Galveston Tragedy of 1900

To Whomever Finds This Letter After I Am Gone:

The human body is one of the most intricate organisms on earth. The average adult’s heart beats roughly 60-100 times per minute; that is around 115,200 times per day, and 42,048,000 times per year. As blood pumps through our bodies, this silent pulse is the one absolute proof that we are alive. But what if I told you your heart can beat, every single day, 115,200 times, but yet you are not actually living? Twenty-seven years ago a part of me died, along with Anna, Grandma Mag, Aunt Ruth, Mother, and the other 8,000 innocent men, women, and children present September 8,1900 in Galveston, Texas. Now everyday I wake up, praying it was all just a terrible dream. Or that the steady rise and fall of my chest will one day still. This may sound dark – almost depressing to some, but living like this is not actually living. Looking back on that day, I wish my 17-year-old self would not have fought so hard to live, that instead I could have been lowered into the grave along with all the love I had ever known. My name is Edward Anderson. I survived the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This is my story.

The deadly storm was first sighted in Key West on September 6, but my story starts  a year before that. It was September 3, 1899, when I stood for the last time in front of the modest, yellow house in Owensboro, Kentucky that I had called my home for the past 16 years. It was all I had ever known and all I ever wanted to know. Although my dad had disappeared when I was a baby, my childhood was not devoid of love – Grandma Mag, Aunt Ruth, and Mother made sure of that! They raised me with all the tender love and dedication that a young boy could have dreamed of. We loved that house and that life, but the Kentucky small pox epidemic drove us out. Between work and school, the danger of one of us catching the sickness just became too high, and we had to leave.  Galveston, Texas, was the destination of choice. “At the time . . . Galveston, nicknamed the Oleander City, was filled with vacationers” ( and was the biggest city in Texas and only growing larger due to the rush to work in factories as well as its nice positioning along theGulf of Mexico. My mother saw it for all its potential. As long as we were far enough away from the small pox – she was happy. But all I saw it for was the factory smog and crowded streets. What could possibly change my mind about moving to this horrible place?

“Hey, my name is Anna, you must be new here?”

I never knew my mind could change so quickly with just one conversation. While the petite blonde girl in front of me babbled on about how exciting it was that America was on the edge of possibility, or how she dreamed of going to the Grand Fair in Paris, France, I thought about how I always believed I had all the love I would ever need. But I was so wrong. Within the pale blue eyes of Anna Perkins, I saw a new kind of love. A love I just had to have. A love I would lose way too soon.

As the year went by, I grew rather fond of my new home and made good friends. And Anna and I remained inseparable. We passed the time by going to concerts in the park, running through the city, and talking about our dreams. But as the dreaded day grew closer and summer faded into fall, I could feel something was off. Mom said I always had good instincts; I could feel danger approaching the way dogs can smell bad character. I only wish I had acted on it when I began to get that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I did nothing.

September 7, 1900,  the night before the horror climaxed, the sky began to go dark and the winds quickly rose. We had been through storms before, it was nothing foreign to us, but soon we learned that this storm was different. Anna was hanging out at my house that evening, doing homework. Grandma was rocking peacefully in the rocking chair across the room while Mom and Auntie were in the kitchen discussing the Organic Act which from my knowledge had something to do with providing a government for Hawaii but it all seemed rather boring and unimportant to me in that moment. In my 17-year-old eyes, the entire world was right in front of me, sitting criss-cross apple sauce on the plaid blue rug, leaning over her algebra paper, biting her lip the way she always did when she was really concentrating. Every once in a while she would glance up, flashing her blue eyes in my direction and giving a shy smile. I looked away sheepishly, hoping she would be fooled into thinking I was working, although the blank paper in front of me said otherwise. Life seemed perfect at that moment as I swallowed away the gnawing feeling of worry in my stomach, hoping it was only indigestion.

“Anna you had better plan to stay here tonight, the weather is getting worse,” Mother called from the window, a glint of worry in her eyes.

My mother was the bravest woman I knew. She held my family up after father left and always seemed to have everything under control. Seeing the panic in her eyes only made me more nervous. But again I ignored the feeling and headed to bed.

Three hours later I awoke abruptly to the sound of wind rudely banging on the walls around me and rain pelting the rooftops.

            Wow look at this storm, I excitedly thought to myself.

Ever since I was a kid, storms always fascinated me. Mother would tell me that it was God’s way of making us thankful for having a roof over our heads. I finally understood what she meant.

As the morning progressed, the storm only worsened. Around 10 am our breakfast was interrupted by a noise outside. A man was riding around town warning about a massive hurricane heading in our direction. He advised everyone to get to higher ground. Though at the time, the “highest ground” was only about 8.7 ft above sea level.

