THE BLIZZARD OF '88 by Mary Cable


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For the centennial of the classic blizzard, Cable (Top Drawer, Lost New Orleans, etc.) offers a vivid re-creation that's as much social history as it is storm-swept human drama. On March 12, 1888, a monster low-pressure system packing ferocious winds and bitter cold dumped about two feet of snow on the eastern US, downing intercity communications, stranding hundreds of trains, and killing nearly 300 on land and 100 at sea. To Cable, the storm's toll was psychic as well as physical, striking a heavy blow against a body politic complacent with peace at home and aboard and heady with technological achievement (telegraphs, cameras, trolleys, anesthesia): ""The Blizzard of '88 swept down on a self-satisfied society and showed it what anarchy might look like."" Focusing on N.Y.C. and drawing on impressive research (mostly from 1200 ""letters of reminiscence""), she chronicles Saturday-Wednesday, March 10-14, relating the always curious, sometimes moving stories of scores of victims and survivors, including: 18-year-old May Morrow; whose four-mile walk home from work turned into a battle of her will-to-life vs. the cold; the young man racing back and forth in terror on an i_ce floe drifting down the East River and out to sea; wealthy George Baremore, frozen to death clutching his gold watch and chain; and Teddy Roosevelt, who bullied his way through the storm for miles on foot to keep an appointment (the other party didn't show). For nearly all, the storm was an ill wind whistling up a stark truth: ""the striking contrast between its [N.Y.C.'s] seeming strength and its real fragility""; yet what's striking about Cable's account are the high spirits, courage, and kindness commonly evinced in front of that fragility--epitomized by the man who walked 80 blocks into the teeth of the storm to see a lost girl home. Lacking the backbone of a core character--people drift in and out of focus like figures in a. . .blizzard--and thin on meteorological background, Cable's account still engages through its deft blend of human interest and social history.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum