New York in The Winter
Think Snowstorms Are Rough Now? Check Out These Vintage New York Blizzards
Severe winter weather was bad for the people and worse for the horses.
Waiting for the first real snow of winter is an annual exercise in anticipation and dread, with the accompanying hallmarks invariably falling into place: breathless headlines, familiar checkout line chatter, readying the shovels and snowblowers, restocking the cocoa, bracing for traffic tie-ups and rail delays — or perhaps doing nothing at all.
If that all feels eternal, consider what it was like to endure a snowstorm in a time before Gore-Tex and Doppler radar, snow blowers and plow trucks, subway commutes and automobile windshields — actually, before automobiles. Instant hot chocolate didn’t become a supermarket staple until the 1940s, and it took Swiss Miss until 1972 to roll out a revolutionary cocoa mix with mini marshmallows already inside. (“What’ll Swiss Miss think of next,” the first ads asked.)
Early New York Times photographs of snowstorms really capture the havoc, misery and peril a blizzard could visit on the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Blizzard of 1888, for example, dumped 21 inches of snow on the city and killed an estimated 200 New Yorkers. But even a garden-variety snowstorm in those days would menace New York’s main form of transit — horses — and impose human suffering of all kinds, while posing the immense logistical challenge of clearing an entire metropolis of snow.
Still, then as now, snow slowed the city down in a stop-and-look-around way. It brought a serene kind of beauty and wonder, turning almost anyone into Peter, the wide-eyed child hero of Ezra Jack Keats’s 1962 ode to winter reverie, “The Snowy Day.”
“King Winter’s Carnival,” one Times headline declared in February 1900, after a Saturday storm gave way to wintry recreation and a sun-dappled landscape of snow and ice on Sunday. “The City Filled with the Music of Laughter and Sleighbells.”
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