The Great Blizzard of 1888 Hits the Northeast:
March 11–14, 1888

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During the night of March 11–12, 1888, heavy rain falling across the northeastern United States turned into snow, heralding the start of a blizzard that would kill hundreds of people and cut off major hubs like New York City from the rest of the country for days.4.

Great Blizzard of 1888The weather had been warm and mild leading up to the blizzard, but a cold, snowy storm moving in from the Great Lakes region collided with a warm, wet storm moving up from the south, creating a blizzard that not only dumped 20–60 inches of snow but was also accompanied by hurricane-force winds and below-freezing temperatures.

The blizzard was at its worst on the 12th and 13th. The wind blew so hard that snow accumulated in drifts sometimes dozens of feet high. Trains were unable to run for days, telegraph lines were knocked down across the northeast, and hundreds of boats along the coast were sunk or beached. Due to the cold temperatures and whiteout conditions, people froze to death in the streets and livestock died in the fields.

On the 13th, while New York City was still in the grips of the blizzard, the New York Tribune described the previous day of the storm:

“The forcible if not elegant vocabulary of pugilism supplied the phrases which will, perhaps, best reveal to the popular imagination the effect of the storm that visited New York yesterday. New York was simply ‘knocked out,’ ‘paralyzed,’ and reduced to a condition of suspended animation. Traffic was practically stopped, and business abandoned. […] Chaos reigned, and the proud, boastful metropolis was reduced to the condition of a primitive settlement.”

The storm had mostly dissipated by the 14th, but the cleanup was only beginning. Mountains of snow had to be cleared from the roads and train tracks, communications lines had to be repaired, and debris blown around during the storm had to be removed. To make matters worse, when the weather warmed back up, flooding from the snowmelt occurred in some places.

The consequences of the storm made a big impression on local officials, and as a result, major cities like New York began moving their trains and communication lines underground.

Do you have any family stories about the Great Blizzard of 1888? Share them with us! Or find more articles about the storm on Newspapers.com.

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51 thoughts on “The Great Blizzard of 1888 Hits the Northeast:
March 11–14, 1888

  1. Western Kansas also had a blizzard in 1888. My Great grandparents were trapped in their “dug-out” at a tiny German village called Windhorst, Kansas with their children and a set of twins that were born in the flea infested home. The twins died and the family later moved to Haviland, Kansas to homestead and became farmers. AThis was the family story that my Grandmother told every snowy winter.

    • How traumatizing that must have been. Life was hard then, with lots of death from disease and poor conditions. I hope your great grandparents ended their days at peace surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

    • My grandmother was 9 or 10 and living in Nebraska. She had taken the wagon into town and the storm came up on her way home. She couldn’t tell where she was and the snow was piling up so she just let the horses have their heads. They took her to the family’s barn where her father had tied a rope from the barn to the house.

    • I’m still researching my Swedish grandparents who would have just arrived in Pittsburg KS or Lincoln NE 1887-1890. Your story is heartbreaking but maybe all too common then. We owe them so much!

  2. I believe that this blizzard was also called the ‘Childrens’ Blizzard’, because so many school children in the areas of the blizzard were released from school either at the normal times or early owing to the storm, and many kids died/froze to death as they were caught up in the tremendous storm. When schools got out, the weather looked OK, but the blizzard came up so fast and deadly… Or, am I confusing this blizzard with another that was called the ‘Childrens’ Blizzard’?

    • The Children’s Blizzard occuurred in the Midwest in January of that same year.

    • If you have not read it, I would highly recommend the book “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin. It’s a heartbreaking story of the 1888 blizzard and how it affected unprepared immigrant families across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

  3. My Grandmother was born in February of 1888 in Minneapolis Minnesota. She always talked about the great blizzard that occurred the month after she was born..

  4. My grandma was a five month old in Philadelphia, Pa. I have no family stories and thank you for what you do.

    • My grandparents were 6 at the time (also In Philly). They would talk about the blizzard of 88 whenever we had a heavy snow storm.

  5. In my youth, a woman who lived across the street from me (Luella) often told me how horrible the blizzard of “88” was. She passed in 1954. Since then I have been trying to find her obit and headstone to see her DOB and how old she actually was at the time, to be able to recall the storm in such detail. Finally, I located both bits of information…1870. My regret now, is failing to ask her if her parents ever talked to her about the assassination of President Lincoln and what her parents were doing when they learned of it, behaviors that continue mark the tragic events of our lifetime, as does the “blizzard of 1888”, Pearl Harbor, President Kennedy, etc.

