed and broke up the ice, stranding the adventurers on ice floes. Overall, about 200 people were killed by the blizzard in New York City alone.
But New York was not the only area to suffer. Along the Atlantic coast, hundreds of boats were sunk in the high winds and heavy waves. The snowfall totals north of New York City were historic: Keene, New Hampshire, received 36 inches; New Haven, Connecticut, got 45 inches; and Troy, New York, was hit by 55 inches of snow over 3 days. In addition, thousands of wild and farm animals froze to death in the blizzard.
In the wake of the storm, officials realized the dangers of above-ground telegraph, water and gas lines and moved them below ground. In New York City, a similar determination was made about the trains, and within 10 years, construction began on an underground subway system that is still in use today.
THE mood on Wall Street was glum; only 2,000 shares changed hands that Tuesday. Retail sales took a beating; a B. Altman's store saw only one costumer all day. Food prices soared; milk went from 2 cents to more than 10 cents a quart within three days.
Though the ingredients of a modern-day disaster, those incidents on Long Island 100 years ago were the least of worries when the blizzard of 1888 overwhelmed the Northeast with as much as four feet of snow and with winds up to 90 miles per hour. Long Island was hit hard, with several areas recording more than 30 inches.
The storm lasted about 72 hours, starting Sunday night, March 11, and about 400 deaths were attributed to it. The storm knocked out telephone and telegraph lines, paralyzed trains and other transportation and left many people stranded in their homes, without food or daily wages.
The blizzard's tale, retold with pictures, words and artifacts by two exhibitions and by two commemorative books, is of an era caught in vulnerable transition: industrialized enough to concentrate millions of people in relatively small areas in the Northeast, but not advanced enough to predict a major storm or cope with it when it arrived.
The result was an urban trap, sprung when the supply and communication systems broke down under the weight of a massive snowfall.
The Queens Historical Society, in Flushing at 143-35 37th Avenue, is displaying photographs of the blizzard's aftermath as well as clothing from the era and weather maps. The exhibition, which will be open through March 13, includes photographs and information about Long Island.
''In 1888 Nassau County did not exist,'' said Jeffery Kroessler, curator of the exhibition, explaining the show's Long Island features. ''Villages like Hempstead, Flushing and Jamaica had a lot more in common with each other than with cities like New York and Brooklyn.''
An exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, opens Friday, featuring photographs of Manhattan after the blizzard and weather maps, as well as almanacs, diaries and family albums.
Hoping to produce the definitive account, Judd Caplovich, an antiques dealer in Vernon, Conn., wrote ''Blizzard! The Great Storm of '88.''
''Long Islanders knew the snow's fury late Sunday night,'' the book says, asserting that the storm was the worst on Long Island since 1719. ''By the time residents of Huntington, N.Y., got up Monday morning, about 10 inches were on the ground.''
Many residents in remote areas of eastern Long Island were cut off from the outside world.
''Main Street in Huntington was filled up for 10 or 15 feet,'' wrote an 11-year-old farm girl from West Neck, as cited in the book. ''It was piled so high that all the principle stores on the north side of Main Street moved all their goods to the second floor at the least sign of rain.''
Even a major crisis, though, did not keep the girl from forgetting her main concern. ''We do not expect to get to school until the last of the week and maybe not then,'' she wrote.
''Blizzard! The Great Storm of '88'' includes illustrations of the storm, facimiles of newspaper headlines announcing its arrival and photographs of people during its aftermath.
Some of the photographs depict walkways tunneled through giant drifts. Others show men wearing the stoic expressions of 19th-century poses, but standing, comically, on enormous mounds of snow.
Mr. Caplovich also recounts the meteorology of the day, chronicles the blizzard's stages and explains the plight of its victims.
An apparent conviction of the time, that a shot of whisky fortified one against the cold, sent scores of drunken men stumbling into snowbanks. According to a New York Herald report cited in the book, ''Drunken men and men who were simply tired by long and severe struggles in the drifts were stumbled over in every neighborhood.''
One man, discovering a hard body buried in the snow, ran to a nearby saloon for help. After a frantic dig, the rescue party unearthed a wooden cigar-store Indian that had been toppled by the storm.
The great question during the blizzard's aftermath was how to get rid of all the snow. Street shovelers suddenly commanded high wages, sometimes as much as 10 times their normal $1-a-day wage.
A few New Yorkers had a novel solution: burn the stuff. They set fire to wood and kerosene-soaked rags in chambers burrowed at the base of snow drifts. But skeptics found their doubts justified. The melted snow flooded the streets, froze and formed sheets of ice.
Bad weather shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, but according to Mr. Kroessler, a giant slab of ice, wedged in the East River, provided crossing for about 3,000 determined travelers. When the slab broke away, several people were rescued before they rode it to the Atlantic Ocean, he said.
With the Long Island Rail Road's tracks blocked with snow, mail for the area was routed to New London, Conn., and ferried across Long Island Sound, with small amounts arriving in Greenport about a week after the storm.
Some of the Northeast's train locomotives, the very symbol of the era's power and prosperity, were not ready to acquiesce to the storm. Describing a locomotive that attempted to plow its way through a snow drift, The Danbury Evening News of Danbury, Conn., said: ''The cowcatcher strikes the drift, sending showers of pieces 50 feet in the air.'' Caught in the drift, the locomotive ''makes one or two spasmodic efforts to go forward, but the drivers slipping on the rail refuse to budge an inch. Then the lever is reversed, but still the monster cannot be stirred.''
For those who lived through it, memories of the 1888 blizzard remained so important that, in 1929, a group of survivors formed the Blizzard Men and Ladies, which lasted until the 1960's.
A poem by Alice Sayer about the blizzard was presented at the group's annual meeting in 1963. It says, in part: The storm ne'er ceased for three whole days The clouds hid all the sun's bright rays No trains could run, all wires down No contacts made with any town.
I hope tonight's storm isn't like the 1888 one!!