It wasn't the snow. It was the velocity. And the cold.
And the snow.
The official snowfall measuremenet for Hartford was a mere 19 inches, but that was taken at Trinity College, where the howling winds of the Blizzard of1888 were hurling the snow down to Broad Street. Unofficial, and probably more accurate, measurements for this city were 36. Middletown got 50 inches,Marlborough 48, New Hartford 42.
The wind, however, is what built the reputation of the storm. New Haven recorded winds of 60 mph, and in other parts of New England the maximumvelocities rode up past 70.
Like a child's hand in a sand box, the wind pushed the snow into drifts.There were city streets where the snow was scooped almost clean from one sideand piled two stories high on the other.
A drift in Cheshire stood 38 feet high.
The storm attacked the Northeast from March 11 to March 14, and it shutjust about everything down.
Death Takes No Snow Day
The storm was severe enough to kill people.
The blizzard-related toll was about 400 people, most of whom died becausethey went outdoors and got lost or were knocked over by the wind and swiftlycovered in snow.
Two women, Bridgeport factory workers, set out for home in the storm Mondaynight rather than compromising their reputations by sleeping in mixed companyat the factory.
They were found dead in each other's arms on Wednesday when the digging-outcommenced.
Roscoe Conkling Among The Victims
Roscoe Conkling was a former U.S. Senator from New York who had risen sohigh as to be mentioned prominently as presidential timber in 1876 and 1880.He was handsome and eloquent but also unbearably arrogrant and egostical.These latter qualities, possibly compounded by his flagrant adulterous affairwith Kate Chase Sprague (daughter of U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase andwife of a senator from Rhode Island) had caused his star to sag in theWashington heavens and led to his subsequent ouster from office.
Now a lawyer, Conkling worked all day at his Wall Street office on Mondayand then tried to walk home to his his hotel residence on Madison Square. Ayoung associate, William Sulzer, accompanied him as far as the Astor HouseHotel and tried to persuade Conkling to duck in there with him.
Conkling wouldn't hear of it and continued through the storm on a trek thatlasted three hours and saw him trapped, at one point, up to his shoulders in adrift. The 59-year-old, who boxed daily for exercise, collapsed in the lobbyof his hotel. He died five weeks later from complications arising fromexposure.
Adrift In A Miracle
For complicated logistical reasons nobody knew that Gurdon and LegrandChapell of Montville, aged 9 and 4, left their family's farmhouse on Mondayafternoon and tried to cross two fields and a pasture to their grandparents'house. The two got lost, took cover behind a stone wall and were covered withsnow.
Before he lost consciousness, Legrand heard his brother say, ``We'll neverget out of here. We will die, but I can't go and leave you alone, and Ican't carry you.''
The Chapell boys were found 22 hours later by searchers probing the driftswith bean poles. They were alive and lived to a ripe old age, beneficiaries ofthe igloo effect, the insulating quality of a snow cave.
Trains, Sleighs and Tugboats
So many trains were marooned between stations that the stories of strandedpassengers became almost a sub-genre of blizzard lore. In most cases theriders did not dare leave on foot, except for short forays to neighboringfarms to buy more food.
Virtually every train seemed to have on it a vaudeville group or operacompany willing to entertain. The Shore Line train from Boston to New Yorkgot stuck in Saybrook, but singers and dancers from the Ideal Opera Company,coupled with the presence of more whiskey than food, kept spirits up, at leastfor a while.
Some of the passengers spent both Monday and Tuesday nights on the Saybrooktrain. Two intrepid men set out from Providence intending to rescue,respectively, a sweetheart and a sister. In fur hats and fur coats, theyarrived on foot at the train on Wednesday morning, having used a successionof boats, trains, sleighs and, finally, a chartered tugboat to get there.Twenty passengers left with them, crossing a treacherous trestle on foot inthe wind.
The Sad, the Silly and the Surreal
Cities were harder hit, because they depended on daily supplies of food andcoal. In rural areas, people tended to keep what they needed on hand. In NewYork, there were wrenching stories of shivering children seeking coal and ofheartlesss profiteers raising the price per bucket from 10 cents to a dollar.
Happier souls put up amusing signs in city locations that were buried insnow. A favorite from New York: ``Do You Get My Drift?''
Three reporters from the Providence Journal set out to find the Saybrooktrain. They wound up stuck in Lyme where the only food they could buy was(oddly) oranges, where the stolid Lymites seemed unaware that the storm wasthe stuff of history, and where the stranded W.C. Turner Comedy Companyproduced a very real rifle and began ``blazing away at gulls'' to pass thetime. Pure Fellini.
MT and PT
In a letter to home from New York, Samuel Clemens complained of being stuckin the Murray Hill Hotel, ``out of wife, out of children, out of line, andout of cigars, out of every blamed thing in the world that I've any use for.''
P.T. Barnum's circus was also in town, and Barnum seems to have spent atleast some of his time at the Murray Hill Hotel too. There's a Merchant-Ivorymovie in there somewhere.
Courant's Presses Roll
The Courant was the only paper in Hartford to publish without interruption.Route carriers were offered double their usual pay, and newsboys actuallyscalped the paper. They usually bought it for 2 CENTS and sold it for 3 CENTS,but on Tuesday morning they got anywhere from 5 CENTS to 50 CENTS fromHartfordites hungry for news of the blizzard.
Whitman springs a goof
Walt Whitman was the staff poet (that's right) for the New York Herald,but Accu-Walt got it wrong.
He ran a poem touting dandelions in Monday's edition: ``The spring's firstdandelion shows its trustful face.''
The paper ran somebody's parody the next day.
It was a time when telephones, steam-heated buildings and electric lightswere coming in.
Somehow the blizzard made all that stuff look tenuous.
``It is the boasting and progressive Nineteenth Century that is paralyzed,while the slowgoing Eighteenth would have taken such an experience without aruffle,'' said a Courant editorial.
``Blizzard! The Great Storm of '88,'' by Judd Caplovich, 1987, VeRo
``The Blizzard of '88,'' by Mary Cable, 1988, Atheneum.
``Older Than the Nation,'' by J. Bard McNulty, 1964, Pequot.
Originally published March 16, 1888.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun