marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

The Blizzard of '88

The Blizzard of '88 by Mary Cable

That's 1888.

Actually, there were several that year in the Midwest, but the Blizzard of '88 was the one that walloped the East Coast.  Its center hit Connecticut, but it walloped everywhere from Boston to Philadelphia with the characteristics that mark out a true blizzard from a mere snowstorm:  heavy snow, high winds, steep temperature drop.

It produced an enormous impact, partly because it smashed through all the technology and progress and made everything wretched.

This book is structured about the four days, Sunday when it started to strike, to Wednesday where they started to clear up, and concentrates heavily on New York City but does cover other areas. 

Such as at sea, where many sailors died.  One poor reporter, prone to sea sickness, had been sent out to report on New York's pilots when it hit.  Newport reported that there had never been such whitecaps  One ship had all its hands abandon ship and floated about the sea for months, a menace to shipping, until it finally crashed in the Hebrides.  Others sank.

But New York City has plenty of incidents.  The mayor had gotten Sunday licensing through the legislature by strictly enforcing the law against the saloons that had paid off the police, resulting in an uproar in the Irish and German wards, which meant that those returning home Sunday night were the first to learn of the storm.  Two Germans had to carry their lady friends, which rapidly ceased to be fun.

The next day the trains were frequently frozen in place, trapping people for days.  One woman took up an offer of a climb down a ladder for fifteen cents, but most of the women on that train turned it down.  (The trains were at that point on tracks raised above ground.  This blizzard inspired talk of putting them underground -- and did effect getting the utility lines there, after all the havoc they and their poles caused.) 

The authorities took care with their new bridge not to overload it, but the ferries kept running -- despite the white caps on the Hudson -- though ice floes managed to stop them when big enough. 

An astounding number of people went to work.  Sometimes because they could be fined if late and fired if absent.  One shopboy showed up at a store and was sent home; for once, his fellows got their full wages for the week, but he got a promotion.

Theodore Roosevelt tromped blocks through the snow and was very annoyed that the man he made an appointment with did not show. 

One boy who had learned about Eskimos in school managed to piece together snowshoes; his intention was to get milk, but when he found he could deliver milk (condensed) and medicine, he stuck to such work and made a fair pile of money.

Milk was a big problem.  Though it tended to be tainted and you had to boil it, you still needed it.  Of course, there were no deliveries. 

Farms managed better, having more food stored.  But they sometimes had an interesting time getting to the barn to tend the animals.  One farmer found his calves alive but up to their necks in snow.  Two small boys managed to get lost in the snow between their parents' and their grandparents' though in clear weather you could see one from the other.  They were found and marvelously enough revived, but many others were not so lucky.

The storm proceeded to frisk across the Atlantic to hammer Great Britain and then Germany, both of which claimed to be the origin of the word "blizzard" to American annoyance.

An interesting book, full of tales of the personal impact of the storm on many people.
Tags: history reviews: 19th century-wwi

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