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1888 One Hundred Years Ago

April 2023
1min read

The Great Blizzard buried New York City under snow on March 12. Harper’s Weekly reported: “The snow was fine and dry and copious, and was driven by gales from the west and north. The city had known higher winds and snowfalls as heavy, but never a combination which was so furious. At four o’clock in the morning the snow came so fast that five minutes sufficed to obliterate the footprints of a man or a horse in the streets. Car after car became stalled on the surface roads. At sunrise the city was snowed under…. Those who would open their front door in the morning without admitting a snowdrift of respectable size, poked their heads out for a moment and let their business run itself.”

In all, some four hundred persons succumbed to the storm, among them the former senator Roscoe Conkling. Walking from Wall Street to the New York Club at Twenty-fifth Street, the athletic Conkling sank into a snowdrift at Union Square. Though exhausted and nearly blinded, he eventually freed himself. Conkling never fully recovered from the strain of the exertion, however, and he died a month later.

Hundred-mile-an-hour winds destroyed nearly two hundred ships, but among the vessels that managed to struggle safely to New York Harbor was one carrying H. N. Davidsohn, the grandfather of this magazine’s senior editor Carla Davidson. He had just arrived from Eastern Europe and, stepping ashore in the blinding murk of what he concluded was his new home’s usual climate, he glumly decided he might as well have emigrated to Siberia.

Secretary of State Charles F. Bayard and the Chinese minister signed a treaty on March 12 agreeing to bar Chinese laborers from the United States for the next twenty years. In return, the Chinese government received $276,619 to compensate for the deaths of Chinese immigrants in anticoolie riots in the West.

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