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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Blizzard of 1888

The above photo (in public domain), is of Grand Street in New Britain, Connecticut in the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1888. During the blizzard, one of the worst nor’easters to ever affect New England, a person couldn’t see the hand in front of his face. Many died walking only feet away from shelter, becoming disoriented in the storm. It was called The Great White Hurricane.

The photo was a stereopticon picture published by F. W. Allderige of New Britain. It is not the only lasting souvenir. Shocked by how Boston was incapacitated by the storm, as were so many other cities, plans were set into motion to create that city’s, and this nation’s first, subway.

The storm barreled up through New Jersey and New York, its origins on March 11th, and the worst of it would last some three days. Many people were trapped in their homes, or at work, or on the train for a solid week. People burned whatever they could to keep warm, and ate whatever they could find. Four hundred people died, at least half that in New York. About four feet of snow fell in New England, and the drifts were measured up to 40 feet high. Winds of 54mph were reported at Block Island.

The rural parts of New England fared a bit better than the cities, where people on farms were more apt to make do on what they put by. City people reliant on infrastrure, as well as on jobs in stores and factories, went hungry quickly when their work places closed. Food supplies ran low in Springfield, Boston, Worcester. Most people heated their homes with coal, and that ran low, too. Trains were stuck, and couldn’t bring in more.

When it was time to dig out and clean up, the snow was dug out by hand and hauled away on horse-drawn sledges. Slow work.

It was a deceptive storm from the first, as the days preceding it were springlike and warm with spring officially a little over a week away. When the storm did arrive, it came first in the form of rain. Then the bottom fell out of the thermometer, and Mother Nature let us know again, and she does often, that spring happens when she says so and not when the calendar does.


John Hayes said...

Interesting story-- I never knew the connection between this storm & the subway. Of course, the points about infrastructure are always relevant.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, John. I suppose a sophisticated infrastructure is a double-edged sword. It gives us a more comfortable life. In our dependence, we are at the mercy of it when it fails. Fair weather friends, indeed.

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