Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Galveston Storm

August 1915

House wrecked in the 1915 Galveston Hurricane

House wrecked in the 1915 Galveston Hurricane

The First World War continues to rage…if you think I sound like a broken record saying that every month in my news roundups, imagine what it was like reading the papers in 1915 (of course, no one called it the ”first” anything at the time). Worse, imagine being in the trenches or battlefields of the war itself. Casualties in the first year were high because both sides were learning about defensive measures in the new forms of warfare created by industrial technology, and soldiers who had served for this entire year had probably seen the majority of the comrades they entered with killed or wounded by now. Outside of the battle zones, however, life went on…

World War: The Battle of Sari Bair rages from August 6th to the 21st. This is an effort by the Allies to link up their forces in Gallipolli, which ultimately fails, leaving the front lines static. The Allies lose approximately 20,000 soldiers, the Turks 12,000 in the fighting.

Diplomacy: On August 16, the Allies promise territorial gains to the Kingdom of Serbia in case of victory. These promises will ultimately conflict with Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the concepts of national sovereignty under which the League of Nations is founded.

Hate Crimes: Leo Frank is lynched in Georgia on August 17th for the alleged murder of a 13-year-old girl. Frank is Jewish and the case draws attention both to anti-Semitism and the prevalence of mob justice in the United States. Possibly inspired by D.W. Griffth’s “The Birth of a Nation,” prominent businessman Tom Watson writes to local papers that “a new Ku Klux Klan may have to be organized” to seek justice. Three months later, William J Simmons does revive the Klan in Atlanta.

Disasters: On August 5, Galveston Texas, still in recovery from having been wiped off the map by a powerful hurricane in 1900, is once again devastated by a storm. The new seawall does prevent local deaths and damage, but across the seaboard damages are assessed at $50 million and 275 dead.

Sports: Jimmy Lavender pitches a no-hitter, August 31, for the Chicago Cubs against the New York Giants.

Born: Gary Merrill, August 2 (acted in “A Blueprint for Murder” and “All About Eve”), Signe Hasso, August 15 (appeared in “Heaven Can Wait” and “The House on 92nd Street”), Ingrid Bergman, August 29 (star of “Gaslight” and “Casablanca”).

Searching Ruins of Broadway, Galveston, for Dead Bodies (1900)


At the tail end of the Nineteenth Century, a devastating storm swept over the coast of Texas, hitting the small community of Galveston and effectively wiping it from the map. As the official death toll mounted (eventually reaching 8000), Americans were stunned at the concept of an untamed nature that could still bring such tragedy to a scientifically advanced society. As well as being one of the great tragedies of American history, this was a tremendous media event. Reporters swarmed the area, and Edison Studios sent a man down with a camera to cover the wreckage. This in spite of martial law, and the threat of arrest or shooting for anyone seen taking pictures. It’s interesting now to view this early newsreel footage, in light of our changed expectations of privacy and publicity. I assume that the ban was enacted out of a sense of respect for the dead and their families, to prevent “vultures” from swooping in to profit from their loss. Today, when an event like this takes place (think of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy), we as a nation assume the right to participate remotely, to grieve along with those who are suffering. We also understand the power of images of destruction to bring financial support and to urge the government to take action. These images of this particular tragedy help us to record a changing sense of journalistic ethics as a new era of media engagement began.

Director: Albert E. Smith

Run Time: 50 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.