Today marks the 129th anniversary of “The Blizzard of ’88,” one of the worst in American history. Over 55 inches of snow struck the northeast coast of the United States, killing around 400 people. At the time, nearly a quarter of all Americans lived in the affected area. The day before the storm, the temperature had been a balmy 50 degrees. By the next morning, however, the world was in a whiteout, with winds reaching up to 85 mph.
The most heavily affected city, perhaps, was New York. All existing train, water, phone, and gas lines were above ground, frozen, and in some cases burst — in fact, the realization that this configuration was a problem is what led to the underground systems we have today. But despite the catastrophe unfolding around them, many New Yorkers carried on as usual. Rather than be deterred by a snowfall that only reached the second story of their buildings, some made the trek to their usual above-ground train lines to go to work. When they eventually became trapped on those train lines, other entrepreneurial locals offered to pass them a rescue ladder for a small fee. Mark Twain and P.T. Barnum were both in the city, stranded but in good spirits. Some locals tried to cross the frozen East River spanning between Manhattan and Queens only to be stranded on free-floating floes when the ice broke.