Remembering the 1900 Galveston Storm

Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX.
Photo courtesy of the Rosenberg
Library, Galveston, TX.
Tonight my thoughts bounce back and forth between the events of this morning, Sept 8, 2015 and events of September 8, 1900.  

Today is the 115th anniversary of the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.  Over 6,000 people died in the Storm, which struck with more intensity that any previously recorded storm in Galveston history.  

This morning I was asked, “Why is the 1900 Storm so little known? It seems that most people can tell you about the San Francisco Earthquake, the Chicago Fire, and the Titanic, but the 1900 Storm overwhelms all of these combined both in terms of destruction of property and the immense loss of life.  I really can’t answer that.

There is so much available about the Storm that I don’t know where to start to put it all into context, except perhaps that if you’re looking for something accurate and true, then you should be wary of what you read (especially on the internet). The truth and magnitude of that night doesn’t need embellishing, so I’d recommend starting with John Edward Weems’ A Weekend in September and then read the survivor’s own words in Through a Night of Horrors: Voices fromthe 1900 Galveston Storm. If you enjoy fiction, try The Windows of Heaven by Ron Rozelle, or for younger readers (4th grade+) pick up Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale, I haven’t read the new book by Al Roker yet, and seriously, if you know me, you know better than to even mention that hubristic piece of fiction that slanders Isaac Cline.

So many thoughts tonight.  This morning started with my presentation on the 1900 Galveston Storm to Gulf Coast Reads partners. “Gulf Coast Reads: On the Same Page is an annual regional reading initiative focused on promoting the simultaneous reading or listening to a selected title by those living along the upper Texas Gulf Coast.”

The book they’ve chosen to promote this year is The Promise by Ann Weisgarber.  It’s an excellent character drama set on Galveston Island during the ten days preceding the 1900 Storm. You don’t have to live along the Gulf Coast to enjoy this novel.  I’m fairly critical of just about everything written about the 1900 Storm, but this tale evocative and lovely and I heartily endorse the account of the storm for historical accuracy.
Photo by Marilyn Maniscalco Henley
Shelly holding Ann’s book “The Promise”
Ann holding Shelly’s book, “Through a Night
of Horrors.” Sept 8, 2015.
The fact that the author spoke so highly today of my own edited book, Through a Night of Horrors: Voices from the 1900 Galveston Storm, as helping her in research for The Promise has nothing to do with my endorsement. It really is a very well written piece – don’t believe me? Read it this October and attend some of the creative events planned across the Texas Gulf Coast libraries.

When speaking today, I read aloud the survivors own words, while images of the destruction were projected behind me. To read those words about this night all those years ago feels powerful as though for a short time their grief and loss is fresh and real all over again.  I’m sitting tonight thinking of all those families and what they went through, who they lost, whole families that ceased to exist, the terror, the horror, the relief and gratitude to be alive the next morning.

Even though it’s been 115 years and all the survivors have passed, their voices and experiences live on and continue to provide inspiration to a new generation of authors and artists.


Shelly Henley Kelly