The Great Ice Storm of 1898

Feb 28, 2014

Ice. It is both a beauty and a menace, often simultaneously. From February 20 to February 22, 1898, an ice storm swept through northwestern Connecticut, coating tree branches and utility wires.

Roads were treacherous and slippery. Tree branches, weighed down with ice, broke and fell, rendering some streets impassable. The storm knocked out electricity and telegraph and telephone communications, and closed the trolley lines in parts of the state. The railroad trains kept running, though their tracks had to be cleared of branches and debris, and they arrived well behind schedule.

The destruction of the trees moved a Goshen resident to write to The Hartford Courant about “this great throbbing pain of nature.”

Destruction notwithstanding, Norfolk’s intrepid photographer Marie Kendall braved the icy streets to capture the storm’s cold beauty. In her photographs, trees are bowed from the weight of ice, utility wires sag low to the ground, and icicles hang from every surface.

The one thing missing from Kendall’s photographs is a human presence; not a single person appears in any of her images from the ice storm. Kendall photographed people extensively in Norfolk, including during the blizzard of 1888, so it was not an aversion to depicting people that accounts for their absence from her ice storm photographs.

Norfolk was still a farming community in 1898, and surely the farmers ventured to tend their livestock, despite the weather. Kendall’s explorations did not take her far from the town center, however, and there, the streets were apparently quite empty. The clear implication is that with no compelling reason to go out, most people stayed home by the hearth, and waited for conditions to improve. Only the adventurous photographer was out and about, enjoying and recording the aftermath of the great storm.