The New York Times described the cyclone that rolled through Woodhaven on July 13, 1895 as a “breath of heaven.” But heaven, Woodhaven was not.
The paper described scenes of houses and schools destroyed, tombstones at Cypress Hills Cemetery wrecked and cows that had been lifted by the storm and sent whirling to places unknown.
For decades, many believed that only one person died in Woodhaven as a result of the storm, a young, newly married girl named Louise Petroquien, who was struck by a beam after she walked outside her home to see what the commotion was about.
But that’s not the case.
Through research and scouring the Times’ archive, historian Ed Wendell found that a young boy, Johnnie Kolb, died two days after the storm, bringing the death toll to two. Both victims are buried at Cypress Hills.
“The young boy was forgotten,” Wendell said.
Wendell said Kolb was badly injured and found under rubble after the storm.
The Times said he was badly injured but first reported he was expected to recover.
Wendell said the community was lucky that many more did not perish during the cyclone.
“This thing demolished a school,” he said. “It was July so all the kids were out. But had that been a month or two earlier, than we’re talking a different story. There would’ve been plaques there in honor of all those who were lost.”
The powerful wind storm came without warning, Wendell said.
The destruction could be seen for miles. Houses lifted off their foundations, windows shattered and piles of debris were left in front of everyone’s houses.
The Times reported that 100,000 people came into Woodhaven to survey the damage, but Wendell thinks that might be an exaggerated figure.
“I think that’s just a numerical way of them saying a s--tload,” he said.
Many of those people, according to the Times and Wendell, visited Petroquien’s house to view her body. The historian said people were let in through the front door and out the side.
“They had her laid out under a mountain of flowers,” Wendell said. “People were paying to come in and view the body.”
As the Times put it, “All day long a crowd of several thousand persons surrounded the house.”
Wendell is still looking to learn more of the historic act of God.
“I‘m sure we haven’t even scratched the surface of how destructive it was,” he said.