Disasters often are referred to as "great equalizers"-- everyone, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, or class, is effected. Yet, individuals respond to disasters in different ways, influenced by who they are, and the resources to which they have access. When the Blizzard of 1888 struck, men, women and children of all backgrounds were stuck outside in the howling wind, struggling against the cold and through the towering snowdrifts towards their homes. However, when New York City's wealthier citizens got home, they were safe and warm and, in many cases, able to depend upon stocked groceries and supplies. Many New Yorkers weren't so lucky, and had to wait out the storm with whatever shelter and provisions they could muster. For days immediately following the blizzard, as the region dug itself out, New York City suffered from a coal shortage, as well as a shortage of produce, meat, and milk.
All New Yorkers were, at the very least, inconvenienced by the blizzard, and many of those individuals who lived far from where they worked or wherever they were when the blizzard intensified on Monday morning found themselves stranded. The city's hotels overflowed, and several provided cots in the lobby for stranded travelers-- some for rental, some free of charge. Taverns were particularly packed, warming patrons with companionship and spirits. Some entrepreneurs saw the chaos of the blizzard as an opportunity to raise prices: a grocer on 8th Street raised the price of a pail of coal from ten cents to one dollar. The public frowned upon such price gouging, however-- that grocer found the wheels of his wagon stolen and replaced with shabby old ones, along with a message in chalk that read: "Fair Exchange is No Robbery." Counterbalancing the acts of greed were acts of kindness, as bakeries around the city remained open through the night, expanding their output, and giving away goods to people in need.
This section presents stories about how the Blizzard
of 1888 affected New Yorkers who were trying to go about their everyday
business. Much of the popular memory of the blizzard evolved out of
these stories, and out of the general sense they gave of the tremendous
impact the storm had on people's lives. But the popular memory of the
blizzard has grown beyond the sum of the parts of these stories, and
sometimes in popular recollections of the storm truth is obscured by
fiction, reality obscured by memory's attraction to the dramatic. The
legend of the Blizzard of 1888 emerged not long after the snow stopped
falling. For decades after the event, the storm’s anniversary
spawned commemorative articles in newspapers and magazines. Such press
attention fostered exaggerations and misconceptions about the actual
event, escalating the sense of the blizzard's impact.