For two days the snow has had New York in its power, encircled, terrified, like a prize fighter to the canvas by a sneak punch. But the moment the attack of the enemy slackened, as soon as the blizzard had spent its first fury, New York, like the victim of an outrage, goes about freeing itself from its shroud. Leagues of men move through the white mounds. The snow already runs in dirty rivers in the busiest streets under the onslaught of its assailants. With spades, with shovels, with their own chests and those of the horses, they push back the snow, which retreats to the rivers. Man’s defeat was great, but so was his triumph. The city is still white; the bay remains white and frozen. There have been deaths, cruelties, kindness, fatigue, and bravery. Man has given a good account of himself in this disaster.
At no time in this century has New York experienced a storm like that of March 13. It had rained the preceding Sunday, and the writer working into the dawn, the newspaper vendor at the railroad station, the milkman on his round of the sleeping houses, could hear the whiplash of the wind that had descended on the city against the chimneys, against walls and roofs, as it vented its fury on slate and mortar, shattered windows, demolished porches, clutched and uprooted trees, and howled, as though ambushed, as it fled down the narrow streets. Electric wires, snapping under its impact, sputtered and died. Telegraph lines, which had withstood so many storms, were wrenched from their posts. And when the sun should have appeared, it could not be seen, for like a shrieking, panic-stricken army, with its broken squadrons, gun carriages and infantry, the snow swirled past the darkened windows, without interruption, day and night. Man refused to be vanquished. He came out to defy the storm.…
The elevated train took on a load of passengers, and ground to a halt half-way through the trip, paralyzed by the snow; after six hours of waiting, the men and women climbed down by ladder from their wind-tossed prison. The wealthy, or those faced with an emergency, paid twenty-five or fifty dollars for carriages drawn by stout horses to carry them a short distance, step by step. The angry wind, heavy with snow, buffeted them, pounded them, hurled them to the ground.
It was impossible to see the sidewalks. Intersections could no longer be distinguished, and one street looked like the next.… A shopkeeper, a man in the prime of life, was found buried today, with only a hand sticking from the snow to show where he lay. A messenger boy, as blue as his uniform, was dug out of a white, cool tomb, a fit resting place for his innocent soul, and lifted up in the compassionate arms of his comrades. Another, buried to the neck, sleeps with two red patches on his white cheeks, his eyes a filmy blue.
The old, the young, women, children, inch along Broadway and the avenues on their way to work.… The clerk takes the working girl by the arm; she helps her weary friend with an arm around his waist. At the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, a new bank clerk pleads with the policeman to let him pass, although at that moment only death can cross the bridge. “I will lose the job it has taken me three years to find,” he supplicates. He starts across, and the wind reaches a terrible height, throws him to the ground with one gust, lifts him up again, snatches off his hat, rips open his coat, knocks him down at every step; he falls back, clutches at the railing, drags himself along. Notified by telegraph from Brooklyn, the police on the New York side of the bridge pick him up, utterly spent.
But why all this effort, when hardly a store is open, when the whole city has surrendered, huddled like a mole in its burrow, when if they reach the factory or office they will find the iron doors locked? Only a fellow man’s pity, or the power of money, or the happy accident of living beside the only train which is running in one section of the city, valiantly inching along from hour to hour, can give comfort to so many faithful employees, so many courageous old men, so many heroic factory girls on this terrible day. From corner to corner they make their way, sheltering themselves in doorways, until one opens to the feeble knocking of their numbed hands, like sparrows tapping against the window panes. Suddenly the afury of the wind mounts; it hurls the group fleeing for shelter against the wall; the poor working women cling to one another in the middle of the street until the snarling, screeching wind puts them to flight again.…
Without milk, without coal, without newspapers, without streetcars, without telephones, without telegraph, the city awoke this morning. And last night there were four open theaters! All businesses suspended, and the false marvel of the elevated train pushes in vain to take to work the mob that crowds the station waiting impatiently.
The trains have stalled with their human cargo. Nothing has been heard from the rest of the nation. The rivers are ice and the daring ones are crossing them on foot. Suddenly the ice cracks and floes are formed with men clinging to them: a tugboat goes out to save them, pushing the floating ice towards the piers. They are saved, and from the river banks one hears one loud “Hurray!” “Hurray” they yell on the streets at the passing fireman, the policeman, the brave mailman. What has happened to the trains that do not arrive, and where do the railroad companies, with their magnificent energy resources, with their most powerful engines, send the groceries and the coal? How many bodies under the snow?
The snow, as if it were an army in retreat that turns back on the enemy with an unexpected attack, came at night and covered with death the proud city.
We saw yesterday that these attacks from the unknown are worthwhile for utilitarian peoples whose virtues, nurtured by their labor, are capable of compensating, in these solemn hours, for the lack of those virtues that are weakened by selfishness. How brave the children, how punctual the workers, how unhappy and noble the women, how generous the men! The entire city speaks in a loud voice, as if afraid to be lonely. Those who all year long brutally elbow each other, today laugh, they exchange their stories of mortality, exchange addresses, and accompany their new friends for long walks.…
It terrifies and amazes to see this city of snow reappear, with its red houses, as if flowering in blood. The telegraph poles ruefully contemplate the destruction, their tangled, fallen wires like unkempt heads. The city resuscitates, buries its dead, and with men, horses, and machines all working together, clears away the snow with streams of boiling water, with shovels, plows, and bonfires. But one is touched by a sense of great humility and a sudden rush of kindness, as though the dread hand had touched the shoulders of all men.