Friday, January 30, 2015

The Blizzard of 1888

A view of the lower State Street after the Blizzard of 1888. Merchant storefronts, including T. H. Reeves at 257 State Street and Myers the Jeweler at 271 State Street, are visible. Looking at the men standing in the lower left gives the viewer a sense of the height of the snow piles along the street. Image from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

This blog entry is written by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor. 

March 11, 1888 saw the beginning of an unexpected late winter storm that over the next three days dumped nearly 48 inches of snow on the Schenectady area. High winds whipped the snow into drifts 10-15 feet high. That storm, which has come down to us as The Blizzard of 1888, is the standard by which all subsequent snowstorms are measured. Newspapers from 1927 until as recently as 2009 proclaimed that the 1888 blizzard still ranks as the Biggest Storm.

Those of us who recall the Blizzard of 1958 also remember how the “old-timers” of those days told us story after story assuring us that 1888 was worse. Even today. Wikipedia lists the Blizzard of 1888 as “one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.”

Another view of lower State Street following the Blizzard of 1888. Looking at the man standing at lower right gives the viewer a sense of the height of the snow piles along the street. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

At first, Schenectadians thought they were experiencing an early spring storm. It wasn’t until late on March 12 that the strength of the storm became obvious. Gales of wind whipped the snow into drifts - blocking sidewalks, streets, railroad tracks, and stranding many people in their homes. This, at a time when snow removal consisted primarily of men with shovels. By March 13, snow was so deep that businesses and industry came to a standstill. Deliveries of staples, such as milk and coal, were extremely limited. Railway travel from Schenectady to Albany required four engines on a single train on the March 12, and then came to a halt completely.

A small crowd gathers in front of shops on Ferry Street following the Blizzard of 1888. Image from Larry Hart Collection.

The Schenectady Locomotive Works (which would later become the American Locomotive Company) suspended business and the snow continued to fall. Even funerals were postponed. According to legend, the body of a man who died in Rotterdam was placed on an unheated back porch until the roads re-opened. On March 14, the snow subsided, some businesses re-opened, and life gradually returned to normal, leaving memories and stories to be passed on for generations.

Many believed that Schenectady bore the brunt of the storm; however, the entire Northeast was affected. Partly as a result of the blizzard, officials in New York City decided that utilities and mass transport needed to be underground, leading to the creation of the New York City subway system.

Fortunately for residents of the “Great Northeast,” the methods of forecasting weather and removing snow have both greatly improved since the famous Blizzard of 1888.

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