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Galveston – One of the Stories of The Great Storm of 1900
The story of St Mary’s Orphan's Asylum in the storm
There are many tragic stories associated with this event but one that really spoke to me is that concerning St Mary’s Orphans Asylum which was run by Nuns from the Catholic order of the Sisters of Charity.
Many of the children that this Catholic orphanage looked after were children who had lost their parents during the Yellow Fever epidemic. The Orphanage was about three miles out of town and it was a beachfront property its location was thought to be ideal as it was away from the threat of the Yellow fever.
On the day of the storm the Orphanage had ten Sisters of Charity nuns who were at that time looking after a total of 93 children. During the afternoon the storm winds increased causing the tides to rise and strengthen and the size of the waves to increase in their ferocity. This resulted in floodwaters surging into the residential areas of the town
The Orphanage was a two-story building and facing the Gulf close to the beach but shielded by a row of fairly tall sand dunes and tall salt cedar trees. But as the ferocity of the storm increased these dunes were very quickly eroded away and the floodwaters rose up to the second story where the dormitories were.
The noise and ferocity of the storm scared both the Nuns and the children an in and in an effort to calm both themselves and the children they sang together the Old French Hymn Queen of the waves. The words brought them comfort while they were singing and it also reduced the children’s fears. This hymn was sung many times that day to the encouragement of those who sang and listened.
Below are the words to this song and you can see how this gave comfort to the Nuns and the children. We know that they sung this from the children who survived.
Queen of the Waves
From a French hymn, author unknown
Queen of the Waves, look forth across the ocean
From north to south, from east to stormy west,
See how the waters with tumultuous motion
Rise up and foam without a pause or rest.
But fear we not, tho' storm clouds round us gather,
Thou art our Mother and thy little Child
Is the All Merciful, our loving Brother
God of the sea and of the tempest wild.
Help, then sweet Queen, in our exceeding danger,
By thy seven griefs, in pity Lady save;
Think of the Babe that slept within the manger
And help us now, dear Lady of the Wave.
Up to the shrine we look and see the glimmer
Thy votive lamp sheds down on us afar;
Light of our eyes, oh let it ne'er grow dimmer,
Till in the sky we hail the morning star.
Then joyful hearts shall kneel around thine altar
And grateful psalms reecho down the nave;
Never our faith in thy sweet power can falter,
Mother of God, our Lady of the Wave.
If you click on this link it will take you to a page where you can hear a recording of this song which the nuns and the children sang in order to calm and strengthen themselves during the storm.
The recording of this song of this song was made as part of the commemoration of the 100th Anniversay of the Great storm in memory of those who lost their lives during the Great Storm.
The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
The following Video will give you a small insight into how this Order came into being and the work that it does. The video includes some photographs of the Great Storm and of the Orphanage and the Nuns and Orphans of this time. Amazingly this Order survives even to this day.
A brief History
The Bravery of the Nuns
However no amount of singing could stop the rising floodwaters and the crashing waves. As the storm grew in its intensity the children became increasingly frightened and according to one of the surviving boys, the Nuns were extremely brave.
By about seven o’clock many of the residents of Galveston had climbed up to the highest parts of their houses trying to escape the rising floodwaters some even managing to climb out onto their roofs. The howling wind blew lethal debris flying along which caused much damage to anyone and any thing it hit.
When the main tidal surge hit it lifted the houses along the seashore off their foundations and sent these floating houses like demolition balls into the still standing houses it was like a domino effect one house after another fell under this relentless onslaught.
It was at this point in the storm that the dormitory building that had been serving as a refuge for the nuns and the children was lifted off its foundations. As the building was lifted off its foundations the bottom fell out and the roof crashed down trapping all that were inside.
Of the ten nuns and ninety-three children present that day in the orphanage only three boys survived they had ended up in the water and all three clung to a tree. It was a miracle that these three boys survived, they remained clinging to that tree and floating in the water for nearly a day. Eventually they were able to make their way back into town and tell the town’s folk what had happened up at the orphanage.
Later they buried the sisters where ever they found them along with the children who in most cases were still attached to the sisters by those pieces of clothesline. The devastation and carnage wrought by this storm was unimaginable and they were still finding bodies months later. They never did make a complete list of the people that the storm had killed that awful day.
The video below is a video which tells this story with photographs and includes the children of some of the surviving boys telling their father's story of that night. It is a very moving strory.
The town put a Texas Historical Marker on 69th Street and Seawall Boulevard on the 8th of September 1994, which marks the site where this Orphanage once stood and this video was made to mark this Historical Marker being placed.
Galveston Storm of 1900
Over 6000 Dead
It was estimated that the lives of over six thousand people were lost and three thousand six hundred homes destroyed.
The storm left a huge wall of debris behind that encircled the St Mary’s Infirmary, which was almost two stories high in places. This wall of debris contained all that remained from the destroyed homes including the bodies of people and their pets and livestock.