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."