Oral History Interview of Hyman Block


OH – Block, Hyman
Title: Oral History of Hyman Block
Interviewer: Bob Nesbitt
Format: Typescript; 1 tape
Description: Block (1888-1982) lived at 2016 Avenue G at the time of the 1900 Storm. An edited version of his interview appears in Casey Edward Greene and Shelly Henley Kelly, eds., Through a Night of Horrors: Voices from the 1900 Galveston Storm (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, c2000), 155-61.
Date: February 5, 1980
Terms: Houses; Avenue G – 2016; Wilson, Clint (Mrs.); Cisterns; St. Mary’s Cathedral; Dulitz, Ernest (furniture dealer); Gallagher, Nicholas A. (Bishop); Levy (J.) & Bro. (funeral home); Bodies; Mensing Building; Soldiers; Roma (steamship); Coughlin, Charles

Interview with: Mr. Hyman Block
Date: February 5, 1980
Interviewer: Bob Nesbitt

The following is an excerpt from the interview. Only the Storm-related pages are available here. To view the rest of the oral history, please contact the Galveston And Texas History Center.

Block, Page 152

Block: I'm going to try to get over there.

Nesbitt: Where is that going to be?

Block: Right over on the corner here. Moody Memorial. 53rd street.

Nesbitt: Tell me about the 1900 storm. What you know about that.

Block: Oh, the 1900 storm. I'll try to start at the beginning. The night before was a Friday night. A Friday night on September 7th. As far as I can remember, it was a beautiful moonlit night in the summertime in September. I seem to recall that our entire family sat on our front porch and enjoyed the cool breezes. We had no inkling of a severe storm approaching.

Nesbitt: The storm had not even been mentioned?

Block: No. We had no knowledge of it. The stories are that they had a few, they didn't have the intense communication~ they have today, but they did have Dr. Cline who was the meteorologist, and he had no indication that it was going to come in this far. But, anyway, getting away from that part. I woke up about seyen o'clock in the morning and it was c1oudTiand raining. It was blowing a little bit. I played around a little bit and about 11 or 12 o'clock it commenced to blow a little better and everybody realized that we were going to have a good blow. There were

Block, Page 153

Block: three people who were in my home at that time. Male. My father, my brother, and a very good friend of mine, a Mr. Miller.

Nesbitt: You were living at . . . .

Block: I was living at 2016 Winnie street. Right next to St. Mary's Cathedral. My father went to work and we never saw him until the following morning. Nesbitt: Where did he work?

Block: He worked at the Star Clothing House, which was on Market street.

Nesbitt: Well, that wasn't very far away was it?

Block: No, that was 24th and Market. But, it was quite a distance when there was 10 or 15 feet of water. My brother came home for his midday lunch. He was working at Miller Brothers. By that time, we had a garret at our house. In the summer, you left the cover over the roof vent open so the air could come through. That thing was blowing around and I went up a ladder with my brother, inside the house, who went out on the roof and he like to got blown off. He finally got that thing tied.

Nesbitt: He was older than you?

Block: Oh yes. He was about ten years older than me.

Nesbite: He was a grown man.

Block: > I still had no inkling what was going on. I guess

Block, Page 154

Block: our first realization of something bad was about four o'clock in the afternoon, we noticed lumber floating by and the people were then commencing to seek shelter at the court house. As I told you, we CQu1d hear the cows mooing, dogs barking, the shouting and one thing and another. t bout 4:30, it was raining pretty good and we looked out and right in front of our house was a man with horses. He was riding one and on the other was a lady with a very young baby. She was the wife of Clint Wilson and she was carrying Clint Jr. who was only a year old. Clint's father was the county commissioner. He was interested in a livery stab1e--Wi1son's Livery Stable. Realizing the danger to his family who lived on 20th and church, he sent his hack driver, one of his best and I think he was a man they used to call "Red" Mike, to get Mrs. Wilson and the baby. I don't know where they were going to take them. As they came around on 23rd street, the wind got them. A telephone pole fell across the hack and broke it in two. The man was fortunate enough to unhitch the horses and they put Mrs. Wilson and the baby on one horse and he on the other. When they got in front of our house and my mother saw them she went to the window and yelled out, "Bring those people in here:" The

