Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review - A Weekend in September

Those who enjoy reading about U.S. tropical systems, especially the 1900 Galveston Storm, should enjoy this book as well.  Writing/Researching his book in 1957, author John Edward Weems was able to get first hand accounts from survivors - and not just the prominent citizens (although they are included), but more of the middle class working Galvestonians.

One ugly truth about disasters that isn't often shown or discussed is the deaths of animals - pets, livestock, etc.  This book does touch on a few of those fatalities, but also includes several animal survivor stories.  A quick rundown - just because I like happy endings for animals: 

A horse (owner not named) galloping down Sealy street, ran through the Fred Langben neighbor's open gate, the open front door, and up a flight of stairs.  He weathered the storm on the 2nd story living off the moss inside the mattresses.  A couple of days after the storm, Langben and his servant removed the horse from the house (he didn't go willingly). 

Sydney Love remembers taking refuge in Saint Mary's University and seeing a cow on the second floor.  At the writing of this book he still didn't know how or why the cow was there, but he and a few others were "...lucky enough to have fresh milk for breakfast." (p70)

Although the McNeills were out of town, their servants were doing their best to save the thoroughbred horses - building a ramp and leading the horses into a first floor room to wait out the storm.  A charcoal brazier was placed on the floor to warm the horses up (the brazier left a mark on the floor that stayed for nearly 50 years). 

Kempner's coachman went to release the horses from the stable and after the worst of was over, the coachman and horses were "...found safe on the porch of a nearby house." (p127)

Henry Ketchum discovered a cow had taken refuge in his first floor parlor as well as mules, horses and cows were up on the gallery (porch). 

Others made grand efforts to save their animals, but the author doesn't mention their fate.

Ephraim Moore's family kept chickens in their backyard and when the water started rising, they took "...about 100 frightened chickens, one by one, from roosts... to the safety of a second-floor bedroom." (p76).  That chore completed - their son asked about the dog -- the solution "Put him in with the chickens!" 

Still, many others perished along with their owners that night. 

Ed Ketchum's stables were only able to provide shelter to 25 or 30 horses and mules out of the hundreds he supposedly owned. 

When Daisy Thorne left the island a few days later as Mrs. Gilbert, she took with her one remaining cat that had survived the storm on top of the wardrobe along with 22 people inside her bedroom.

This was a quick read, mentions several of the notable stories that have been retold, and pictures from Galveston.  I do wish the author would have included pictures of the survivors (although I'm not sure any exist) and a detailed map of where certain residences were in relation to others (several pages would be fine with me).    

It was nice to read the stories of ordinary people, many took in neighbors and strangers - anything to save lives.  After the storm many women cooked on any heat source they could while the men had the unbearable task of cleaning up.  The book also includes a timeline of how quickly services were reestablished on the Island - I was surprised that electricity was back as quickly as it was (maybe a week or less).  After hurricane Ike it took 2 weeks for our neighborhood to get back on the grid (and that was 2008).

UPDATE:  Looking back through the book I did find a map of Galveston that included the family residences of those in the book, overlaid by dark of areas that were totally devastated in the 1900 storm.  Other pictures and maps were in the center of the book.

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