Legendary 1888 Blizzard Killed Hundreds, Paralyzed East Coast

Associated Press

The Blizzard of 1888 that struck the East Coast began on March 11 as a soft, gentle rain. But it quickly turned to heavy snow, accompanied by wind gusts up to 80 m.p.h. and temperatures that dropped to near zero, weather officials say.

Three days later, 400 people were dead, damage was estimated at $20 million and snowdrifts reached to the tops of houses from New York to New England.

Accumulations included 50 inches in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; 48 inches in Bennington, Vt., and 45 inches in New Haven, Conn. New York City received only 22 inches--but that was enough to paralyze the city.

Elevated trains stalled for hours as a result of that storm, and most horse-drawn street cars were abandoned. The drivers of those that were operating charged as much as $50 a ride. Some people who refused to pay walked--and were found dead in snowbanks days later.

Hotels filled up and rented space in their closets, stairwells and on top of pool tables. Hundreds of trains were stuck, and passengers had to scrounge for food. In Lewes, Del., 25 ships were hurled across the harbor by gale-force winds, and two sank.

The storm helped persuade New York and other cities to replace their elevated trains with subways and to bury utility wires.

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