New York City, NY Terrible Storm, July 1853



The most remarkable occurrence of all was the storm in the evening. The day had been exceedingly sultry, almost as much as the day preceding. On Thursday evening, it will be remembered, a very violent thunder storm occurred, accompanied by a high wind, and the most vivid and continuous flashes of lightning of the season. Out of the City, at Yonkers and its neighborhood, very large hailstones fell, and did great damage to the green houses and other structures in which glass was freely used, but in the City, very little hail was noticed. Last evening the storm commenced at about 5 o'clock, a heavy, black cloud rising in the northwest, while the sky in the south was clear. The thermometer then stood at 90 degrees, or thereabouts. The storm first broke in a tremendous fall of rain, accompanied, by large lumps of ice, and some especially in the upper part of the City, by tremendous hail stones, very many of them being as large as hens eggs, and some as will be seen by the communication of Prof. Loomis, given below, nearly twice as large, of them a collection of such lumps firmly cemented together. They fell with great force, breaking skylights and other exposed glass windows, and flying into fragments when they struck the pavement. This continued, accompanied by thunder and lightning, for six or eight minutes, when the fury of the storm seemed to abate. After a brief interval it recommenced, and, raged with still greater violence, until a sharp flash of lightning, instantly followed by a terrible thunder crash, seemed to exhaust its strength, and it again abated. Another but lighter shower followed half an hour later, but without either hail or lightning. During all this time the wind had blown with considerable force, but not with any very remarkable violence in that part of the City west of the Sixth Avenue. In Brooklyn, we understand, there was no hail, and in the lower part of the City there was comparatively little wind.
After the storm, at about 6 o'clock, we visited the Crystal Palace and its neighborhood, mainly to observe the effect of the storm upon that structure and the various buildings in its vicinity. So much has been said about the fragility of the Palace, that we were curious to see how it had stood the severe test of the storm. We found that the fall of hail had been quite as heavy there as elsewhere, and that the wind had blown a perfect hurricane. The various pictorial presentments of large cattle, fierce beasts, &c., with which the neighborhood abounds, had been torn to tatters. Corporal Thompson's immense merry-go-round, with its four arms, to each of which was suspended a swinging bucket with seats, had been set whirling with such unexpected velocity that it had shaken itself to pieces; and four or five, put into the buckets to keep them steady, were hurled, as if from a sling, some three hundred feet into the midst of the cattle on exhibition, fortunately without inflicting upon any of them the slightest injury. A very high brick wall, built up just on the north side of the Latting Observatory, had been blown flat to the ground, and on the opposite and upper side of Forty-fourth Street, adjoining the stables of the Sixth Avenue Railroad, a block of wooden buildings, in process of erection for saloons, refreshment rooms, &c., was prostrated, and a number of persons were crushed beneath its ruins.
We were informed by Mr. Ebbitts, the Superintendent of the Sixth Avenue Road, who was standing in front of the stables at the time, after the first thing struck by the blast, which seemed to come from the northwest, was the big swing in the garden; the brick wall fell next, and then, with a tremendous crash, the wooden buildings across the street. These were four in number. Adjoining the stables, which are of brick, stood, and still stands, one of wood, which was so far sheltered by the stables, that it escaped with slight injuries. Then came a two and a half story, and then two one story wooden buildings, which were swept flat to the earth by the blast, taking in their course part of a fourth, and burying in their ruins a large number of workmen, principally masons, and several others who had resorted to them for shelter from the storm. A singular twist in the hurricane is indicated by the fact that while these buildings fell towards the east, the brick wall by the side of the Observatory, just upon the opposite side of the street, fell towards the west. The buildings were owned by Dr. S. P. Townsend, who, we are told, had reportedly consulted his head carpenter upon the subject, and been assured by him that they were substantially built and perfectly safe. As there was to be a large saloon in one of them, Dr. Townsend, in order to put their safety beyond question, had ordered iron girders for them, which arrived only an hour or two before the storm, and had not, of course, been put up. When we reached the ground, three dead bodies had been found and sent to the Station House, and four persons, more or less seriously injured, had been taken to the hospital.

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