By John Golden
On September 8-9, 1900 (Saturday to Sunday), a category 4 hurricane (130-140 mph winds) struck the city of Galveston, Texas. There were 6,000 to 8,000 people killed. It was the worst hurricane to ever strike the United States mainland.
Galveston was cut off from the rest of the country. The highest elevation was 9 feet above sea level. The storm had a 15 foot storm surge which obliterated the city. There was no radio or television, only telephone and telegraph service, neither of which was working after the storm.
The Republican Journal was the local newspaper in the Belfast/ Searsport area and they first reported on the storm in the September 13, 1900 issue with the headline “Galveston Storm Swept” dateline Galveston, Texas, Sept. 10. The initial estimates were 600 to 1,500 lives lost. In a later update from the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Relief Train outside of Galveston, the estimate was changed to “not less than 5,000 and may reach 10,000”. The Journal reported that “on Sunday morning the streets were lined with wounded and half-clad people. Fifteen men, all that remained of a company of 100 soldiers at the beach barracks marched down the street this morning.” The streets on the bay front were fully under 3 feet of water. A third update in the same issue stated that “The loss of life will be upward of 5,000 and that $40,000,000 will no more than cover the damage to property.” It is interesting to note that there were at least 3 updates to the same column in the paper three days after the initial report was received.
The September 20 issue had no additional information about the storm but published a short article entitled “About Galveston.” The article discusses other like disasters in the Gulf specifically a storm in August of 1856 which submerged Last Island off of the southern Louisiana coast. About 200 lives were lost in that storm.
The September 27 issue also had no information about the storm except for a short paragraph about cremation. “The cremation of the victims of the flood at Galveston recalls the fact that during the yellow fever epidemic at New Orleans in 1857 it was found necessary to burn the dead. The deaths numbered for a time some three hundred a day, and internment was impossible.”
October 4 Issue: Short paragraph: “Miss Helen Gould notified the army officials in New York that she would send, at her expense, 50,000 rations to distressed families in Galveston and the hurricane swept district.”
There is also a collection of press dispatches entitled “Freaks of the Galveston Storm.” One dispatch tells of two women who rode a wooden bathtub out into the Gulf of Mexico and returned the following day on the incoming tide. Another story tells of a young boy found at his home after the water had subsided “trying to scrape with his bare hands graves in the sand for his father, mother and sisters.”
A dispatch from The Chicago Times-Herald ran as follows, “Ray Ayers, an 8-year-old boy, unwittingly rescued his sister’s two babies during the flood. He was floating on a raft in Galveston when he passed a box with the two children in it. He seized them, but the weight was too heavy for his raft, and so he placed them on two bales of hay on top of a floating shed. When he found his sister he learned that her children were lost, and when a searching party discovered them they were sleeping, unconscious of their danger.”
October 18 – Mentions that a letter will be published next week from a correspondent “Giving a full and vivid account of the Galveston disaster.”
October 25 – The Red Cross Work in Texas Dateline: October 6, 1900. A letter from a member of Miss Clara Barton’s staff. Conditions were far worse than anticipated and the author failed to write anything for a month due to the overwhelming aid work that needed to be done. She goes on to say that the devastation as described by “yellow” journalists was true. She describes funeral pyres with “bodies stacked like cord-wood, black and white together, irrespective of age, sex or previous condition; when ghouls in human shape prowled cutting off ears and fingers for the jewelry.” At one point the bodies were put on barges and dumped in the ocean only to come back with the tide while attracting large numbers of sharks. She spends some time describing what it must have been like to have “the Gulf of Mexico stealing up into your dooryard.” Galveston’s cemeteries were not spared the devastation. Vaults were stripped of their contents where the floating boxes went out to sea. The Galveston News contained a novel advertisement; “A gentleman desires information concerning a plush covered coffin, containing a corpse, which was found on his premises, on the open prairie, 21 miles distant.” Galveston was a giant pile of kindling wood and scattered bricks. Many were stripped of clothing by the raging wind. She describes a walk where “I counted the remains of nineteen sewing machines within the space of half a block; several pianos, children’s hobby-horses, desks and trunks, now rifled of their contents, shreds of lace curtains and splintered furniture.” She concludes with a description of the many fires at night “each the cremation of human bodies and ruined homes.”
Following this article, there was another article entitled “GALVESTON A MONTH AFTER THE STORM.” Dateline: October 12, 1900. The article, apparently by the same author as the October 6 article, discusses how the people of Galveston first coped with the disaster and now how they are dealing with it on a day to day basis. As the weather turned colder there was a great need for warm clothing. The climate of Galveston is not tropical and there is a need for blankets and outerwear. Most of the remaining population lives in tents or halls or remaining structures with friends and family.
“Clara Barton has submitted plans for a four room cottage that can house 12 people. She believes that she can obtain the materials for approximately $200,000 and that they can be erected at a cost of $50,000.” It was estimated that 4,000 dwellings and their contents were washed away. The author continues by listing the basic materials required for each new dwelling along with items such as bedding, cutlery, stoves, chairs, tables etc.
November 22 – Final hurricane article in the Republican Journal. Dateline: Galveston, Texas, October 5, 1900. The article related how the Red Cross and the City of Galveston took care of the many orphans of the storm. Biographies of the individuals taking care of the children were documented. The article continues with a mention of the upcoming Christmas Holiday and the toys that the children will be receiving. The article ends with a description of how the Red Cross is helping the farmers of the area and how Clara Barton gave one thousand dollars to strawberry growers of the region for plants.
The city eventually recovered and erected a seawall in the bay to protect it against further storms and storm surges.