The “Great Snow” of 1895

Today’s icy weather is definitely not the norm for this part of Texas. Our streets, tires and infrastructure is designed to handle heavy rains and heat, but not snow.

Sealy “Open Gates” Mansion blanketed in snow

But because it’s such a rare occurrence, photos of snowfalls from the past seem especially enchanting. On Valentine’s Day in 1895 Galveston was blanketed with over a foot of snow, bringing street car traffic to a halt, and closing the doors of banks and wholesale businesses.

Snow-covered Strand

The snow began to fall about one o’clock in the afternoon, and continued to fall for the rest of the day.

Carriage driving through snow at 17th and Postoffice

Shoes stores sold out of “gum boots” (rubber boots) and overshoes, as even the most sedate citizens took part in citywide snowball fights. Merchants, policemen, bankers carriage drivers, doctors an other adults took the opportunity to launch snowballs at each other, to the delight of onlookers.

Rear of the Kopperl Residence

Those trapped at the train station waiting for trains that had no way of reaching them were less amused.  The bright spot at the station occurred when Officer Perrett saved a yellow dog he found half-frozen in a snow drift, and warmed it by the waiting room stove.

Shoveling snow outside the Kopperl residence

A few ingenious locals attached temporary runners on their carriages and used them as makeshift sleighs. Others were the victims of icy falls and other mishaps.

Ball High School surrounded by snow

As evening fell Dr. Isaac Cline, the now famous Galveston meteorologist was busily answering telephone inquiries about the prospect of more snow, but were met with the news that the “worst” was over. Our generation isn’t the first to be excited over the prospect of snow or worry about it’s implications…and it certainly won’t be the last.

Photographs courtesy of the Rosenberg Library Archives.

Icy harbor




The Poignant Tragedy of the Battle of Galveston


A small, unassuming grave marker stands in the Trinity Episcopal Cemetery of Galveston, located at Forty-First Street and Broadway. Tough simple in design, it marks a New Year’s Day that encompassed the tragedy of the War Between the States; the day a Confederate officer embraced a dying Union officer, his own son.

When West Point graduate and military veteran Colonel Albert M. Lea moved to Texas in 1857 his son Edward remained in Maryland to attend the United States Naval Academy and continue the celebrated military tradition of the family; the same family that would be devastated by fighting each other within the very country they loved.

Albert Miller Lea
Albert Miller Lea

As a Texan and friend of General Sam Houston, Albert Lea applied for a Confederate commission in March 1861, just one month before the Civil War began. He wrote a letter to his then 26-year-old son advising him to follow his conscience when he made the decision regarding which side of the conflict to support, but added an ominous warning: “If you decide to fight for the Old Flag,” he said, “It is not likely that we will meet again, except face to face on the battlefield.”

Edward chose loyalty to the Union, telling his fellow officers he did not desire his family’s love if it involved being a traitor to his country.

After months of serving in a variety of locations, Colonel Lea was transferred back to Texas on December 15, 1862, staying with his wife and family at a relative’s home in Corsicana.

Once in the area, Lea learned that the Union vessel Harriet Lane on which he believed his son was serving, had been occupying the harbor of Galveston since the Union captured and occupied the island earlier in October. Lea hurried to Houston to long-time friend General Magruder’s headquarters, where he learned that a plan to recapture Galveston Island would be executed within a week.

During the pre-dawn hours of January 1, 1863, Lea helped to move six brass cannons of Captain M. McMahon’s battery across Galveston Island’s rail causeway. Afterward, Colonel Forshey posted Colonel Lea in one of the town’s tallest buildings near Broadway (some reports suggest a church, others Ashton villa) to observe and report the status of the attack.

A severe battle ensued, during which the Westfield, which had run aground off Pelican Spit, was blown up, and the Confederate gunboat Bayou City rammed the Harriet Lane near the wheelhouse, which allowed the Confederate troops to overrun the vessel. The remainder of the Union fleet fled to New Orleans, leaving three companies of the 42nd Massachusetts infantry on Kuhn’s Wharf to surrender. The rebels had retaken the city at a cost that was yet to be seen.

Colonel Lea rushed to Kuhn’s Wharf waterfront near where the battle had taken place. Once granted permission to board the Harriet Lane, he learned that her Union commander, Captain Wainwright, was dead and Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, the executive officer, had been shot through the stomach.

Making his way through the soldiers pillaging the ship, Lea found his son lying in the cockpit, surrounded by dead and dying comrades.

Dr. Penrose, who was operating on a wounded man, handed Colonel Lea a flask of brandy for his son to sip, telling the grief-stricken father that the wound was mortal.

Cradling the young officer’s head, Colonel Lea said, “Edward, this is your father.”

“Yes father, I know you,” the young man whispered in return, “but I cannot move.”

In a desperate attempt to change fate, the Colonel went ashore to arrange for his son to be moved to the Sisters of Charity Hospital. After relating the events to General Magruder, whom he met along the way, Magruder offered his private quarters for his friend’s son.

While his father was absent, the lieutenant was told that his death was near and was asked if he had any last wishes. With his last breath, Edward replied, “No, my father is here.”

