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The Great Blizzard of 1888

This year is the 125th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreck havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888.  Its memory was again conjured up a few months ago as people struggled to compare Hurricane Sandy with some devastating event in New York’s past. And indeed, the Blizzard and Sandy have several disturbing similarities.  But the battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with freezing temperatures and drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York’s transportation and communication systems, all unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow and wind. The storm struck in the early hours of Monday, and so thousands were attempting to make their way to work. It would be the worst commute in New York City history!  Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts. Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours.  Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling, a power broker of New York’s Republican Party.

But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances, and for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!

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