336 375 379
348 358 338
350 345 344
347 382 373
360 425 429
354 343

The blizzard highlighted the insufficiency of the city's street sanitation system. Garbage collection, irregular anyway, was delayed until the snow could be removed. Given the disorganization of the Department of Street Cleaning, snow removal in the days following March 12 was a haphazard affair. The municipal government granted Coleman an emergency $25,000 and he subsequently organized an "Army of the Shovel" to concentrate on clearing the main commercial areas of the city: Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and the streets of Greenwich Village. Mayor Abraham Hewitt urged citizens to help in any way they could, by shoveling their own walks, and especially by keeping the gutters clear of debris so that melting snow could drain away. Still, the city was ill-prepared to deal with the cleanup from such an enormous storm which, in addition to dumping two feet of snow on the city in a day and a half, also mangled and brought down poles and overhead wiring all over the city. The cleanup would be expensive and difficult.

Thankfully for the city, willing labor was abundant. Immigrant laborers were able to find plenty of work all over the city's side streets during that week, as private business owners hired shovelers to clear the paths in front of their establishments. Shovelers were paid relatively well, as businesses and the railroads, which also needed clearing in order to get trains moving again, bid for their muscle. New Yorkers came up with all sorts of innovative methods to clear the snow: one of the most popular was igniting fires in the snow banks that would then melt the snow-- but this created flowing rivers of water throughout the city, flooding gutters and basements. Most shovelers stuck to the traditional method of snow removal: carting load after load of snow to the piers on Manhattan's east and west side, and dumping it into the river. In the week after the blizzard, New York's newest residents efficiently dug the city out.

As snow was removed, the frozen bodies of men and women who were unable to reach shelter-- as well as several hundred animals--were uncovered. All told, different estimates place the number of New Yorkers who died as a result of the storm, either from exposure or from the lingering effects of struggling towards shelter, at anywhere between two hundred and four hundred.

By the beginning of the following week, the city's streets were clear enough for business to resume as normal, and for the regular flow of coal and food into and around the city to resume. Only after the snow was removed could the city's dampened garbage be cleaned up. The Blizzard of 1888, and the scrambled, disorganized cleanup, clarified the necessity of a better system for cleaning and clearing the streets, and helped pave the political way for George Waring's "White Wings."

Stories and Memories from the Blizzard