115 years ago, an unsuspecting Island population woke up and went about their morning.
They had no way of knowing that by lunchtime, the 30-mile Island would be engulfed by one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit its shores.
A storm that would kill between 6,000 and 12,000 residents and destroy 80% of the Islands structures.
It would leave a once burgeoning economy in shambles.
The Hurricane flooded the city with it’s 15 ft storm surge by mid-afternoon and made it’s way ashore in the late afternoon hours. The populous is sent in a panic, with families scrambling for sturdy shelter.
But not many structures could withstand the 140 mph winds, rapidly rising water and fiercely powerful waves.
Houses and buildings were ripped apart. Men, women, children and animals were left to succumb to the salty depths.
As Galveston lay in ruins, and the survivors began to sort through the destruction, it took a full two days for word to reach the mainland as the telegraph lines had been severed and only a few boats had survived in the Harbor.
Aboard the Pherabe, six messengers arrived in Texas City. From there they made their way into Houston, bound for the telegraph office. They arrived at 3 a.m. on September 10 delivering a short message to Texas Governor Joseph D. Sayers and U.S. President William McKinley: “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins.”
Houstonians had been aware of a large storm had hit Galveston, and immediately mobilized to assist with the cleanup. The initial reports of 500 dead had been thought an exaggeration, until the workers began recovering the countless deceased.
Galveston’s recovery was a slow one. Many Islanders couldn’t bear the daily reminder of the horrific anguish they had lived through and moved north towards Houston.
The Texas oil boom didn’t quite help either by drawing development and investment interests away from the coast and into CenTex.
It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Galveston saw an upturn in the Island’s recovery thanks largely in part to prohibition and illegal gambling. The Island’s government at the time and the relaxed enforcement of ‘mainland’ laws made Galveston attractive to investors looking to capitalize on these industries (i.e. organized crime).
Galveston then, much like today was an entertainment destination!
*Cheers to the Balinese*
These investments though, re-invented Galveston into a tourist destination, and assisted with a dramatic economy turn around. Even ‘legitimate’ businesses profited soundly from them.
The shipping and ports picked up traffic because of the rum-running and by the 30’s were second only to New York.
In addition to the business and tourism rebound, the education and medical industries also found a thriving environment on the Island.
Galveston is home to one of the premiere burn care hospitals in the United states and houses not only the University of Texas Medical Branch but also the Texas A&M Marine Biology College.
From absolute ruin, to again, a jewel in the crown of the Gulf Coast.
It may have taken some time and some ‘colorful’ deals but Galveston and her people have proved resilient, resourceful, resoundingly optimistic.
You feel that energy just crossing the bridge onto the island. I think it’s one of the best feelings ever. It’s an instantaneous dopium-like release in the brain that causes a slow and easy grin to creep across your face and as the windows go down, the music comes up…and you’re totally at ease.
And that’s the way the Island wants you to be.
If you’ve never taken in the 1900 Hurricane Museum on Pier 21, I highly recommend it. It’s truly incredible and the historical tours are wildly interesting too…our Island has quite the amazing history!
And Pier 21 has super awesome tasty stuffs 😉
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