Prather’s Pick: The great gulf hurricane of 1900
On Sept. 8, 1900, a hurricane hit the city of Galveston, Texas — and not just any hurricane, either. It resulted in the deadliest natural disaster in American history, destroying the city and killing 10,000 (perhaps more) of its citizens — all in just one night.
The hurricane is what this week’s nonfiction book for adults is all about. “The Storm of the Century,” narrative history, is a brand new book (2015), written by Al Roker who is well known for his work in NBC’s “Today” and the Weather Channel’s “Wake Up with Al.” The book is published by HarperCollins Publishers.
Because the book deals with historical information, you might pass it up when looking through the other books on a shelf, thinking of it as “dry reading.” Wrong! Using research (the book has an extensive bibliography and some suggested readings), Roker learned enough about the people and events of the hurricane to write the book in story form — not to be confused with fiction.
The book begins much as a novel might, engaging the reader right away. The author takes the reader back to the night of Sept. 8, 1900. A man is pinned down under some 15 feet of water, held there by some timbers that once held up his house. The man’s name is Isaac Cline, a well-known Galveston meteorologist who had always believed that a hurricane could not harm Galveston.
Now Galveston is gone, Cline is fighting for his life, and he has no idea where his wife and children are.
In the next chapter the author takes the reader back to days before the disaster to meet real life citizens who are going about their daily lives. For example, there’s Cassie Bristol who runs a boardinghouse to make a living for her four children. She’s bus preparing for the arrival of medical students.
Ed and Annie McCullough are newlyweds. Annie has a garden of prize rosebushes. Ed Ketchum, Galveston’s chief of police, has a stack of paperwork to catch up on. And 23-year-old Daisy Thorne is a seventh-grade teacher who will marry her doctor fiancé in June. And still other citizens are featured.
The reader will follow these people throughout the hurricane and the restoration that follows. The book has a lot more information for the reader as well, including the history of Galveston, elementary information about the tools of predicting weather (I was especially interested in the effects of low and high pressure on people), and historical information about Isaac Cline’s career. Especially interesting, and also ironic, are the politics involved with the “squelching” of Cuban weather forecasting in the United States, forecasting that might have made a difference to the people of Galveston.
Two women made a huge impact on Galveston during its recovery and rebuilding. Winifred Black, a reporter for William Randolph Hearst’s “Examiner,” disguised herself as a boy and joined a work gang in order to enter the disaster area. Clara Barton was sent by Joseph Pulitzer’s “World” to distribute donations. All of this information is included in the book, too.
The last words in the book (about the hurricane) were those of Annie McCullough, the bride who grew the rosebushes.
This book, skillfully crafted by Al Roker, is a must read! It has changed my thoughts about weather predictions forever.
You can find “The Storm of the Century” with the new books at the Craig Moffat County Library or you can purchase it, in hardcover, for $27.99.
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