GALVESTON, TEXAS - Galveston was created from the bounty of the sea. A natural deep-water channel had helped make Galveston the main seaport in Texas, with more then 70 percent of America’s cotton crop arriving by train into the town and exported out again by over 1,000 ships annually. Commercial success was not the town’s only fame since the shallow waters around the Gulf made wading and swimming a relaxing experience, which made the port city a vacation home to many of Texas’s wealth and elite. Galveston had over 37,000 residents by the spring of 1900, all enjoying the most prosperous locale in the state.
|St. Mary's Orphanage|
The Storm: A suggestion had been made prior to 1900 that a seawall be built to protect the city from any high tides or storm surges, but the city’s history worked against this plan. No storm had ever caused serious damage leading authorities to believe that a natural phenomenon actually protected the stretch of coast occupied by Galveston, decreasing its vulnerability. On September 8th 1900, as bathers and onlookers watched dark clouds began to build far away off to sea. Only the town’s chief meteorologist who had begun watching the storm build since 5 a.m. that morning knew the trouble they were in for, and he rode up and down the beach on his horse trying in vain to convince everyone to go to higher ground. By the time his warnings were heeded, only after the wind became a howling force, it was too late. There was no higher ground to go to, the island was the sea dotted with houses standing against the force of the waves and winds estimated between 120 and 200 miles per hour.
The storm roared over the island from gulf to bay, with 15 foot surges, causing a moving wall of debris described as at least two stories high that destroyed everything in it’s path. Heartrending stories of death and sacrificed populated the horrible night but none worse then the fate of those who lived in St. Mary’s Orphans Asylum run by the Sisters of Charity. As the storm worsened the 10 sisters, rather than flee, attempted to save the children by taking them to the second floor of the girls’ dormitory. There the sisters used clothesline, each sister connecting a string of children to herself, frantically hoping that as the flood waters rose they could keep the 90 children from drowning long enough for help to arrive. They never got the chance the implement their desperate plan, the debris wall slammed into the orphanage collapsing it, only 3 people survived.
Individuals lucky enough to be in high sturdy buildings reached from windows to pluck victims from the waves when possible, but these were the few and the very fortunate. When the storm finally abated after midnight, 6,000 to 8,000 lost their lives.
The Aftermath: “They have told much, but it was impossible for them to tell all, and the world, at best, can never know all, for the thousands of tragedies written by the storm must forever remain mysteries until eternity shall reveal all.”
|Aftermath of the Storm|
From the Galveston Daily News September 13, 1900
Those who survived the awful night now found themselves living in rubble, and worse the dead were too numerous to bury. An unfortunate attempt was made to take the bodies out to sea for burial, but sadly the bodies were not weighted down properly and the sight of the decaying corpses washing ashore further traumatized the residents. Bodies were then burned in a mass funeral pyre, but this too was proven ineffective. Present day owners of buildings that existed on the Strand (a hotel and business section in Galveston) have frequently found skeletal remains of flood victims inside masonry, or buried in corners as if they were forgotten during the rush to rebuild.
The Ghosts of the Storm: Since we frequently see spirits in areas where a person, or a group of people have died tragically, there is no surprise that the Strand and the coastline of Galveston Bay are haunted by the victims of the 1900’ s storm. Bodies are seen floating 15 feet in the air, as they must have during the flood. Witness have seen figures dressed in “old fashioned” attire wandering the beach as if confused and when a storm is blowing up from the sea a disembodied woman’s voice can be heard calling out the names of children. As for the Strand, retailers and hotel owners have gotten used to unexplained knocks and strange sounds in the night. As one shop owner said, “At least we know when a hurricanes’ coming, they let us know that’s for sure.”
The Storm Remembered