    • There is a story handed down in my family by my mother’s great-grandmother, who worked in the Petersen’s house where Lincoln was taken after he was shot. While researching my family history and factual information on the story handed down in my family about my ancestor I came across a book about the Lincoln’s assassination and the Petersen House. A book written by Robert T. Bain a direct descendent of William and Anna Petersen, The book gives in detail what happened in the Petersen House during the last hour’s of Lincoln’s life. The name of the book”, Lincoln’s Last Battleground”, A tragic Night recalled. The book gives in detail the exact accounts of what went on in the house as I was told as a child which was hand down by my great-great-great grandmother’s. Her name was Betty in the Petersen house they called her “Bess” probably because of their German accent. We were also told Betty said that John Wikes Booth, was hiding in the woodshed, she saw him while hanging up clothes but could not tell anyone because she was black, he was white, she would have been killed for telling on a white person.

      • That is a very interesting story not only for your family but for everyone. I would love to see it as an important detail added to a documentary or movie about the Lincoln assassination. One of the many ways backwards thinking or ignorance added to the death of Lincoln.

      • Amazing story. I am so happy that you could get that impressive history from your family.Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I have part of the Booth family in my family tree, but not John Wilkes. That this was passed through the generations and is now in a book is amazing.

      • Fascinating story! How amazing to hear other stories like this that don’t make it out for all to hear. Thank you for sharing!

      • That is very interesting, I will have to look for that book. I also have never hear about a black person not being able to tell on a white person, no matter what they had done.

  6. My neighbor Mabel A Vacheron was born in June, 1883. She was in her eighties when she would tell me stories about the blizzard. Her family was living in Queens, NY, possibly Woodhaven, and she told me that the snow was so high it covered the fence in front of her house and they could not open the door. Her father hitched the horses and drove them right over the top of the fence into the yard and she went out the dining room windows to climb in. I loved her stories, she was an amazing person.

    • My grandmother and her identical twin sister were born on May 22, 1883, so were 5 1/2 or so when the blizzard hit. Alas, I never heard a word about the blizzard.

  7. I love these stories. Your articles are fascinating. Unalane Ablondi

  8. My great grandfather told a newspaper of his experience. He was 38 at the time and was in the millinery trade. His name was Charles Wesley Farmer. I have a copy of the article in my ancestry records.

  9. My great grandparents were among the first settlers of West Point, located along the Elkhorn river in North east Nebraska. The story of that devastating blizzard many times and it was always fascinating to hear it repeated. I have it in my genealogy records as one of the many wonderful stories handed down by Ferdinand and Katie Koch, They lived on land large enough to raise animals which returned to to the big outlying barn
    every night and were trapped there during the raging snowfall. Papa had to feed them somehow so he tied a very long rope around his middle and attached the other end to the railing of the railing of the big house, then proceeded to step out into the very deep snow bank hardly visible in the swirling snow continuing to allow blank visibility. In what what seemed hours, Papa returned safely after seeing to the animals who all survived . My grandmother was a little girl who took great pleasure in relating it to all her children, grandchildren and the “greats”. I have also carried it into my family’s lore, fascinating everyone.
    Thank you for printing the 1888 great blizzard story.

  10. My maternal grandparents were married in NYC on March 12, 1898. They all lived in the lower east side of Manhattan. My mother just said that they got caught in the blizzard. I don’t have any more details.

  11. My maternal grandfather was 11 years old and living in Utica, New York at the time of the Great Blizzard. He told me he took a sled and went out a second story window, the house was snowed in that deeply.

  12. My grandmother talked of this quite often.She lived in Danville PA, Montour County. She was six years old and said the snow was drifted and piled so high the family had to climb out the second floor windows to get out of the house.She was born in 1882 and this left an amazing impression on her the rest of her life.

  13. My grandfather was 6 years old when the blizzard hit New York City. His family lived on West 34th st. But a few weeks before the storm he and his father sailed back to Ireland so my 6 year old grandfather could meet his Irish relatives. While they were gone, my great grandmother and three other children were stuck in the city. When he and his father returned to NYC the heard all about the “Great Blizzard” My grandfather always regretted missing all that snow.

  14. My Grandfather, was a Railroad Engineer for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Line during this storm. In 1932, an article was written in the Companies’ magazine which featured an interview of him. He described the ordeal the Company had to endure with trains stopped due to high snow drifts and what he was doing at the time. I also found an article in the 1888 National Geographic Magazine also describing the storm.

  15. My maternal great-grandmother Rose Hutton Pidgeon was in labor during the”Blizzard of 88″ finally giving birth to my grandfather James on March 16th. They lived in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan.

  16. Shocker, the blizzard had “below-freezing temperatures”. That’s how snow is made.

  17. Our Great Smoky Mountains got several feet of snow in the ’88 Blizzard. Herds of cows were trapped in snow, immobile. All died. By the early 20th century, a beautiful tributary of NC’s Hazel’s Creek, then mostly still virgin forest and some valley farmlands, had the name Bone Valley Creek. A few cow skulls, bones, littered the ground a century later, 1988. Hikers placed them beside trails, on fence posts. Our Smokies were logged early 1900s, and the American Chestnut forest was decimated by blight. But Bone Valley and its pretty trout stream creek have recovered much beauty.

