“Umbrellas Were Useless:” A Grumpy Dispatch From 1882, On the Rainiest Day in New York History


A happy, soggy May Day to all of you. You may have noticed a torrential downpour generating from the sky yesterday, soaking your hair, your laptop, your socks, your life, and generally making everything unbearable. According to the National Weather Service, nearly 5 inches fell in Central Park, the 10th soggiest day on record. There was flooding on both the West Side Highway and FDR Drive, as well as from the Bronx River. A flood warning remained in effect for the whole city and southern New York State until 9:15 this morning, and until 11:15 for the Bronx because of continued leakage from the river. And at Times Square, the weather decided to venture into the subway station.

It was a terrible, yes. But sadly, at least for the purposes of New Yorkers’ ongoing Complaining About the Weather Olympics, it wasn’t the worst. That honor belongs to September 23, 1882, which the National Weather Service says had the heaviest rainfall ever recorded at Central Park. On that day, 8.28 inches fell from the sky. Cruelly, Twitter was still 124 years from being invented, meaning that everyone could only complain about the rain to those in earshot.

Luckily, we’ve got the New York Times, whose September 24, 1882 edition devoted many, many column inches to a lengthy report/rant about the rain. Among the ways that torrential rain could ruin your day in 1882, according to the Paper of Record’s obviously disgruntled, extremely verbose weather correspondent:

Nobody’s umbrella or clothing was equipped to handle it:

Umbrellas were useless, and most of the thin rubber over-garments proved of little more service in excluding the drenching, penetrating streams which hit the wayfarer from above and below, and, for that matter, in front and behind as well.

The streets essentially turned into lakes:

The gutters kept running torrents; the water-spouts and the overflow from eaves, awnings, and other projections were miniature Niagras; the grooves of the horse-car rails were conduits for an incessant flow, and, between the tracks, where the pavement was depressed,which was the case in many instances, were huge lakes of water, ankle-deep, which reminded the beholder of scenes observable during the usual “January thaw,” when that happens to follow a heavy fall of snow.

On the bright side, the water was clean:So clean that the oldest person the NYT could find said it was unprecedented.

The “oldest inhabitant” who was out last night had not a memory which went back to a time when he saw the streets so clean.

On the less-bright side, it ruined everybody’s evening, even the diehard winos:

Along the Bowery, through Third, Sixth and Eighth Avenues, and over the railways which traverse these thoroughfares, the usual tide of traveling humanity was conspicuous by its absence.The shops and saloons, even, were deserted, and concert halls looked gloomy in their emptiness. The constant drip was dispiriting even to the habitues of the bar-rooms and the music gardens, and beer and more active stimulants did not prove a sufficient inducement to wean them from their homes or other places of shelter.

The Hebrew haberdashers were disgusted:

To the shop-keeprs on the Bowery, the rain last evening was especially disgusting. Many of them, especially the haberdashers and clothing dealers, who comprise a good 50 percent of the total, are of the Hebrew faith, and kept the day as a holiday — the most sacred and rigidly observed of all in the Jewish calendar. But the holiday ended at sundown, and the thrifty dealers hoped that the rain would do the same and give them a chance to do business.

In other words: buck up, modern New Yorkers. We’ve made amazing advancements in rubber boot technology, and the bars were still quite lively last night. (We checked. Thoroughly.) Wring your shoes out and look forward to this afternoon, when the sun will make a brief reappearance.

The full article from the Sep. 24, 1882 edition of the Times is on the following page.

Sep 24, 1882, New York Times on the Rainiest Day Ever