Block, Page 155

Block: sidewalk was about a foot off of the street and the horses had to get over that. They came up to our porch and my mother reached out and almost fell in and my sister held on to her and she took Mrs. Wilson and the baby and she brought them in. The man said, "What is your name?~ .and we told them. We took Mrs. Wilson inside and I didn't have any idea what was going on. A couple of men came in about that time and asked if we knew what was going on and asked could they stay. They said, "Sure." You never know what is going to happen," they said. "We might have to get out of this house." I said, "What?" This was maybe about five or six o'clock. The water was then just about up to our front door level, which was about four or five feet off of the sidewalk. He said, "I hate to tell you this, but we are going to have to chop a hole in your floor so your house doesn't float off." So they proceeded to pull up the carpet and chop holes in the living room and the dining room and the water came through.

Nesbitt: How high did the water get on your first floor there?

Block: I will tell you how high it was. We had a dining

Block, Page 156

Block: room table that my mother attempted to serve some food on. I remember it was some salmon and black coffee, and while we were sitting there eating the table floated. That was about six or seven feet of water. It was six or seven feet in that area.

Nesbitt: You mean six to seven feet above the ground. Four feet on the outside of the house and two feet inside.

Block: We had about two or three feet of water inside the house there, which was a total of six or seven feet high. They had noticed that this lumber was still floating around. They floated these big, they were about two by twelve by ten or fifteen or longer, boards which was on a dredge which had been spilled by the storm. They floated about a half a dozen of them inside our house, because you never know when you are going to need something like this. We sweated out that storm, so when the water was getting that high, they took those same boards, we had steps, and they put them up the stairway and they pushed the piano up the steps.

Nesbitt: Yes, you told me that. It took about four men, you said. You had arranged the planks along the stairs so you could push it.

Block: Yes, just pushed it right up there.

Block, Page 157

Nesbitt: Did you sing any that night?

Block: No, nobody didn't think about any music.

Nesbitt: You didn't think about singing that night.

Block: Oh, no. We had an upstairs. We got worried about where we were going to sleep.

Nesbitt: > Your beds were all downstairs were they?

Block: No, our bedrooms were upstairs. Downstairs, there was a living room, dining room, and a kitchen, and a parlor. The bedrooms were upstairs. Nesbitt: Did you have a bath in those days? Or a water closet?

Block: We had inside plumbing. No, we had outside plumbing. We also had a cistern outside in the yard. We had city water in there. We had two cisterns. One was an underground cistern and one was a cistern up on pilings. Anyhow, I think I slept a little and all of a sudden I heard a little noise and I found out the next day what had occurred. These men saw the water rising and about 10 o'clock they went out on our upstairs front porch and they used those two by twelves as battering rams. It was about ten feet from the east end of our up- stairs front porch to the window of St. Mary's Cathedral's School across. Using those planks as battering rams, they forced them over and they managed to get that window up into St. Mary's.

Block, Page 158

Block: They fastened those planks so that we would have an escape if necessary over those planks. Then I commenced to get scared to death. My mother was worried. Everything was being damaged. She was worried about my father. My brother wasn't home. My friend Mr. Miller wasn't home. I re- member about four or four thirty, the first one who got into the house was my father. He had had a very narrow escape. He and an uncle of mine, Dan Kane, had been working at the Star Clothing House and by that time the storm had commenced to abate and they had waded through the water of the city streets of 24th and Market, which was then approximately shoulder high, and they had to detour to come up Church street. Just as they got on Church street between 22nd and 21st, a new brick building had just been built by E. Dulitz, a furniture store. That thing collapsed. Well, they like to have got buried under those bricks. Well, they got around it and my father came home. Eventually, my brother came home. On the morning of the ninth of September, we didn't know what had hit us. There was no water.

Nesbitt: But the storm was over by then.

Block: The storm had abated. I don't know whether the

Block, Page 159

Block: sun was shining.

Nesbitt: It got clear again.

