The “Great White Hurricane” changes New York

Think it’s unlikely that a late-winter blizzard will strike this month? That’s what New Yorkers assumed in early March 1888, when the city was also treated to unseasonably warm weather in the 50s.

Then on March 11, heavy rains fell. As the day turned to night, temperatures plunged, rain turned to snow, and fierce winds gripped the city.

The snow continued for 36 hours. By the time it was over, more than 20 inches buried New York. Trains had stopped running.

Telegraph and telephone wires snapped, and the city was paralyzed for days. More than 200 deaths are attributed to the Great White Hurricane.

But the terrible storm taught the city a few things. First, it showed officials that an underground transportation system was absolutely necessary, one that wouldn’t be brought down in a storm. It set in motion the creation of the New York City subway.

Second, the blizzard permanently cleared the city of the mish-mash of telephone and telegraph cables that marred so many streets. They were moved underground.

[Top photo: the snow weighs down telephone and telegraph wires. Middle, a street car stuck in the snow at Ninth Street and University Place; bottom: Park Place in Brooklyn, snowed in]

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6 Responses to “The “Great White Hurricane” changes New York”

  1. The Edmonton Tourist Says:

    That first picture with the phone cables is crazy!! Loved this story!

  2. Lyn Says:

    Photos and stories about this blizzard just never get old! Thanks for posting

  3. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    According to the late Edward Robb Ellis, more people were killed by the wind and the accompanying debris that flew around than from the cold–although more than a few unfortunates did freeze to death. Also, General William Tecumseh (“War is all Hell”) Sherman was in town and was stuck in his hotel room for days. Ellis’ section on the “Blizzard of ’88” in his “The Epic of New York City” is priceless.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool info, thanks! A once-famous New York politician named Roscoe Conkling also died as a result of the blizzard; he fell into a snow drift. Here’s his story:

    http://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/forgotten-new-york-politicians-roscoe-conkling/

  5. Winters so cold, the East River froze over | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] After the Blizzard of 1888, an ice floe stretched from the shores of Brooklyn to Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge. […]

  6. Chronicling a city “shrouded and mute in snow” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York’s surprise blizzard of 1888 had set upon the city. Before the 60 mile-per-hour winds and blinding snow ended on Tuesday, 20 inches would blanket the metropolis, paralyzing the city for days and killing about 200 people. […]

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