In the hours after the blizzard hit early Monday morning, poles came crashing down from the weight of accumulating snow or after being struck by falling trees. Poles fell all over the city, taking neighboring trees and poles with them, and leaving sizzling, mangled wires that further obstructed streets already clogged with snowdrifts and blown down sign boards. Telegraph and telephone service was knocked out in every sector of the city. After several electrical wires snapped during the morningand company linemen refused to climb up during the blizzard to perform repairsthe citys electric companies decided, for the most part, to shut down service in anticipation of severe problems. By evening, with snow still blowing, the only light in the city was gas light and candle light, remnants of decades past.
After the snow stopped and the winds calmed midday Tuesday, much of the mangled debris remained. In the week after the blizzard, the poles and the wires complicated the citys cleanup efforts. The New York Tribune reminded citizens in an editorial on March 13 that a law had been passed to bury the wires, that the companies had the money to make it happen, and that it was "high time to have done with tricks and subterfuges to avoid the plain requirements of duty and of common sense." Unsurprisingly, in the months after the storm, corporate opposition to the citys efforts to force burial of the wires remained strong: Brush Electric Company, for instance, threatened to leave the city if it was forced to bury its wires.
While the Blizzard of 1888
drew significant attention to the threat the wires posed to public safety,
resolution of the situation was still nearly two years away. Hugh Grant
defeated Abraham Hewitt in the fall mayoral election, and after his
inauguration in January 1889 the new mayor stated his commitment to
banishing the wires below ground. Legal wrangling over the question
continued for most of the year until a series of very public accidents
increased public outrage at corporate resistance to the citys
efforts to make the streets safer.
The Blizzard of 1888 was not directly responsible for the movement to bury citys electrical hard wiring; the movement to bury the wires dated back to well before the storm and continued for two years after it. But the events of that frosty and dangerous March week dramatized the problem, and contributed significantly to the developing movement to bury the wires, once and for all.