First, thanks to the great blog Ephemeral New York who brought this picture, which I had seen before, back to my attention. Here is a deliciously detailed photograph taken in downtown New York in the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1888, which struck the U.S. Northeast on March 13 of that year, 129 years ago this week. I believe it was taken on West 27th Street but not sure which north-south street it’s on (Broadway? Fifth Avenue?) Two upper-class ladies in period dress are going about their business amidst mountains of snow. Enough has been cleared from the streets to allow horse-cart traffic again. I love how the ledges and balconies of the old buildings overhanging the streets are still dusted with snow. Despite the huge amounts dumped on the city during the blizzard, it melted pretty quickly; much of the snow that was shoveled and pushed aside from the streets was dumped into the East and Hudson Rivers. Disastrous though it was at the time, the Blizzard of 1888 was the epitome of a “temporary apocalypse” that often happens when urban areas are struck by extreme snow events.
I’ve been fascinated by the Blizzard of 1888 for years. I wrote an article a long time ago about a mysterious death that occurred in the city just before the blizzard struck. I’ve always been curious what it was like to experience a blizzard in Gilded Age New York, a city of gas lights, velvet curtains, coal stoves and horse-drawn carriages. The wonderful detail in photos like this make it all the more real to me, as if I could step through the frame and find myself on these old streets. The past is seldom as tangible as it is when looking at pictures like this one.