Block: It was clear. It was just an overnight performance. Of course, we had been fortunate because St. Mary's Cathedral had shielded us and a building on the other side of us shielded us too. We got a whole lot of the blows from the front. An attic thing blew off and the whole upstairs was a mess. About five o'clock there was a knock on the back door. I think it was Bishop Gallagher. He wanted to know from my mother, how was every- body. Then he came up with a fine idea. He said they had a cistern over at the parish house, I forgot what they called it, but it was where the priests lived, and it had become contaminated and he wondered if we had tried any of the water in that upper cistern. We knew that our lower cistern was salty. We opened a tap and the water was fresh. He got some water to use for the holy water that they use and he also got authority to come and take all of the drinking water they needed. See they lived in that little place on the corner of 20th and Church. It was on the southwest corner. I remember it well, because they had beautiful figs there and I used to steal them. We still didn't know what was go- ing on. My father, that afternoon, went downtown

Block, Page 160

Block: and he didn't come back.

Nesbitt: This was the ninth?

Block: This was Sunday. My father went down to see what was happening downtown.

Nesbitt: When did he get back?

Block: He got back on Sunday morning.

Nesbitt: The ninth. He went to work. . . .

Block: He went to work Saturday morning at about seven o'clock.

Nesbitt: Saturday, the eighth, and he didn't get back...

Block: Saturday, the eighth and he didn't get back until Sunday morning about four or five o'clock. My father went to town and came back and I think Mr. Miller came back. They told us that this was a bad, bad storm, but we still had no idea. I think Monday morning, I met Marion Levy and he said, "Hyman, they tell me there is a lot of people who have been hurt and they haven't got enough room for them over at the undertaking establishment. Let's go over and see it." It's about nine in the morning.

Nesbitt: Did Levy live near you?

Block: No, Marion was coming down toward the city park and he and I used to play together. Well, by then it was about nine o'clock in the morning. The water had receded, but it was slimy and muddy and everything and we could see the damage. In

Block, Page 161

Block: those days all of the express companies had these very high bins, I call them. They were about 10 or 15 feet high. They were built especially to carry loads of cotton samples. We got around to about a block away from J. Levy & Brothers. We saw four or five of those things stacked to the top with dead bodies and we got a breath of air and that is as far as I went. I went back home and Marion went home. In the aftermath of the storm, things developed. Eventually, as I told you, they brought the troops in here. As a sidelight, my sister Rose had been on a visit up the state and she was trying to get back to Galveston and got as far as Texas City about a week later. She couldn't get in because they were not allowing anybody in or out of the city and she was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Clara Barton. She told her story and said she lived in Galveston and was anxious to get home to her family. Mrs. Clara Barton dressed my sister in a Red Cross uniform and they came by boat from Texas City to Galveston. You know the story of Mrs. Barton. Then became what shall I say, the city caught its second breath. Order had commenced to develop out of chaos. The balance

Block, Page 162

Block: of the story you know what happened. The committees and so forth. There were a lot of things that happened. I know eventually that maybe a week or ten days after the storm, three or four boats of the snapper fleet got into Galveston. Rode the red snapper. In those days, the snapper boats came into Galveston with a hold full of ice. They went down off of the Campeche banks, they caught the red snapper, came up to Galveston, dressed them and shipped them allover the United States. Well, those boats came in and I think it was Captain Munn who was head of the outfit then. Now, he volunteered.

Nesbitt: Captain who?

Block: Munn.

Nesbitt: Head of the snapper fleet.

Block: Yes. It was a red snapper company. If you know the history of Galveston, you will know more about Munn. He was quite a through here. Anyhow, they started to parcel those red snappers out to those in need. I had a little red wagon and everyday I would go down with my red wagon to 20th and A where the Galveston Ice and Cold Storage Company was. They were fortunate. They had artesian wells and they had plenty of ice.

Block, Page 163

Block: They would continuously make ice. I was given like every other person, a one hundred pound block of ice, which I put in my wagon. Maybe two or three times a week, I would go over to the snapper wharves and they would give me a big snapper. I would come on up to 21st and Mechanic and I would stop at Heidenheimer's.

Nesbitt: Heidenheimer ran a grocery store.

Block: A grocery store. I think they gave me flour. We kept that up for about a week or so and we realized that we couldn't eat no more fish. Things began to stabilize to a certain extent. The federal troops were here. They had taken over everything and established a commissary. We commenced getting back to work. I moved on around the town and saw the different sights. There was one thing that I will never forget. My brother was on his way, about the third or fourth day, to go to work at Miller Brothers, whose place was on Market street, when he was shanghaied in. What do you call it?