  18. Living in the southeast corner of South Dakota and northwest Iowa all my life I never heard of this storm until about 30 years ago in a local paper story. One (of many) specifics I recall in the story was how smug the cosmopolitan New Yorkers were so glad they were smart enough not to live out west. Then they got hit with a monster blizzard later. The irony always stuck with me.
    My only ancestors who would’ve experienced the blizzard was the Norwegian branch. They homesteaded in southeast Lincoln County, Dakota Territory starting in 1868. However no stories passed down although there were dozens of the two families (Eneboe & Lien) by 1888. As I’m researching I’ll keep 1888 in mind for deaths. Thanks for the article! Myself I remember a bit of winter 1962 when a snow drift was higher than the garage door. 1968 was another long winter also but don’t recall any ferocious blizzards like 1888.

    • The Chicago area was hit hard in the winter of 1968. I remember snow up to my waist, but of course I was 13.

  19. I love genealogical meteorology. It’s one way to actually get a sense of what our ancestors were doing day to day. I certainly know now what my New York ancestors were doing this week in 1888. They were in Brooklyn so they were snowed in and/or digging out and certainly “in their cups” as they used to say. They were Purveyors of Fine Spirits! I know for certain I’m always amazed anybody lived through any winter on the east coast back then!

  20. When I was searching on Ancestry.com for information about my great-grandmother, I found that in the month of January 1888, she lost 2 children to the dyptheria epidemic in Boston and her mother died as well. Then along comes this blizzard in March – I can only imagine that she thought her world was going to end.

  21. I grew up hearing stories of the great blizzard of 1888, on the Canadian and American prairies. My grandparents (who were born in early 1900s) and parents (1930s) had heard about it from the “old timers” and passed it on. Lots of death, especially of cattle, which drifted with the storm and were later found in drifts far away, including from Alberta to Montana.

  22. I remember my great aunt telling me a story that took place in the 1880’s of a bad, bad, storm that froze the sheep and they had to butcher them in their sod house on the kitchen table to take the sheeps hide off so they could savage the hides which they got $1.00 per hide. There were 1500 sheep. There was a lot of blood they had to clean up. I think this took place in Nebraska. My great aunt lived to be 90 years young.

  23. We have a Blizzard of 88 story about my great great grandfather, Samuel Sloan. He was a director of a predecessor of Citibank at the time and 71 years of age. After the blizzard he walked downtown to Wall St. for a scheduled board meeting and found he was the only one who made it. He pocketed his $20 meeting fee and walked back home.

  24. My great grandmother was born in 1872. She passed away when I was 12 years old. But she told me about this blizzard. What I remember most is that she said her father had to shovel tunnels in the snow to get out their door. I formed a mental picture of this when she shared this story with me and over the last 50 years, I have thought of it several times. Thank you for adding more detail to this story that had been buried in my memory!

  25. My grandmother was 5 years old in the blizzard of ’88, living near Columbia NJ – along the Delaware River. She told of her father securing ropes from a second floor window to the hay loft of the barn so they could feed the livestock. The snow drifts completely buried the first story of the house.

  26. So interesting and sad at the same time. Even with all the technology and advancements we have today, I wonder how NYC or any other location would fair being faced with 60″ of snow in such a short period of time. We just went through a noreaster which had no snow and people are still without power 5 days later!

  27. I grew up in North Central Nebraska and as a child (1960’s) took a Nebraska heritage class during the summer in Inman, NE. We visited old cabin courthouses, remains of sod houses, places where we could see ruts from the pioneer wagons etc. One of the sod house remains, which were nothing more than a berm of dirt in the shape of a large square, had been occupied by a family whose daughter went from the sod house to the barn during that blizzard, missed the barn due to whiteout conditions and just kept walking, eventually dying in the storm. We owe a lot to the early immigrants and the extreme hardships they had to endure.

  28. My aunt was born in 1887. She told me that the snow was so deep that it covered the doors and windows of the house. Her father, my grandfather, had to climb out of the window on the second floor and begin to shovel . SHe told that story every time we had a big snowfall. This was in northern Connecticut.

  29. I love articles like this, showing that storms like this always happened, + had NOTHING to do with “Global Warming”, as they would today be blamed on.

  30. During the 1888 snow storm no trains could get through to Mullinville, Kansas. My “Big City” GGrandmother had run out of coal to fire her cook stove. All her neighbors were using “Prairie Coal” (Cow Chips) to fire their stoves. She informed J.A.(GGrandfather) she was NOT putting that stuff in her cook stove. He could eat cold food until he got coal. He harnessed up the sled and drove 10 miles North to the Kinsley train station to get coal, then back home. Took him 3 days but he had hot food.

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