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How the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 Became the Deadliest U.S. Natural Disaster
The U.S. Weather Bureau got the forecast completely wrong.
The deadliest natural disaster in American history remains the 1900 hurricane in the island city of Galveston, Texas. On September 8, a category four hurricane descended on the town, destroying more than 3,600 buildings with winds surpassing 135 miles per hour.
Estimates of the death toll range from 6,000 to 12,000, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Tragically, the magnitude of the disaster could’ve been lessened if the U.S. Weather Bureau hadn’t implemented such poor communication policies.
When the storm picked up in early September of 1900, “any modestly educated weather forecaster would’ve known that” it was passing west, says Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Over in Cuba, where scientists had become very good at tracking storms in the hurricane-prone Caribbean, they “knew that a hurricane had passed to the north of Cuba and was headed to the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Weather Bureau in Washington, however, predicted that the storm would pass over Florida and up to New England—which was very, very wrong.
On September 3, the cyclone struck modern day Santiago de Cuba Province and then slowly drifted along the southern coast of Cuba. Upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico on September 6, the storm strengthened into a hurricane. Significant intensification followed and the system peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) on September 8. Early on the next day, it made landfall to the south of Houston, Texas.[nb 1]
Haunted Galveston Walmart
The original St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, located at 69th Street and Seawall Boulevard, housed 93 children, who were cared for by ten nuns. On September 8, 1900, a Category 4 hurricane came ashore and carried with it devastation that remains on record as the deadliest natural
disaster and the worst hurricane in U.S. history.
As the hurricane blasted through the island – with winds estimated at 140 mph – the nuns tied a piece of clothesline around each of their waists, and then each tied line around the wrists of six- to eight children, and attached the children to their line. It was a valiant effort, but God had other plans. The orphanage was completely destroyed and much of it washed out to sea. All of the ten nuns and 90 of the 93 children aged two to 13 drowned. Three boys, somehow ended up together in a tree floating in the water.
A day after the storm, they made their way back to land. The sisters were found with the children still tied to their waists. Thirty thousand people, almost the entire population of the city, were left homeless.
The Haunted Walmart — Galveston
When I stumbled across this particular haunting, I initially thought it must be some kind of joke, as the only specter I’d associate with a Walmart would be the disappearing spirit of domestic manufacturing. But no, the Seawall Walmart in Galveston is thought to be haunted by many people, and for a pretty scary reason — it’s located on the spot where the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum once stood. So what happened to that long-gone institution? It was wiped out during the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, which killed ten nuns and 90 children at the orphanage. Despite the heroic actions of the sisters in charge, only three children escaped death when the fury of the storm struck the dormitory everyone was taking refuge in.
Now that a Walmart stands where the destroyed orphanage once did, employees report toys being misplaced or disappearing, and occasionally some folks claim to hear the distinct sound of a crying child somewhere in the aisles, but none can ever be found when they search.
Storm on the Strand Ghost Tour
THE RAILROAD MUSEUM
At its height this railroad station saw over 40,000 people a day on their way to Galveston’s bars, casinos and brothels. An engineer by the name of William Watson would entertain the passing crowds by doing handstands on the cattle guard of the engines. One unfortunate day he SLIPPED and was immediately decapitated. A derby hat was still securely sitting on the head they found A MILE AWAY!
THE TREMONT HOUSE
SO many dignitaries, soldiers, politicians and even presidents have checked in… BUT SOME NEVER CHECKED OUT. Crying sobs are heard on the stairwells and in the halls. A Civil War soldier marches up and down the lobby in front of everybody to see. A little boy plays in the hotel rumored to be the ghost of a child run over outside the front of the hotel. One helpful ghost will even unpack for you!
THE SEALY – HUTCHINGS BUILDING
Two separate buildings designed by famed architect Nicholas Williams to look like one is home to several of Galveston’s favorite ghosts. Sara, as the people of Galveston affectionately call her is often seen on the wrought iron staircase near the window where she pulled bodies out of the water… DEAD OR ALIVE. Sara stayed on after the water receded to help the injured only to die from one of the many diseases the flood water carried. Sara died three days later.
JEAN LAFITTE THE PIRATE
Jean Lafitte built the first city on the island that became home to 1,000 pirates and their prostitutes. His home, Maison Rouge was surrounded by a moat for his protection. But, not even a moat can keep the many ghosts that live in his house from entering. The U.S. Navy ordered Laffite to evacuate the island and in his rage he burnt the city he built to the ground.
Legend has it he buried his treasure on the west end of the island under three oak trees. But maybe it’s not a legend! At the time of Laffite there was a place on the island know as Three Oaks, where today treasure hunters have found doubloons. He loved his island so much he returned in 1823… after he was killed in a sea battle off the coast of Central America.
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