Galveston and the 1900 Storm

I’ve been fascinated by hurricanes since I was about eight. Growing up in Texas it’s impossible not to hear about the Galveston storm of 1900 that destroyed the city and killed at least 6 thousand people. I’ve read several different books on the storm thru the years, but I nonetheless decided to pick up Patricia Bellis Bixel & Elizabeth Hayes Turner’s account.

It’s far more scholarly than most of the Galveston books I’ve read, with a large emphasis places on the rebuilding of the city (which most on the subject hardly deal with).

The chapter on the storm itself was appropriately awe inspiring. The book has scores of photographs that relay how horrifying the carnage really was. The second chapter deals with the relief efforts as the entire country pitched in money and man power to help the survivors.

Clara Barton herself stayed in Galveston for months directing the American Red Cross’s role personally. The third chapter deals with the construction of the seawall to protect the city and the raising of the entire island. Tons of dirt and sand was brought in as the project of raising the city as a marvel.

The seawall was no less impressive – as it’s showed thru history – since Galveston has never seen the same kind of destruction from a land falling hurricane since its completion.

The fourth and final chapter deals with how the city dynamics themselves changed. From women gaining prominence in city government to African Americans losing control thru Jim Crow laws. The city also adopted a new form of city government which relied on state appointments of city officials instead of local elections that lasted for over 50 years.

The book isn’t particularly long at 170 pages (not counting the index) but it wasn’t a particularly fast read. The photographs the book contains are truly remarkable, not just of the hurricane, but of the people, houses, rebuilding efforts, etc.

By focusing so much time on the aftermath of the storm, the book does offer something new to folks like myself who’ve read a lot on the subject. Nonetheless, much of the information is dry and the book is written in a fairly studious manner. Still I’d recommend it for the information that is on display and the literally hundreds of pictures the book has.

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