Where my research takes me: the Great Blizzard of 1888

by K.B. Owen ~ As a historical mystery author, it’s an absolute thrill to be able to use an interesting tidbit discovered during my research. When I read about the Great Blizzard of 1888, I knew it had potential to add a fun snowbound-thriller element to the mystery I was writing, THE CASE OF THE RELUCTANT WITNESS. (More on my new release at the end).

the Blizzard of 1888

“Wreck at Coleman’s Station, NY & Harlem RR,” March 13, 1888, nyamcenterforhistory.org

They had no warning.

The late 19th century had no doppler radar or satellite imagery…just the Farmer’s Almanac and Granny’s trick knee. Actually, I’m exaggerating, a little…the U.S. Signal Service (pre-cursor to our National Weather Service) noted the approaching storm from the south but predicted it would either dissipate or head out to sea. However, a cold front from Canada had other plans.

The days leading up to the mid-March storm had been unseasonably mild, so when a foot of snow fell overnight Sunday evening into Monday morning and gale-force winds were blowing, no one thought it would last. People went out (workers would have their pay docked otherwise, storm or no storm, if they didn’t show up), buses and trains started their runs, businesses opened—only for it all to be shut down almost right away. Vehicles—even the trains—got stuck, unable to go forward or backward amid deep drifts (some reached as high as fifteen feet). People were stranded at schools, factories, train stations, and took shelter in hotels and strangers’ houses. Mark Twain, in New York City at the time, was stuck at his hotel for several days.

Completely cut off.

When the telegraph lines in New York City went down, the immobilized city was cut off from the rest of the world for the first time in modern memory. Newspapers weren’t getting out, and people were desperate for news. Wall Street closed. Roofs caved in from the weight of the snow and the stress of the wind (William Steinway’s piano key-making factory was one of them). There was fear of fire from downed/ruptured electrical/gas lines, and city officials struggled to keep the fire hydrants clear. And New York City is only the most prominent example…many other cities, towns, boroughs, and farms, up and down the east coast, were similarly affected.

Supply shortages.

What made the timing even worse for people was that the storm struck on a Sunday night. Grocers and other stores were closed on Sundays, so Monday was the usual day when people would stock up on food for the week. Milkmen, butchers, grocers, and coalmen couldn’t deliver, even if they had the supplies themselves. It was a struggle to get the basic necessities.

I wish I had room to include many of the interesting stories culled from newspapers of the time! Here’s an infographic I put together to give you an overview.

the Blizzard of 1888

infographic created by KB Owen

If you’d like to learn more, start with the Smithsonian Institute’s blog post.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

~Kathy


The Case of the Reluctant Witness, The Sixth Chronicle of a Lady Detective

Pen’s toughest case yet…

When all the world’s a stage, and a murderer waits in the wings…

Fleeing her mother’s attempt at matchmaking, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton Wynch travels to a Connecticut hotel for a straightforward assignment: escort her sister-in-law Flora to New York, where she is to serve as a witness in a counterfeiting case. But Flora—an understudy player in a production riddled with strange accidents—is poised to assume the lead role and refuses to leave town.

Coaxing a reluctant witness is the least of Pen’s worries after a knife-wielding intruder breaks into Flora’s suite in the dead of night. Pen thwarts the attack—at the cost of her second-best shirtwaist, no less—but the man escapes. Are the counterfeiters trying to silence Flora? The lady in question remains stubbornly uncooperative.

With more questions than answers, and the growing suspicion that someone in the hotel—possibly in the acting company—is working against them, Pen turns to her trusty lockpicks and derringer, along with her good friend Cassie, in a search for answers.

But probing secrets comes with a price…and the acting life can be just as hazardous as detecting.

Available at:  Amazon ~ Apple ~ BN ~ Kobo


Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. In addition to her Concordia Wells mystery series, Kathy writes the Chronicles of a Lady Detective about a lady Pinkerton agent.

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