Dark Water Rising tells the fictional story of a young man and his family's struggle to survive during the Galveston hurricane of 1900, known as the Great Storm or the Galveston Flood.
Sixteen year old Seth Braeden moves with his family to Galveston, the fastest growing city in America in 1900. Seth's Uncle Nate has convinced his father, a master carpenter to move there, offering him a foreman job that would pay enough money to send all his boys to college. Seth however, doesn't want to go to college to study medicine - he wants to work as a carpenter. Although he tells his father this, his wishes are ignored and he is told he is too young to know what he wants.
So Seth along with his parents, his two younger brothers, twelve year old Matt and ten year old Lucas, and his younger sister, four year old Kate, move into a rental home close to the beach on Galveston Island. Seth's Uncle Nate and Aunt Julia have four boys, seventeen year old Ben who plans to attend medical school, eleven year old Andy and nine year old Will as well as ten month old Elliot. Seth finds it strange to see that his uncle has a hired black man, Ezra and his son Josiah and he's not happy about how is uncle or his dad treat them.
Almost immediately Seth is offered work as a carpenter's helper building rental homes near the beach. His father agrees to let him work provided he can save three quarters of his pay towards college. Since public school doesn't open until October, this gives Seth almost a month of work. Seth begins working for foreman George Farrell and is paired with Henry Covington, another promising, young carpenter. Also working on the construction site are the three Judson brothers, Frank, Charlie and Zachary as well as Josiah. Seth decides to walk home each day with Josiah who is quiet and treats Seth like he is his master, addressing him as "sir". This troubles Seth but he when he mentions this to Josiah, he tells Seth that this is how it must be.
Seth and his family settle in quickly. His days are filled with work as a carpenter's helper and his time off is spent at the beach. At home and at the beach Seth can't help but notice a pretty blond girl next door, whom Ben tells him is Ella Rose Covington. Ella Rose is a sixteen year old student at the Ursuline Academy. Ella and Seth meet one day and Seth learns that Henry is Ella's cousin. They decide to meet to go swimming on the Saturday. Unknown to both, their lives will soon change forever.
On Friday evening before quitting time, Ella shows up at the work site to tell Mr. Farrell that the storm flags went up that morning. On Friday evening when Ella and Seth are walking on the beach, Ella remarks how the surf looks strange and different. Neither realizes that they are witnessing the storm surge before a powerful hurricane. On Saturday morning, Seth shows up for work but he is worried; the water in the streets is over his ankles. Soon the streets begin filling with water, the bathhouses and many other beach structure are destroyed by the monster waves. By now Seth knows that this is no ordinary storm and all their lives are in peril. He manages to return home but finds his family gone.
Dark Water Rising is a good fictional account of The Great Storm that is heavily based on historical fact. Author Marian Hale used information from survivor accounts, particularly that of Katherine Vedder, who took in neighbours during the hurricane. In Dark Water Rising her family helps the fictional character of Seth and Josiah during the storm but also many others who were real people who experienced the hurricane. Most of the dialogue between the survivors who waited out the storm in her house is real.
Hale effectively portrays the devastation and death afterwards, through the eyes of Seth, who struggles to deal with what he has experienced. After the storm, the devastation is so complete that Seth and Josiah are unable to free those who are trapped in the rubble. Dark Water Rising is a reminder of the terrible force of nature and that powerful storms were likely experienced by both the early settlers to North America as well as by the indigenous peoples of the continent - with much less warning and a lack of understanding of their potential to cause a significant loss of life. This latter aspect is driven home by the descriptions of people simply continuing going about their business in Galveston without really observing what was happening around them. The wooden houses covered with their deadly slate roofs were no match for the hurricane-force winds and the slate and glass became deadly missiles that decapitated and injured.
Hale includes a lengthy Author's Note at the back of the novel that includes pictures and plenty of facts about the storm. What would have been very helpful was the inclusion of a map at the beginning of the novel showing the location of the city and the physical features and neighbourhoods. Hale does state that she "had to map the entire city, block by block, and key it to names and personal accounts" so as to choose a location to portray the devastation resulting from the storm. Overall, Dark Water Rising is a fascinating historical read.
The city of Galveston is built on a low-lying island in the Gulf of Mexico and at the time of the hurricane the highest point of the city was only a little over 8 feet about sea level. The hurricane made landfall on September 8, 1900 and meteorologists reviewing the data available consider that it was a Category 4 storm. The city did receive some warning regarding a tropical storm, but not of this magnitude. They were unprepared and unconcerned. Afterwards, Galveston was in complete ruins and over eight thousand were dead. Many people drowned or were killed by the deadly debris which was blown around. Others survived the storm but could not be freed from the rubble of collapsed buildings. The Galveston storm is still the deadliest storm to have hit the United States.
For further information on the 1900 Storm check out
The 1900 Storm- Galveston, Texas
The Portal to Texas History has an online copy of a book, The Great Galveston Disaster by Paul Lester which was published in 1900. It makes for very interesting reading.
Lester, Paul. The great Galveston disaster, containing a full and thrilling account of the most appalling calamity of modern times including vivid descriptions of the hurricane, Book, ca. 1900; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth26719/ : accessed January 12, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries, Denton, Texas.
Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale
New York: Henry Holt and Company 2006