When Albert Lea returned, his brave son was dead. The next day an elaborate funeral procession that included Confederate and Union officers, sympathetic local citizens, a drum corps of prisoners from the battle and a group of Masons in full regalia solemnly carried

Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II
Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II

Lieutenant Lea and Captain Wainwright from Magruder’s headquarters to a service at the Episcopal Church. Colonel Albert Lea himself delivered the eulogy before the two men were buried with full military honors in a common grave, donated by local business leader W. Grover.

The fair city of Galveston had witnessed the true horror of Civil War violence on a personal level.

In 1866, the body of Captain Wainwright was reinterred with honors at the Naval Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

A wealthy relative offered to rebury Edward Lea’s remains beside those of his mother in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, but

Albert Lea refused. He said he felt it was more fitting for his son to rest where he fell “in sight of the sea and in sound of the surf.”

Albert Lea remained in Corsicana, where he experienced several reversals of fortune in the cotton trade. On the morning of January 16, 1891, Lea died of heart failure sitting alone in his bedroom. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.

Ironically, the Harriet Lane itself sustained little damage in the battle, and it visited Galveston as a cargo ship under the name Eliot Ritchie for years to come.A1-20180106_100411_DSC_0008

Of all who fought and died on the Harriet Lane’s decks only Lieutenant Lea remains in Galveston. A weathered sculpture of an anchor and binoculars lay on top of a stone that poignantly echoes his last words, “My father is here.”


To see photos from the 2018 re-enactment of the Lea-Wainwright funeral in Galveston, visit:



New Year’s Eve Box Parties 1912

The Grand Opera House in Galveston was the site of festive “box parties” on Dec. 31, 1912.

A box party occurred when a host or hostess purchased tickets to an entire box at a theatre, and then invited their guests for a special afternoon or evening of entertainment.


Miss Mary Moody was presented with a box to the matinee performance of the play “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by Miss Charlotte Walker, a famous Galvestonian who was appearing in the production.

The play had opened the previous January in New York at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. Walker also appeared in the silent film version in 1916.

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Charlotte Walker

Mary’s guests were the Misses Allen, Phyllis Walthew, Anna Mosle, Libbie Moody and Ethel Sykes.


At the evening performance of the play, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Archer Robertson hosted their own box party with Miss Margaret Robertson, Miss Eileen Allen, Miss Jane Alvey, Miss Winifred Allen, Mr. Fred Austin of Houston, Mr. Charles E. Witherspoon, Mr. Gus I. Arnold, and Mr. Earnest G. Diehl of Cincinnati, Ohio.

This group was especially fortunate, proceeding from the play to the “watch party” (to await the New Year) at the fabulous Hotel Galvez.



Wishing you all every happiness in the New Year!


Ghostly Appearance at the Pier


Many people assume that the majority of Galveston hauntings stem from the 1900 Storm. While it’s true that the overwhelming loss of life during that hurricane contributed to the population of restless spirits of the island, entities were experienced long before the waves of 1900 washed across the city.

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Pier 33 in 1910

In January of 1894, Galvestonians were talking about the wraith of a woman seen on the West End. She was said to be the spirit of a woman who had drowned in the neighborhood years before.

Appearing at midnight and clad in a calico gown, she clutched a shawl that was drawn around her shoulders and beneath her chin. Moving slowly and deliberately she moved from the east end of Pier 33 to the west end, then going over the edge.

There were different theories at the time as to whether she had fallen or jumped, but no sounds of footsteps or a splash was ever heard. If witnesses rushed to the end of the pier to look, there was no sign of her in the water.

Was she distraught from the loss of a child during a Yellow Fever epidemic, or a husband lost at sea? Was she a victim of the harsh life experienced by many during the rough, early years of the city? It seems her identity and story will remain a mystery.

In 1894 that area, home of the newly constructed Moody Cotton Compress, was bustling with business and waterfront workers, but as 12 o’clock neared…no one ventured toward Pier 33, at one time called Western Wharf.

The sad spirit became such a regular occurrence, that even those who lived nearby avoided the area around the midnight hour.

Today grand cruise ships past the spot of the ghost’s appearance on their way to dock at the cruise terminal. I wonder if she even notices.


GOG-CoverRead more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.





Beads for Elizabeth

20150210_140010_DSC_7256Having escaped from an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, Elizabeth Percival started a new life with her two step-daughters Florence and Jessie. She opened a restaurant named The English Kitchen, serving the English dishes from her childhood with a boarding house on the floors above it. In the following months she and the girls gained a loyal following of customers and friends.

In March of 1881, Elizabeth and her daughters invited their friends to join them at their restaurant, which was right on Galveston’s Mardi Gras parade route, for a night of fun and fellowship.

They had no way of knowing the night of revelry would end in tragedy.


Elizabeth’s ex-husband hid among the floats and marchers in the parade. As he passed the restaurant, he took aim and shot Elizabeth in front of all who loved her. Her step-daughters, who she had rescued from their natural father, were grief-stricken, and erected a beautiful marker over her grave.

I stopped by Trinity Episcopal Cemetery to leave beads for Elizabeth. While the island of Galveston is in the middle of Mardi Gras season, I didn’t want her to be forgotten.

I hope you’ll enjoy more of Elizabeth’s story, along with other amazing stories behind the gravestones of Galveston in my book, “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries,” from Arcadia Publishing. Available on Amazon.com.