Numerous of the Currier and Ives prints show
sleigh rides, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, and—in
general—the beauty of winter. Winter throughout the nineteenth
century was harsh, however. While deep snow and cold were terrible
enough in a rural area, a farmer at least expected to be self-sustaining
no matter what the weather. The rise of cities, on the other
hand, also meant a rise in dependency on conveniences such as
grocery and dry goods stores, public transportation, delivery
services, and electricity for survival. In the newly wired cities,
blizzards were devastating.
By the 1880s weather was monitored through 154
local weather stations that telegraphed information to the U.S
Army Signal Corps (the nineteenth-century equivalent of the
National Weather Service), which boasted that their forecast
was accurate eighty-two percent of the time (Murphy 3). In 1888,
however, the Corps dismissed as unnoteworthy two storm systems.
With winds up to seventy miles per hour, the colliding systems
slammed into New England (Murphy 70). Cities—especially
New York City—were particularly hard hit by the blizzard,
which halted all deliveries, including those of food, milk,
and fuel. Around 15,000 homeless children were without shelter
during the blizzard (Murphy 74). Workers were trapped in factories
or frozen on their way to jobs that they feared they would lose
if they did not show up. The fragile economy had led to lay-offs
of more than 100,000 workers that year (Murphy 36).
All businesses shut down for several days. With
drifts as high as second-story buildings, the streets were impassable.
Snow removal was up to individuals.
The city was draped in thousands of miles of live
wires. Toppled poles had carried from 100 to 200 wires each,
fifty to 150 feet in the air. Every separate electric, telephone,
burglar-alarm, and telegraph company, as well as the police
and fire departments, ran their own lines and had ignored laws
requiring that they be placed underground (Murphy 61).
The three-day blizzard cost businesses nearly
three million dollars and killed at least 800 people (Murphy