Daisy Thorne sat at the desk in her second story back bedroom, writing an early Saturday morning letter to her fiancé. Tossing back her long golden red hair, Daisy’s blue eyes observed the date on her calendar, September 8, 1900.
“Soon, I will no longer be an elementary school teacher, but the wife of a successful doctor living in the state capitol,” Daisy mused aloud. “My life is sure to be very different in the high and dry hill country so far from the shore.”
Confirming her thoughts, the rain that had so gently lulled her to sleep last night, slashed at the dormer window with new fury. A sudden gust of wind shook all three floors of the Lucas Terrace Apartments, where Daisy and her family made their home.
Having spent all of her twenty three years on the Texas coast, Daisy was used to the turbulent weather that blew in from the Gulf of Mexico. Just yesterday, she had joined throngs of Galveston residents on the boardwalk as they watched colossal waves pummel the bath houses that lined the beach front. Excitement rather than dread lent an upbeat tone to their conversations. Their island community had weathered many a storm together.
Daisy walked across the hall, through her mother’s bedroom and into the adjoining front parlor, with its large picture windows. On ordinary days, Daisy loved to sit at these windows embroidering and enjoying a panoramic view of the sandy, brown beach banked by palm and oleander studded neighborhoods. Today, however, was destined not to be an ordinary day. The beach and streets had totally disappeared under the high tide.
“Come, Daisy, we need to cook breakfast and make coffee,” her mother said calmly. “Our building is the highest and most stable structure on this end of the island. Others will seek shelter here today.”
Even as her mother spoke, Daisy could here frantic knocking on the front door. Dashing down the staircase, Daisy opened the door letting in a porch full of neighbors along with several inches of gulf water.
Not to be deterred, her mother sloshed into the kitchen, stoked up the wood stove and began to bake biscuits. The clock chimed eight.
As the storm progressed, the group moved to the comparative safety of the second floor living quarters. Within hours, the telephone lines were down and every house on Daisy’s block was underwater. Daisy made three trips downstairs to rescue her five cats. On her last trip, she left the doors open to ease the pressure on the house.
Suddenly, a deafening sound exploded above the gale force winds. An entire section of the apartment wall collapsed, exposing the terror stricken residents in the adjoining unit.
“We must do something to help the McCauleys,” Daisy shouted.
Someone found an ironing board and placed it across the gap between the two apartments, enabling Mrs. McCauley to carry her invalid husband into the Thorne's parlor. Strong hands helped to move Mr. McCauley into Mrs. Thorne’s bedroom.
The waves outside surged to fifteen feet high and water began rushing up the staircase to the second floor refuge. Furniture could be heard banging against the ceiling below. The twenty four souls inside the Thorne apartment knew that the entire building could fall at any moment. They began to pray. Mrs. Thorne read Psalm 23 from the family bible.
As the parlor walls began to collapse, the group fled to Daisy’s bedroom in the rear of the house. The McCauleys refused to leave Mrs. Thorne’s bedroom. Within minutes, the two were swept away.
Of the 64 units in Lucas Terrace Apartments, only the walls of Daisy’s bedroom remained upright. Even though the floor had given way, the group remained standing on the two stories of accumulated debris underneath them.
Drenched to the skin and with her home in ruins, Daisy clung to her last earthly possession. The bag of twenty $5.00 gold pieces was her dowry and represented months of hard work and diligent saving. Without a moment’s hesitation, she threw away the coins so she could better help her mother and aunt as they struggled for their lives in the final hours of the storm.
Six thousand people perished in the 1900 Storm on Galveston Island. The twenty one who took refuge in Daisy Thorne’s bedroom that day survived to witness Daisy’s triumphant marriage to Dr. Joe Gilbert at the Grace Episcopal Church one week later.
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