This winter wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance against Blizzard of 1888

The century-ago snowstorm was dubbed 'The Great White Hurricane'
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My neighbor Charlie’s snowman is struggling to stay above ground.

Like most everyone else, I have winter fatigue. I’m sick of shoveling, sick of running with Vaseline on my face to protect against the wind and cold, sick of school closings and delays.

As Valentine’s Day beckoned, I worried what the biggest snowstorm of the season would do to my long-time client Royer’s Flowers, for whom this holiday is akin to football’s Super Bowl.

But throughout the week, my mind also wrestled with a much larger storm that tormented the East Coast more than a century ago.

It began with an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” by Boston Globe editor Doug Most, whose latest book is “The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America’s First Subway.”

I’m a native New Englander who still lives and dies with the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox, so naturally I’m drawn to any rivalry between Beantown and the Big Apple.

‘We need to fix this’

But what really struck me was what Most said about one of the factors that convinced New Yorkers that the future of mass transportation lay underground: The Blizzard of 1888.

Now that was a snowstorm. It has been dubbed “The Great White Hurricane.” Imagine the cool graphic that TV news would have come up with for that blizzard.

Until 1888, Most said, “The underground was seen as a place you just don’t go unless you’re dead.”

Then the storm hit, March 11-14. The peak snowfall was 58 inches in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. More than 400 people died, half of them in New York City, most of them buried in snowdrifts along city sidewalks. Trains wrecked and telegraph lines fell.

“When the Blizzard of 1888 happened, that sort of was a trigger for cities to sort of decide, we need to fix this because the entire Northeast was crippled and they could not move around,” Most said.

You can see the interview here:

My first introduction to the 1888 storm came a number of years ago, when I picked up a copy of a children’s book for my son. “City of Snow: The Great Blizzard of 1888” was written by Lancaster County’s Linda Oatman High.

I have many fond memories of reading that book to my now-teenaged son. I especially love the cadence of this excerpt:

“I leaped from my bed at daybreak,
and ran straight to look out my window.
What was below made my eyes ache:
The blinding white of a city of snow.

There were no roads,
no wagons hauling loads,
no ponies,
no paper,
no people,
no milk,
no meat,
no streets,
no trains on tracks,
no teams, no hacks,
no sidewalks, no paths,
no thing but snow.”

I re-read “City of Snow” for the first time in a long time while working on this post. And I’m eager to get my hands on Most’s book, “The Race Underground.”

I expect it to be a compelling read even though I know the outcome: In the race to build the first subway, Boston won.

By seven years.


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