The Galveston Hurricane - September 8, 1900

Most sources list the Galveston Hurricane as the deadliest disaster in U.S. history with a death toll between 6,000 to 12,000. The hurricane, which is estimated as having been a category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, produced a storm surge of over 15 feet that impacted Galveston- an island-city with an elevation of 8.7 feet above sea level that had no protective sea wall at the time.

 

In a 1925 interview with Collier's Magazine, songwriter Carson Robison described the formula for "event songs." Event songs were a popular "hillbilly" genre in the 1920's in which songs relayed the stories of disasters and other news items. Event songs evolved in part from the more urbane parlor songs of the late 19th century as well as from broadside ballads. In the Collier's interview, Robison states “First I read all the newspaper stories of, say, a disaster. Then I get to work on the old typewriter. There’s a formula, of course. You start by painting everything in gay colors – ‘the folks were all happy and gay’ stuff. That’s sure fire. Then you ring in the tragedy – make it as morbid and gruesome as you can. Then you wind up with a moral…"

 

The 1900 parlor song, "The Terrible Texas Storm," by Thomas J. Kelly provides a classic example of the formula Robison referred to:

 

The Terrible Texas Storm - Thomas J. Kelly

The sun was brightly shining down in good old Texas State;
All hearts were gay and happy with no thought of cruel fate;
The children played upon the streets without a single care,
While hum of toil and business echoed on the morning air.

But suddenly the sky grew dark; then came the wind and rain;
Until the country ‘round was battling with a hurricane,
And as the tempest roared and raged, the angry gulf waves sped
Along the coast until a host were numbered with the dead…

Many a home with grief is sad, Many a heart is aching.
Many a loved one sleeps the sleep that knows no dawn of waking.
Many a life has passed away and stilled a heart once warm;
For lives and homes were swept away in the terrible Texas storm.

In Galveston alone a thousand felt the hand of death
And twenty towns were withered by the cyclone’s cruel breath
And where the happy children played and busy toilers trod,
A countless host of helpless lives went forth to meet their God.

How many souls were lost that day, no one will ever know,
But thousands weep with hearts bowed down beneath the cruel blow;
And all the nation mourns September 8, the fatal day
When Texas felt the storm that swept those lives and homes away…

Many a home with grief is sad, Many a heart is aching.
Many a loved one sleeps the sleep that knows no dawn of waking.
Many a life has passed away and stilled a heart once warm;
For lives and homes were swept away in the terrible Texas storm.

Recording personnel:
Jon Waterman- Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitar
Kirsten Manville- Backing Vocal
Chris Paglia- Bass
Jeff Pearlstein- Drums

 


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