It began with the flash flood. Because of Grandma’s health, we decided to try to stay at home, but when the water started flooding into our house, we were forced to rush out to try to get to higher ground. Cline, the man who had ridden through town warning people hours before, had a pretty strong two-story house across town. If we could make it there, we would be safe for the time being. We could not imagine the storm would get too much worse, so we began wading through the flooded streets. At this point the water was only at our ankles, but within what seemed like seconds, it rose. As though someone had pulled a plug in a dam, the waters rushed towards us, pulling tree branches, furniture, animals, and anything else without a strong foundation with it. In an instant I heard a feeble scream next to me, turning just in time to see Grandma swept off her feet and pulled under. I reached for her hand but to no avail. She was pulled out of my grip and disappeared under the rushing murky water.

Realizing the real danger we were faced with, we linked arms and rushed toward Cline’s house. Upon arriving there, we realized that practically everyone in Galveston had the same idea! The scene was sad. There were about 50 others there. Mothers with screaming children, fathers looking frantically for their families, and even terrified children standing alone. Only an hour in and already there had been so much loss. I had lived a sheltered life, everything was always rainbows and butterflies for me, so seeing all this pain and devastation was a shock. Mother, Auntie, Anna and I all huddled in a corner trying desperately to stay above the water and relieved that we were all together. We somehow had pushed aside the fact that we had lost grandma already and tried our best not to mention it or show the sadness and fear in our eyes.

“We must get to even higher ground!” One man yelled through the howling wind.

“How? The flood is too strong!”

Almost as if Mother Nature knew we were talking about her, another mighty gush pushed an uprooted tree against the house, smashing down one of the walls. In an instant the somber crowd sprang into action. We did not know where safety was, but we knew it was not in that house and if we did not find it soon, we would all be lost.

“These pieces of wood, they float! Maybe if we grab onto them, we can float downstream without drowning and find better shelter!”

It seemed risky, but at this point it was our only option. Children went first. Because Anna and I were still 17, we were shoved in with the group of children and handed a dinky piece of what used to be a dining room table. I kissed Mother and Auntie goodbye, first making them promise me they would follow as soon as it was the adult’s turn. Little did I know that brisk goodbye was the last time I would ever see my beloved Auntie and Mother again. Moments after we left the house, a large tree blew over onto what remained, trapping everyone left inside of it.

There we were, 14 soggy, terrified children, waiting on a nearby factory building roof for the parents that would never come. Being one of the oldest, I could not let my own sorrow get in the way of lighting hope in the hearts of the other children. I had to remain strong.

By now Anna had morphed into a person I barely recognized. She was covered from head to toe in mud, water, and blood. She had scrapes everywhere and a huge gash on her side. I imagined I did not look much better myself.

“Edward, something does not feel right,” she moaned weakly, ” I think-”

With that she collapsed into my arms, breathing slowing. Blood gushed out of her side into my trembling hands. Her wounds were worse than I expected. I tried plugging the exit points with whatever I could find but there was not much I could do.

Two hours later she died in my arms, along with the hope that Mother and Auntie would come around the bend. From that point on, everything was a blur. Everyone I loved in life had died and by the time the storm subdued, I wanted to die as well.

“To this day, the 1900 Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in the nation’s history” (The). The next week was spent burning the dead bodies, salvaging whatever materials could still be used, and helping injured survivors. I helped silently, eating little and barely sleeping. At night I would have nightmares. I would see my family and Anna in the distance screaming for me. I would wake up in a cold sweat, yelling out their names. As the years went by I began to live for those nightmares–the only time I felt like they were still here. But eventually their familiar faces faded and I was only left with the horrible memory of what happened all those years ago.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. That is the dreaded sound of my heart, beating 115,200 times per day. Reminding me that I am still alive, and still alone. But now that I have told you my story I can finally put my heart to rest. See you on the other side.


Edward Anderson.

Works Cited Staff. “1900 Galveston Hurricane.” 2009. Web. 5 April 2017.

“The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900.” 2007. Web. 5 April 2017.



Larson, Erik, and Isaac Monroe, Cline. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the                                            Deadliest Hurricane in History. New York: Crown Publishers, 1999.

Lyon, Cherstin. “Organic Act.” 29 Jul 2015. Web. 5 Apr 2017.

Matthew, Solan. “Your Heart Rate Can Affect Your Current and Future Health.”                             17 June 2016. Web. 5 April 2017.

Morrow, Nancy. “Disasters.”American History Through Literature1870-1920, edited by Tom                    Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst, vol. 1, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 325-331. Web. 28                   Mar. 2017.

Voeltz, Richard A. “The Epidemic Streets: Infectious Disease and the Rise of Preventive                          Medicine, 1856-1900.”Journal of Social History, vol. 28, no. 4, 1995, p. 911+. Web.               28 Mar. 2017.