If there’s one thing New Yorkers like to tweak about, it’s snow. We eat adverse commuting conditions for breakfast, but you put a little frozen water on the ground and the general population swoons like a Tennessee Williams character. Where are my boots! The crosscountry skis! One of these stupid things! I mean, it’s just snow, guys. And these days we don’t really seem to get too much of it. At least not like we did that one time back in 1888, friends. Now that was a snowstorm to remember. Cue the music.Nicknamed “The Great White Hurricane,” 400 New Yorkers actually died during this freak blizzard which occurred on March 12th of that year. There was an average of five feet of snow dumped on Gotham, with drifts reportedly reaching from fifteen to thirty feet deep downtown. Bear in mind, this was during a time when you took a cab it was powered by an actual horse. As was the style of the time, the local rags floridly waxed poetic on the general state of chaos on the ground and I found some fantastically written excerpts of period journalism. Here’s one from the venerable New York Sun, which ran the story the day after as, “BLIZZARD WAS KING. The Metropolis Helpless Under Snow.”
It was as if New York had been a burning candle upon which nature had clapped a snuffer, leaving nothing of the city’s activity but a struggling ember… At a quarter past 6 o’clock, when the extremely modified sunlight forced its way to earth, the scene in the two great cities that the bridge unites was remarkable beyond any winter sight remembered by the people. The streets were blocked with snowdrifts. The car tracks were hid, horse cars were not in the range of possibilities, a wind of wild velocity howled between the rows of houses, the air was burdened with soft, wet, clinging snow, only here and there was a wagon to be seen, only here and there a feebly moving man.It’s a shame papers no longer write like this, am I right? As vivid as a pulp novel. Listen to what happened next:
As the hours went on and noon drew nigh the storm lost none of its severity. Dusk came and then darkness, and the wonderful visitation was still in progress. Still the streets were banked high with rifts of snow, still the wind roared and howled and bellowed and flung itself against the city’s walls, still the horse cars were cut off their tracks and the pillared roads were idle, still the wagons were few, the women were obliterated from the outdoor scenes, the pelting snow and sleet blinded men’s eyes, the cold wind numbed man and beast, the uproar of wild voices continued.The streets were littered with blown-down signs, tops of fancy lamps, and all the wreck and debris of projections, ornaments, and movables. Everywhere horse cars were lying on their sides; entrenched in deep snow, lying across the tracks, jammed together and in every conceivable position. The city’s surface was like a wreck-strewn battle field.That sounds hellish, and they didn’t even have Gore-Tex at the time. So later on today when someone inevitably says “damn this weather we’re having lately!” be sure to endear yourself to them by professorially educating them in stentorian tones about a real snow storm: the Blizzard of 1888.