New York Times Publishes Chilling Archive of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane

Storm of 1900 statue on the Galveston Seawall after Hurricane Ike hit in 2008.
Storm of 1900 statue on the Galveston Seawall after Hurricane Ike hit in 2008.
Photo by Jeff Balke

Very few, if any, buildings escaped injury. There is hardly a habitable, dry house in the city. When the people who had escaped death went out at daylight to view the work of the tempest and the floods they saw the most horrible sights imaginable. In the three blocks from Avenue N to Avenue P, in Tremont Street, I saw eight bodies. Four corpses were in one yard.

The whole of the business front for three blocks in from the Gulf was stripped of every vestige of habitation, the dwellings, the great bathing establishments, the Olympia, and every other structure having been either carried out to sea or its ruins piled in a pyramid far into the town, according to the vagaries of the tempest.

That is an excerpt from "The Wrecking of Galveston," a story that appeared in the New York Times right after the great 1900 hurricane that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people on the island. The quotes above are from newsman Richard Spillane, who was sent to Houston immediately following the storm to report on it and ask for assistance from the outside world.

The story is part of a series of archived texts taken from the pages of the Times that year, and they tell the tale of one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the United States.

Titles like, "A Survivor's Awful Story," "Bodies Cast Into the Gulf" and "Despair in Galveston Gives Place to Hope" are part of 47 articles, some scanned and converted to digital PDF documents, in the collection.

It tells in dramatic detail the accounts of survivors in the wake of the storm that nearly destroyed Galveston Island and altered how people viewed hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. In one story, survivor Patrick Joyce told a harrowing tale of survival floating among debris all night before reaching the mainland:

I managed to find a raft of driftwood or wreckage, and got on it, going with the tide, I knew not where. I had not drifted far before I was struck with some wreckage and my niece was knocked out of my arms. I could not save her, and had to see her drown.

It is a fascinating and terrifying look inside the aftermath of the storm, as told in the colorful language of the turn of the 20th century. For anyone who has had to experience a hurricane or has lived in Houston for any length of time, it is worth digging through the stories which include not just the pieces from 1900 but articles about the storm beginning in 1977. It is a startling reminder of how destructive hurricanes can be, particularly as we sit in the middle of the peak of hurricane season.


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