“The Water Rose Higher And Higher…”

September 8, 2022, marks the one hundred and twenty-second anniversary of the worst natural disaster in American history -The Galveston Storm of 1900.

Sources say that somewhere between six and twelve thousand people lost their lives, literally overnight. Over time the tragedy distilled into singular stories of horror and grief. One eyewitness told of seeing the body of a woman hanging by her hair in a tree, her lifeless body beaten and torn by flying debris. Even those buried long before were not spared the indignity of nature’s wrath. Torrential rain created soft, malleable, water-logged soil that allowed the receding tide to sweep coffins from cemeteries out to sea only to return to shore to mingle among the recent dead. Death and devastation were so complete that Galveston Island, the economic and trading hub of the Gulf coast and jewel of high society would never recover. The burgeoning city of Houston further inland would take its place.

One of the fortunate survivors was an eight-year-old girl named, Sarah Helen Littlejohn. A month after the storm ( a Category 4 hurricane actually) Sarah wrote an account of that awful night. There is some evidence that her father, Elbridge, a teacher by profession, asked Sarah to write her story as therapy so that his beloved daughter could better cope with her experience, and manage her memories.

Beautifully and honestly written, Sarah gives us a detailed account of her recollections. This letter is fairly well-known but still worthy of a post. Years ago, when I first read Sarah’s account to a class of seventh graders, they didn’t believe me when I told them the author was four years younger than they. A teaching moment for sure!

Sarah would live a long and fruitful life. Along the way, she married, had children, and eventually moved to the east coast. She died on January 31, 1990, in Litchfield, Connecticut, aged 97.

Thank you for reading,

Buck

buck@historify.co

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