The Blizzard of 1888

The Blizzard of ’88…1888 that is, was the worst storm of the century and one of the worst storms in American history. It began on a Sunday night, and by Monday morning 134 years ago today, there was 10 inches of snow on the ground and more falling, with no signs it was going to stop anytime soon.

In the end, the storm which traveled the entire coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine caused millions of dollars in damage and killed more than 400 people, including no fewer than 100 sailors at sea along the eastern seaboard.

Locally, Marianna Leonard Bell, the daughter of Thomas Leonard, best known for his book, “From Indian Trail to Electric Rail,” the first mayor of the borough and one of its founders, had her own personal memories of how the Blizzard affected her hometown of Atlantic Highlands.

Born in November 1882, she was five years old at the time and the family was living in the home in which she was born, which she described in her own writing as “the old red house at the corner of Mount and Second Avenues.” That house was moved in 1893 to First Avenue and later became Antonides Drug Store.

Mrs. Bell’s story was included in the book she wrote, “I Remember,” which was published by the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society in 1986 when Fanny McCallum headed the Society. The book was illustrated by the Rev. John P. Wood and a centennial edition of 1,000 copies was published on the occasion of the borough’s centennial.

History noted that it had been a mild winter up until March, until a western snowstorm met up with a warm front from the south and created the havoc of the century. New York registered 22 inches of snow, along with sustained high winds and gusts up to 80 miles an hour and dangerously low temperatures, demolishing all kinds of power lines and causing 50 foot high snowdrifts. Both Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge closed that Monday, and even prisons were filled with people who had ventured out or had gone to work with no idea it would get that bad. Many even sought refuge in the prisons when bars and hotels were filled to overflowing with travelers who could not get back home.

In her book, Mrs. Bell recalled that the snowdrifts were at least 20 foot high, high enough to cover the first story windows on the north side of the Leonard home so she could not even see out. “I remember my father opened one window and poked holes with a broom handle so we could see out,” she said, describing the experience as “great fun."

She continues in her book, “After the storm, everybody had great tales to tell. One was a tragedy. One man, whose name I cannot recall, was found frozen under the porch of the houses which then stood where Whelan’s Drug Store now stands. He probably got lost in the blinding storm.” “I must add,” she continued, “we seldom saw the ground from November to March. The Shrewsbury River was frozen all winter.”

Mrs. Leonard was living at 93 Third Avenue when she died on April 24, 1975, at age 92. She was survived by three sons, Frank, Ken and the Rev. Thomas, seven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. She was buried from Posten’s Funeral Home after services at the Central Baptist Church.


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