The historic blizzard of 1888, that began 125 years ago today, was a monster snow storm that struck Massachusetts and the northeast with such ferocity, that it is worthy of looking back and remembering it today. As the blizzard’s first flakes started falling, peddler David Roberts hit the streets of Springfield, Mass., to sell his stow of pine knots to people needing to heat their homes. Perhaps the chilly winds and snow were exactly the reasons the he ventured out, figuring business would be brisk. Whatever the reason, David Roberts didn’t live to tell. He was the lone Springfield casualty of one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular rages - the blizzard of 1888, according to Masslive.com today.
The blizzard also had New York City in its path. Its catastrophic effects shaped public policy there for years to come, even being given credit for instigating the construction of the New York subway.
The City Journal reports the “Great Blizzard of 1888”, also known as the “Great White Hurricane”, descended on New York with, “the stealth of a sneak attack and the force of a bomb”.
The blizzard killed approximately 400 people throughout the northeast. The “New York World” called March 12, 1888, “probably the most memorable day known to the present generation”.
So memorable in fact, that survivors later created the “Society of Blizzard Men”, to mark anniversaries and share stories. The camaraderie generated by the snowstorm was likened to ship wreck and war survivors.
They were eventually joined by the “Blizzard Ladies”, and met regularly to recount stories and pen letters that remain on file today at the New York Historical Society.
In Springfield, the snow fell for more than 24 hours straight. When it finally ended, approximately four feet of snow lay on the ground, with drifts reaching from 15 to 20 feet. Though lucky to only suffer one fatality, there were other close calls.
A man reported as Edwin F. Leonard had noticed a hat in a snow bank. As he bent down to pick it up, he uncovered a little girl buried in the snow. Click here, or any of the links in this article to view incredible photos from the 1888 blizzard's attack on the northeast.
For years following the storm, “The Association of ‘88”, made up of guests who were staying at Springfield's Hotel Cooley during the storm, met annually just as the New York group did.
The storm, actually a succession of three storms hitting one after the other, completely shut down the northeast corridor. Springfield trolley cars lay frozen and abandoned in their tracks.
A passenger train stranded riders for two days after it ground to a halt near the Indian Orchard section of Springfield. Countless thousands spent days in factories and mills as they had no way to get home.
Telegraph boys wound lengths of wire around their waists so they’d be able to be yanked out of snowdrifts that towered above their heads. The tons of snow left behind were hauled from Springfield’s city streets using only “horse-drawn wagons and man-powered shovels”.
The “New York Times” wrote an editorial before the snow had even ceased. “Now, two things are tolerably certain - that a system of a really rapid transit which cannot be made inoperative by storms must be straightway devised and as speedily as possible constructed, and that all the electric wires - telegraph, telephone, fire alarms, and illuminating - must be put under ground without any delay”. These things were accomplished, when in 1904, the New York subway opened.