The year was 1888 and it came in with a roar. Following an unseasonably warm morning, on January 12, a violent cold front brought with it a disastrous blizzard with raging winds and sub-zero temperatures that swept across the northern prairies of the Midwest. Caught in the storm, often referred to as the “Children’s Blizzard of 1888,” it has been estimated that between 250 and 500 people perished, many of them children on their way home from school. (See the end of this article for links to more information.)
And Mother Nature wasnâ€™t finished. In March, another blizzard struck the eastern seaboard states. Known as the â€œGreat White Hurricane,â€ the norâ€™easter dumped between forty and fifty inches of snow on the northeast region. Over 200 ships were sunk, and telegraph lines snapped, cutting off communication for cities like New York and Philadelphia for weeks. More than 400 people perished in the storm. Photographs from the aftermath in New York City are available on the NOAA website.
Over the ocean in Londonâ€™s East End (England), fear spread as the police raced to discover who was committing a string of gruesome murders.Â Nearly 118 years later, the identity of â€œJack the Ripperâ€ remains unknown and the mystery has spawned books and movies that have horrified and mystified audiences worldwide.
An election year in the U.S., 1888 culminated with the election of Benjamin Harrison, who defeated the incumbent Grover Cleveland in a particularly tight election, with Cleveland winning the popular vote, but losing key states and the electoral vote.
Also in politics, Susan B. Anthony helped found the International Council of Women, an international coalition established to help secure womenâ€™s suffrage and rights in many areas.
Technological advances that year include a patent obtained by Thomas Edison for his “Kinetoscope” used for motion pictures.
George Eastman began the Eastman Kodak Company and introduced rolled photographic film. With the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest,” he led the way in an industry that has given family historians (and the rest of the world) glimpses into the lives of their ancestors and preserved memories for future generations.
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AWJ Editorâ€™s Note: After last weekâ€™s article on disasters by Mary Penner, I heard from several people with comments regarding â€œThe Childrenâ€™s Blizzard of 1888,â€ which is why I selected 1888 to feature this week. As I looked for more information on the subject, I ran across several first-hand accounts:
The Big Brash Blizzard of 1888
(Pawnee County History-Nebraska)
The Blizzard of 1888
(Lyon County, Iowa GenWeb Project)
For more information, see the book, “The Children’s Blizzard,” by David Laskin.
A printer-friendly version of this article can be found in the Ancestry.com Library.