The "Blizzard Men of '88": New York's Exclusive Club of Storm Survivors

The Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum / The Brooklyn Museum

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was a memorable and tragic period; it left people marooned inside their homes for days and caused hundreds of reported casualties along the eastern seaboard.

Starting in 1929, to help keep the memory alive, New York-based survivors of that great storm met annually to recount their experiences. They called themselves the "Blizzard Men of '88" (female survivors weren't admitted until 1933), and they knew how to celebrate in style. “When they file into the Hotel Pennsylvania ballroom for their annual luncheon," The New York Times wrote of the 50th anniversary celebration, "these veterans of the great two-storey high snowdrifts are to be entertained by, of all things, a mechanical snow storm."

Each year, members gathered to share amazing tales of extraordinary commutes ("Edward H. White recalled how he walked across the East River to Brooklyn on the ice") and harrowing accounts of surviving neck-high snowdrifts ("A tall man rescued me," recounted Franklin A. Levi).

But, as the years went on, their main purpose seemed to be to remind everyone that all snowstorms after 1888's were joke affairs, and that anyone who said otherwise was a wuss.

From a story on 1935's meeting, headlined, "MEN OF '88 LAUGH AT RECENT STORM":

New York's blizzard of last January was dismissed as "a mere flurry" at the annual luncheon and reunion of the Blizzard Men of 1888 at the Hotel Pennsylvania yesterday.

From a report of a 1938 meeting titled, "1934 STORMS JOKE TO 'BLIZZARD MEN'":

Theodore Van Wyck of Valley Stream, L.I., historian of the organization, read an original poem, satirical of the boasts of the moderns who “survived” the 1934 storms. The spirit of the gathered was expressed by the first verse, which follows:

"Our blizzard sure must take the prize,
In spite of all the years and lies;
Our snow was nearly two feet deep,
Piled up and down in one big heap."

From a 1939 report, "VETERANS INSIST WE HAD BLIZZARD: Men of '88 Ignore Slur Cast by Weather Man on Their Fondest Calamity":

The Weather Bureau popped up—wholly irrelevantly, the Blizzard Men think—with the statement that New York never saw a real blizzard. There are certain technical requirements—matter of wind velocity , temperature and quality of snow—that a storm must have before it can call itself a blizzard, and no New York blow ever has had them, the bureau contended.

Dr. Strong, secretary-treasurer of the organization, said, “You know, you can’t ever defend a political party, a religion, or a great storm against free speech. There is a tendency to belittle anything today. I have advocated the rights of free speech, but I also advocate the curbing of free slander.

“And another thing you don’t want to forget: On March 12, 1888, the only way you could get a message from New York to Boston was by cable to Europe. That was some blizzard.”

From 1941's "'88 Blizzard Men Belittle the Snow of '41; Deny They Are 'Garrulous, Ancient Gaffers'":

Last week-end's snowstorm set a six-year record but it was just the "little blizzard of 1941" and "our stepchild" to the Blizzard Men of 1888 who gathered yesterday to see if there were any new stories to tell about the famous "big blow" of March 12 of that year, which engulfed New York in snowdrifts two stories deep and has since provided subject matter for endless conversations and speeches.

From a write-up of a 1952 meeting:

A couple members slipped once or twice, and talked about unrelated issues like the high cost of living and the new Washington Administration, but they were quickly steered back to the main snow trail.

The latter-day “blizzard” that brought twenty-five inches of snow to New York in December, 1947, came in for its usual comeuppance from the veterans of the 16.5-inch fall of sixty-five years ago. “No wind in ’47,” was the unanimous reminder, and wind, they all agreed, is what makes a blizzard.

From a brief piece on 1960's get-together:

The old timers’ comments on the city’s biggest storm in eleven years, which deposited 14.2 inches of snow on New York, ranges from “pipsqueak” to “a pretty good little imitation” of the storm of ’88.

In 1969, the last of the group's leaders died, and the Blizzard Men of '88 stopped holding their annual meetings. "We'd never see each other between those lunches," Richard Konter, a former member, told the Times in 1973, "but we'd always have a lot of fun."

This post originally appeared in 2015.