Today’s Illustration: They All Had Plans!

hurricane  No Warning!

America’ Greatest Natural Disaster

The Galveston storm remains the worst natural disaster ever to strike the U.S., its death toll eclipsing the combined carnage of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.” 1


A number of books were written about it:

• “Isaac’s Storm: A man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history, “by Erik Larson
•  “Storm, Floods and Sunshine,” By Isaac Monro Cline (an autobiography)
•  “Galveston:  Ellis Island of the West,” by Bernard Marinbach
• “The Galveston Hurricane of 1900:  The Deadliest Natural Disaster In History,” by Charles River
•  Story of the 1900 Galveston hurricane,” by Nathan C. Green
• “Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America’s Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900,” by Al Roker

The Galveston Historical Foundation (found in 1871) has preserved much of the history surrounding the historic hurricane which his that city.

“Isaac’s Storm” was made into a movie in 2004


Primary Historical Figure: Isaac M. Cline, Chief employee of the U. S. Weather Bureau

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established in thirty years prior – in 1870

Date: September 8, 1900

Location: Galveston, Texas

Third busiest port for American shipping
Second busiest port for the arrival of immigrants — “The Western Ellis Island”
More millionaires per street than any other American city


Historical Background:

At the turn of the twentieth century, American thinking was marked by a cultural confidence that men could overcome any and all obstacles which stood in the way of progress.  Given time, men would understand more and more about the laws which governed this world.

The taking over of the Panama Canal project by America in 1904, and building of the Gigantic, Britannic, & the Titanic (1905 – 1912) were just an extension of that same confidence.

At The Turn Of The Century:

The Industrial Revolution  – 1790 – 1870
The establishment of the U.S. Weather Bureau – 1870
The development of fixed Wing Flight
The full development of steam power
The wireless “Marconi” radio – 1896
Pasteurization – 1856
Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell – 1876
Carnegie Hall opens in 1891
Construction of the intercontinental railroad
Thomas Edison built his first motion picture studio
Alfred Nobel had invented dynamite – 1867
American fleet defeats Spanish naval force in the Philippines – 1898
First Olympic Games held in Greece – 1896
Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska – 1897
Charles Darwin – Origin of the Species – 1859

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established in thirty years prior to the Galveston hurricane – 1870

“a weather monitoring network that included 158 regular observatories, 132 river outposts, 48 rainfall monitors, 2,562 volunteer observers, 12 West Indies stations, 9 coastal stations, and 96 railway posts throughout the country.” 1

One newspaper editorialist in 1900 called weather prediction “a complete science.”

Isaac Cline responded to the idea that a devastating hurricane could hit Galveston, Texas as . . . “an absurd delusion.”



Excerpts from “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson


“. . . . but [Cline] also had read the works of the most celebrated meteorologists and physical geographers of the nineteenth century, men like Henry Piddington, Matthew Fontaine Maury, William Redfield, and James Espy, and he had followed their celebrated hunt for the Law of Storm. . . . There was talk even of controlling the weather — of subduing hail with cannon blasts and igniting forest fires to bring rain. In this new age, nature itself seemed no great obstacle.” — pgs 11-12

Isaac’s house stood at 2511 Avenue Q, just three blocks north of the Gulf.  It was four years old and replaced a previous house that had burned in a fire in November 1896.  Isaac had ordered this house built atop a forest of stilts with the explicit goal of making it impervious to the worst storms the Gulf could deliver. — pg 15

“he could feel the shock waves climb the stilts of his house, the same way he felt the vibration of the pipe organ Cora played at church each Sunday . . . . But the sound frightened Isaac.  The thudding, he knew was caused by great deep-ocean swells falling upon the beach.  Most days the Gulf was a placid as a big lake . . . . The first swell had arrived Friday.  Now the booming was louder and heavier, each concussion more profound . . . . Isaac woke again at 4:00 am, but this time the cause was obvious.  His brother stood outside the bedroom door tapping gently and calling his name. . . . Joseph too had been unable to sleep.  Not a terribly creative man, he described this feeling as a sense of “impending disaster.” . . . The barometers had captured only a slight decrease in pressure. . . . recorded wind speeds, seven to nineteen miles an hour . . . . None of these observations was enough by itself to raise concern.


[For days, warned by the Weather Bureau’s Central Office in Washington — a tropical storm had drenched Cuba]

[Friday, notified of a tropical storm centered in the Gulf of Mexico, moving slowly northwest — Saturday probably heavy rains]


By 1900, the city was reputed to have more millionaires per square mile than Newport, Rhode Island.  Much of their money was vividly on display in the ornate mansions and lush gardens of  Broadway, the city’s premier street. — pg 24

The swells came very slowly, at intervals of one to five minutes.  To lay observers, this slow pace might have seemed reassuring.  In fact, the slowness made the swells far more ominous, a principle Isaac only vaguely understood.  Many years later he would write, “If we had known then what we know now of these swells, and the tides they create, we would have known earlier the terrors of the storm which these swells . . . told us in unerring language was coming.” — pg 25-26


Isaac returned to his office and composed a telegram to the Central Office in Washington.  He ended the telegram:  “Such high water with opposing winds never observed previously.”

