I have spent the day shoveling out a driveway that seems to grow magically in length in direct proportion to the amount of snow covering it, which, of course, being a Nerdy History Girl, made me wonder how snow was cleared away from streets in the days before plows.
The Great Blizzard of 1888 deposited as much as 60 inches of snow over New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts over a four-day span in March. Single-digit temperatures and high winds contributed to the misery, with fifty-foot
drifts reported. Telegraph and telephone lines were knocked down, train lines were halted, ships were wrecked and grounded up and down the coast, and more than 400 people perished from the storm's cold. Many people were trapped in their homes for over a week. Modern weather reporters love to speak of how snow storms leave a city "paralyzed"; in 1888, New York really was stopped cold in its snowy tracks.
How did they clear all that snow away? In much the same way that I've been clearing my driveway. As these pictures show, snow was slowly and laboriously shoveled by hand into horse-drawn carts. The carts were then driven to the river, and one by one emptied into the rivers. It must have been back-breaking work, and in the wind and freezing temperatures, an exhausting challenge to both the men and the horses.
Top left: The Snow-Storm - Carting snow from the Streets of New York, by Stanley Fox, 1888. Right & lower left: Photographs following Blizzard of 1888 by E.A.Austen. All images from New York Public Library.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.