Nesbitt: Oh, he was mustered in the service.

Block: He wasn't mustered in. He was compelled to go in.

Nesbitt: He was impressed in the service.

Block: He was impressed. He was made a deputy marshall

Block, Page 164

Block: and given a bottle of whiskey and his job was at the Mensing Building. Where your buildings are now.

Nesbitt: Where what buildings are now? Block: The Strand.

Nesbitt: Oh, yes. I'm with you.

Block: On the corner of 22nd and Strand. By that time, they were still continuing their efforts to identify bodies. As fast as they were bringing bodies in, they were bringing them into Mensing's and stacking them on the floor. He had to guard them because there had been a number of cases, and it was proven, that people with rings on their fingers were losing them. People had val- uables on their body. Most of them were naked. There was a horrible stench. My brother stayed there about six days before they got him out of it. He was then maybe 21 or 22. Well, you know the story. They took these bodies and put them on barges and they took them out to the ocean and the ocean brought them back to them. That's when they gave up and started burning all of the debris wherever it was. I remember the policing of the city, of course, I was very muchly impressed by the United States soldiers that were establishing camps. They had

Block, Page 165

Block: camps right at my front door in the city park there. In the meantime, they took the federal troops out of Galveston and they brought in the Texas National Guard. They patrolled the streets. They would impress anybody who wasn't working. They didn't give a damn who you were. You had to go out and lift lumber, and serve on fire, and try to straighten out things and so forth and so on. One of the after effects of the storm, was that for months we were unable to get rid of it. When the water receded, it left a silt behind it. As that dried out, it stunk to high heaven. We used all kinds of . . . Everybody had the same problem. Many people lost their floor covering. Dh, it was awful. We were on bare floors. We went to services in temple. We had some damage there, but not too much.

Nesbitt: This was a Saturday morning, so you had gone to services the night before. Friday night.

Block: Yes.

Nesbitt: You had no idea any storm was coming or anything.

Block: No. They always say, "There is going to be a blow." Well, there had been blows before 1900. You know, this day, I think you will still find these meteorologists will argue that this was not a hurricane. It was an unexpected tidal wave. Because it was in and over the island from about four o'clock

Block, Page 166

Block: in the afternoon and had washed out by about eight or ten hours later. There are all kinds of stories. I think one of the most famous stories is one about a couple of fellows who were washed out in the gulf and the only thing they had to hold on to was a chicken coop. They were rescued. Another thing that I remember. There was a small tramp boat here called the Roma. That boat was blown way up on the mainland. The tide took it up there. They left it there. Eventually, a year or so later, they dredged a channel and pulled it back into deep water and she went back into service.

Nesbitt: You told the story too about this Englishman who had been over here and died and they had buried him.

Block: > Oh, I was think about it. His name was Coughlin. He was a very famous English actor and he had been knighted by the King of England. He was known as so and so. Anyhow, he died in Galveston in the spring of 1900. April, May, or June. I don't know when it was, but they buried his remains in the city cemetery here. But they put his body in a hermetically sealed casket. Of course, one of the effects of the storm was that it just uprooted bodies allover and they floated out.

Block, Page 167

Block: His body floated up through the gulf stream into the south Atlantic, got into the north Atlantic and landed on the shores of England. It was unquestionably his body because he was a very wealthy man and they put a big plate with his name on it and they identified it.

Nesbitt: This was at Land's End, you say?

Block: Land's End, I think it was. It was somewhere off of the coast of England. You will find that story has been written up two or three times. I think Joe Levy knows about it. The last time I read it about 10 or 15 years ago, they used to have a magazine called the Red Book and the Blue Book. This was published in Blue Book. It was all in detail. Also, it was used in an article, subsequently, when they were talking about the tides in the gulf. The gulf stream. They were telling about different things that had floated around and could trace from where it started to where it landed at. Well, following that portion of life, came the building of the seawall. By the way, I have something that I want to show you. Have you ever seen pictures of the seawall when it was being built?

Oral History Interview of Hyman Block