Isaac’s concern was tempered by his belief that no storm could do serious damage to Galveston.  He had concluded this on the basis of his own analysis of the unique geography of the Gulf and how it shaped the region’s weather.” — pgs 26-27


Far out to sea, one hundred miles from where Isaac stood, Capt. J. W. Simmons, master the steamship Pensacola, prayed softly to himself as horizontal spheres of rain exploded again the bridge with such force they luminesced in a billion pinpoints of light, like fireworks in a green-black sky.

He had stumbled into the deadliest storm ever to target America.  Within the next twenty-four hours, eight thousand men, women, and children in the city of Galveston would lose their lives.  The city would lose its future.  Isaac would suffer an unbearable loss.  And he would wonder always if some of the blame did not belong to him.

This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself. — pg 28




Excerpt From Al Roker’s Book:

“A MAN PINNED UNDER THE WATER STRUGGLES TO FREE HIMSELF. Fifteen feet below the water’s surface and the air he needs so badly, his thrashing body begins to weaken. Big timbers, mercilessly heavy—only moments ago, they held up his house—are pressing him down. They hold him deep underwater. He can’t move them. He begins to drown. Knowing he has no chance, he stops struggling. The man tries to accept his fate.

Yet somehow when he comes to himself again, he’s risen from the depths and broken the water’s surface. Bobbing and kicking in a violently churning sea, he gasps for breath in the darkness, pelted by rain in a wind even louder than his gasps. Two of the great house timbers that held him down have risen with him. They press him, one from each side. He clings to them. He’s alive. It’s the night of September 8, 1900. And this is—or was—Galveston, Texas.”

— from the section titled — “Underwater” —


One of the section titles from his book is:  “They All Had Plans” — Al Roker chronicles the lives of several individuals who were all looking ahead and making plans about the future, including Isaac Cline.

Mary Louise Bristol and Cassie Bristol her widow mother.
Arnold Wolfram and his brother Henry
Police Chief Ketchum and his family
Annie McCullough, recently married to Ed. McCullough
Annie’s father, Fleming Smizer
Daisy Thorme — a twenty-three-year-old school teacher
Joe Gilbert, a doctor who was to marry Daisy
Boyer Gonzales – a businessman who really wanted to be an artist
The Sisters of Charity – ran a children’s home


“Arnold Wolfram, long since pacified to a middle-class urban life, went to work at the grocery.  Daisy planned her wedding to Dr. Joe, cycled, mused over the changes coming in her life.  The police chief confronted the work that had piled up on his desk while he’d been away.  Annie McCullough’s father, Fleming Smizer, manning the customs post on the mainland, fully expected to return to Galveston at will, by ferry or tug.  The Sister of Charity taught and cared for the children as they listened to the sound, usually so mild, or steady gulf surf.”

“They all had plans.”




Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• The Hubris of Men
• They All Had Plans
• No warning
• A coming world-wide day of judgement
• Noah’s flood
• Limited knowledge
• Everything is okay.
• Unknown trouble ahead
• Who knew?
• The Bible: a warning system
• It was reasonable to assume
• No writer can tell the full story of this tragedy!


Other Information & Links:



2. Books:

•  “Isaac’s Storm: A man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history, “by Erik Larson
•  “Storm, Floods and Sunshine,” By Isaac Monro Cline (an autobiography)
• “Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America’s Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900,” by Al Roker

•  “Story of the 1900 Galveston hurricane,” by Nathan C. Green — published in 1900, republished in 2000


Another excerpt From Al Roker’s Book:


Five hundred [death toll] had once seemed a hysterical, outsized exaggeration. It soon became clear that the death toll of the Galveston hurricane numbered in the many thousands. With decomposition setting in, there was no time or stomach for careful counting. The most conservative estimates would place the count at 5,000. Others would suggest it came near 15,000. Some split the difference, and around 10,000 seems a fair guess.

The News soon started running a second list, entitled “Not Dead.” That list was unfortunately short but critically important. As people were found alive, the paper took their names off the “Dead” list and filed them under “Not Dead.”

Nell Hertford, frequently escorted by the morose Boyer Gonzales, found that life in the ruined city had taken on an eerie calm.

To others, people seemed on the brink of madness. Not only were so many bodies being unearthed from the pile: new stories of that night of horrors kept coming up too. The terrible stories made the terror seem to go on and on.

Of the children who had sung for help to the Queen of the Waves, those orphans of St. Mary’s, only three had survived. All of the other orphans—along with Sister Elizabeth Ryan, Mother Camillus Tracy, and all of the nuns and other adults who cared for the children—died in the water.

The three survivors were boys in their early teens: Albert Campbell, Will Murney, and Francis Bolenick. Older kids, they probably hadn’t been roped to the adults. Swept through the wreckage by the powerful currents, all three had managed to grab the same uprooted treetop.

The tree was stuck precariously in the gulf between the masts of a wrecked schooner. The boys clung to the treetop together and held their bodies against the raging tide for long hours.

At one point Albert, weakening, shouted that he was drowning. Will grabbed a piece of rope from the schooner wreckage. He tied Albert to the treetop, and they all kept fighting the water.

Then the schooner masts broke, and the tree was abruptly released to the sea. Still the trio managed to stay with the tree as it flowed back toward shore.

The next morning, the three orphans found themselves on the gulf beach. Littering the sand were the dead bodies of everyone they knew.


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