When Disaster Strikes

The walking tour, When Disaster Strikes, highlights local and national disasters as seen through the eyes of Cedar Hill residents. Some of the stories shared on the tour include:

The Blizzard of 1888

Hartford, Corner of Main & State Streets, Blizzard of 1888 Photo Credit: Connecticut Historical Society

“It snowed and snowed and snowed, as if it would never in its life cease snowing.” (Frances McCook (1877-1971) from an oral history given nearly 80 years after the Blizzard)

In March of 1888 one of the worst blizzards in American history struck the northeast. More than 400 people were killed with as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas.

In Connecticut, snow started to fall on Sunday, March 11. The storm lasted three days. The first day, over 30 inches of snow fell. Two days later, the total reached 45 inches.

The state was shut down for the duration of the storm. Businesses closed, deliveries stopped, trains did not run, and telephone and telegraph lines were down.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912

The Titanic, 1912

“There was absolutely no confusion and people who held back did so because they believed there was more danger going into the open boat than sticking to the ship, which they were confident was unsinkable.” (Richard Beckwith (1874-1933) as quoted in the Hartford Courant, April 19, 1912)

On the evening of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg – eventually sinking in the early hours of the 15th. More than 1,500 of the over 2,200 passengers and crew on board perished, making it one of the deadliest maritime disasters on record.

Richard Beckwith, a financier and real estate executive, was one of the 705 survivors along with his wife Sallie and stepdaughter Helen. Their lifeboat was about ¼ mile off the ship for about an hour when the ship suddenly listed, turned up on end, and went down.

Norwalk Train Wreck, 1853

Norwalk Train Wreck, Photo Credit: Leslie’s Illustrated News, May 21, 1853, Connecticut Historical Society

“There came then a shaking and a crash and a stop, and in a moment the work was done. The front of the car and part of the floor had broken off just in front of me, one end resting on the bridge and the other on the cars in the water below.” (Gurdon Russell (d. 1909) as quoted in the Hartford Courant, May 7, 1853)

On May 6, 1853, a train carrying over 200 passengers plunged off a bridge in South Norwalk which had been opened to allow the passage of a steamboat.

The Boston-bound train approached the bridge at 25 miles per hour. The speed carried the engine across the channel against the central pier. A baggage car, 2 mail cars, and 2 passenger cars followed. A third passenger car was left suspended and broke in half. Forty-five people died, most by drowning.

Considered the first railroad bridge disaster in America, the incident led to stricter regulations. The State Legislature passed a new law requiring all trains to come to a complete stop before proceeding across any drawbridge.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

City Hall, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Photograph by Frank Soule

“I looked from a window out into the bluish dawn light and saw the terrible destruction which had been wrought particularly the massive City Hall, from which the stone of the tower had fallen and only the steel skeleton frame remained on one side.” (Alma Freeman (1874-1910) as quoted in the Hartford Courant, April 30, 1906)

At 5:12 am on April 18, 1906, a foreshock occurred and twenty to twenty-five seconds later an earthquake with an epicenter near San Francisco hit. It lasted 45 to 60 seconds. It was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada.

Subsequent fires, caused by ruptured gas mains and dynamite used to demolish buildings to create firebreaks, burned for three to four days. The fires caused substantially more damage than the earthquake.

Believe over 3,000 people died. 225,000 of San Francisco’s population of 400,000 were homeless. 28,000 buildings were destroyed. Estimated property damage at 400 million 1906 dollars.

1938 Hurricane

Katharine Hepburn, 1938 Hurricane Photo Credit: Connecticut Historical Society

“It just sailed away – easy as pie – and soon there was nothing at all left on the spot where the house had stood for over sixty years. Our house – ours for 25 years – all our possessions – just gone.” (Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) describing her family’s Fenwick house being blown away)

The 1938 Hurricane started in Africa’s Sahara Desert. It moved westward into the Atlantic over the Cape Verde Islands. It began to curve to the north between two high-pressure areas from the east. Although experts in the U. S. recognized it as a hurricane on September 16, they thought it would miss the mainland.

On September 21, it accelerated. As it crossed Long Island Sound, it was traveling at 100 miles an hour. The barometric pressure fell to 27.94 inches, the lowest ever recorded on land in the northeast. Ocean tides rose to 10 to 17 feet above normal. The storm headed inland.

The Category 3 hurricane, which hit at an especially high tide, was the first to hit New England since 1815. Varying statistics, but estimate 700 people died. 1,700 injuries, 4,500 homes, 2,600 boats, and 26,000 automobiles destroyed. Another 25,000 homes damaged. Property lost amounted to $400 million.

Location of Graves

Frances McCook – Section 4, Lot 99
Richard Beckwith – Section 3, Lot 7
Gurdon Russell – Section 12, Lot 14
Alma Freeman – Section 10, Lot 35
Katharine Hepburn – Section 10, Lot 132

Through a partnership with CemeteryFind Cedar Hill offers public access to burial listings, including a mapping feature. Clicking on the link Cemeteryfind.com will take you to the website.