Children tell the horrific stories of 1900 Storm
The tragic and horrific story of the 1900 Storm has been told and retold. Most people who live on the upper Texas coast are familiar with the details of how thousands of people perished and Galveston was nearly destroyed by the hurricane.
But rarely has the story been told through the eyes of children who were orphans at St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum of Galveston, where 90 children and 10 nuns died on the night of Sept. 8, 1900.
Enter author Greg Funderburk, a native Houstonian, former lawyer and now a minister at South Main Baptist Church near downtown Houston.
His book, “The Mourning Wave: A Novel of the Great Storm” is the tale of three young orphan boys who somehow survived the storm that destroyed the orphanage and killed all its other inhabitants. Events depicted in vignettes Funderburk writes about didn’t happen to these children, they’re all based on actual accounts provided in books, letters, news accounts and oral histories.
“There was so much material available,” Funderburk said. “I just put it all together to make the story.”
The book follows Will, 14, Frank, 13, and Albert, a precocious 8-year-old, as they get thrashed about and find themselves in a boat hull, supported by salt cedar trees that had been growing behind the orphanage buildings. The St. Mary’s orphanage consisted of two large, two-story buildings facing the Gulf of Mexico around Seawall Boulevard and 69th Street. The orphanage had been there for many years before the storm.
The boys miraculously find each other during the calm of the eye of the storm. They each make their way to the boat hull and would ride out the second half of the storm together. All the names in the book are real — the boys, the nuns, the other survivors and city leaders who are mentioned. The book takes place over a three-day period after the storm.
Funderburk became interested in this tragic disaster as child, he said. His family vacationed in Galveston often and his father had told him the story on one trip. He remembered staying at a hotel near Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant on Seawall Boulevard and 39th Street during a terrible rainstorm. He went outside with his brother and saw the power, strength and anger of the Gulf and then imagined what it was like during the 1900 Storm.
The historic storm killed between 6,000 to 12,000 people on Galveston Island and the mainland, making it the deadliest natural disaster and one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history.
Funderburk always has been interested in history, he said. He majored in it at Baylor University. But the story of Galveston and the 1900 Storm has stayed with him. He read the books “A Weekend in September” by John Weems and “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson with great interest and continued researching and learning about the disaster, he said.
“How profound it is — this is still considered the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history and there are so many compelling stories within the story,” he said.
As a creative outlet during his lawyering days, he began writing and eventually this story came together. He and his wife, Kelly, live in Houston; they have two sons, Hank, a student at the University of Southern California and Charlie, who attends Strake Jesuit College Preparatory school in Houston.
“This story had always been in my subconscious,” he said. “I needed to get it out.”
He put together a timeline based on research at the Rosenberg Library, Galveston Daily News articles and Houston Post stories.
“I read everything I could, and the timeline helped me develop the characters and storyline,” he said.
He wrote a draft of the book and then went back adding artistic merit and details: sights, sounds, smells and images he learned about from his research, he said. He even “borrowed” phrases from the beautiful writings found in letters survivors sent to friends and family. Each short chapter describes a different ordeal the boys faced.
“These letters were beautifully written but described horrible, graphic and vivid images,” he said.
One of the more interesting people he has met since publishing “The Mourning Wave” is John Murney, the grandson of the main character, Will. He contacted Funderburk after Linda MacDonald, the former director of communication at the Sisters of Charity Incarnate Word, alerted Murney of Minneapolis, who was at the 100th-year memorial service.
“I was very nervous to speak with him because what if he didn’t like what I wrote,” Funderburk said. “But instead, John Murney thanked me for bringing back his grandfather’s story. He told me about him — he was quiet, dignified, religious and faithful. I wish I had met him, too.”