As the questions surrounding increasing temperatures continue to swirl and natural disasters seem to become worse every year, it’s worth noting that nature has been prone to fits and brutality for a very long time – especially when its storms pertain so closely to the ghosts of Galveston.
Have you heard of the 1900 Galveston hurricane? More than 100 years later, it remains the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. In fact, it’s still the worst hurricane the country has ever experienced. Is it any surprise, then, that this 1900 storm has led to its fair share of ghost creation? Let’s take a closer look at the storm as well as the devastation it left in its wake.
Why wasn’t the storm reported?
It is difficult to imagine a time when a storm could catch people unawares. Today’s technology ensures that anyone with access to a smartphone, a computer, or even a radio have the ability to access an accurate forecast with plenty of notice for serious threats or weather risks. Individuals facing the 1900 storm in question, of course, had the advantage of none of these modern conveniences. Even so, the death count of the hurricane could have been significantly lowered had the U.S. Weather Bureau been a bit more effective in their communication.
Before there was the National Weather Service, there was the U.S. Weather Bureau. Similar to its modern counterpart, the bureau’s purpose was to look at weather patterns and signs and determine the likely strength and course of potential risks. In 1900, the bureau was only about ten years old and it didn’t have great policies in place regarding communication with weather forecasters in other parts of the world. This meant that trajectory predictions were often made without the benefit of input from experts outside of the States.
This poor communication proved to be one of the single most devastating elements of the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Scientists in Cuba, for example, had a bit more experience with hurricanes than those in the United States. In fact, they had become fairly good at tracking the storms and predicting their strength and trajectory. Because the Weather Bureau had cut off communication with outside sources, however, they were unable to benefit from this knowledge – and doing so could have saved many lives. The forecasters in Cuba knew that the hurricane was heading towards the Gulf of Mexico while forecasters in Washington predicted that it would hit Florida and up through New England.
As history tells us, of course, that prediction was very much mistaken. And as a result of the error, thousands of people lost their lives.
The 1900 Galveston Hurricane
On September eighth, 1900, a category four hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, then known as the state’s grandest and most advanced city. It boasted the biggest port in the state, the largest and most elaborate mansions, was home to the most millionaires in the state, and even received electric lights and telephones before the rest of the region. It was the crown jewel of Texas and served as a sign of the state’s prosperity and success.
All of that would change after the hurricane arrived. The 1900 storm landed at nightfall and raged through the area overnight. It came with a tidal surge that stood at an estimated 15 feet – high enough to completely swallow the five-foot barrier meant to break storms before they reached the island. In short order, six-foot waves were cruising through Broadway Avenue, the city’s downtown area, and shattering almost everything that stood in their path. And, tragically, St. Mary’s orphanage suffered heavy losses. Two of its dorms were destroyed and 90 children, along with ten Catholic nuns, were killed in the process.
The storm didn’t subside until daybreak hit, and the sun rose over a completely obliterated city. Corpses were strewn everywhere and, though authorities attempted to have them dumped into the Gulf as a form of burial, they just kept washing back ashore. Eventually thousands of the dead were gathered in funeral pyres while law enforcement attempted to keep people from stealing valuables of the burning corpses.
Galveston was essentially destroyed, with more than 10,000 people left homeless after the storm decimated their homes. Most of the structures in the city were completely leveled, in fact, and between 6,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives. When it comes time to discuss ghosts of Galveston, perhaps you can see why glossing over this particular event simply wouldn’t do the topic justice. A hurricane might not be the eeriest of events, but the pure devastation that it wrought was something never since seen in the United States.
A Haunting Event
You might wonder why you haven’t seen much footage of people relaying their first-hand experiences of the storm. And while it’s true that many people who were caught in the hurricane would have been elderly by the time recording equipment became widely used and available, it’s equally true that this is not the main reason so few personal accounts exist. Survivors of the 1900 Galveston hurricane put the event behind them with grim determination. They focused not on what they had lost but rather what they could do to rebuild the city to be even better in the future.
This reaction isn’t surprising, especially when you consider that many survivors lost all of their possessions and most of their family in the storm. They had little to cling to except the hope that the future would be better. And so, for decades, no one spoke about the hurricane on Galveston Island. The population there worked steadfastly to rebuild and salvage what they could while attempting to lay their ghosts to rest in the process.
Of course, there are many who believe that this tragedy has left behind more than just a lingering sense of sadness and awe. Indeed, Galveston is considered one of the most haunted areas in Texas, due in no small part to the 1900 storm.
Are you interested in learning more about the ghosts of Galveston? Reach out to our tour professionals today!