Growing up in Rhode Island, I heard various pointed comments, from various family members, about the ’38 Hurricane on a semi-regular basis. What I learned along the way instilled in me a great respect for the power of that Atlantic Ocean–a force not to be taken lightly.
Recently, while looking through some of my grandmother’s old pictures, I came across a set of postcards focused on the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. They each show a different black and white photo from the Int. News Service and were printed by Tichnor Bros. Inc., of Boston, Mass.
Today, I have chosen to show one of the cards from this set for my new Serial posting “One Postcard Saturdays”.
This hurricane hit the coasts of Long Island, New York and Southern Connecticut just over eighty years ago, on the 21st of September, in 1938; it caused destruction throughout the rest of coastal New England, as well. At the time the storm hit, my mom was staying at the Springfield Fair (now called the Big E), in Massachusetts; having gone up to the fair with her 4-H group, they were staying in dorm-style units. My mom would have been 18 years old at the time.
There were close family friends, and although not actually related, we called them Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill (Carpenter)–my middle name of Jean was named after her. They lost their original summer home during the hurricane; it had been located at Sand Hill Cove, Narragansett, RI. My mom often spoke with fond memories of childhood time spent at their cottage (prior to the storm). I heard stories of how bad the damage was in that area and how homes were swept off their foundations–only very few survived. Some time later, the couple built a new ranch-style cottage at Anawan Cliffs, in Narragansett, where I can remember visiting on several occasions.
My parents bought a small piece of land in the Charlestown Beach area, about one mile from the ocean, in the late 1940’s. They built a small two-room cottage by hand with help from my grandfather and other family members. They always said they purposely picked land far enough from the ocean in hopes to keep it safe should another hurricane hit that coastal area. It always made me wonder why there has been so much re-building on the beach since such devastation was caused by the ’38 Hurricane–it is a high risk decision for sure.
My mom often spoke about storm surge and tidal waves that come along with hurricanes and she told how the tidal wave from the ’38 Hurricane was said to be about 50 feet, which would seem unbelievable. However, when I did a little research for this blog posting, I did indeed see a fact listed on the National Weather Service website that showed the peak wave height for this hurricane was recorded at 50 feet, occurring at Gloucester, Mass.
Some additional facts listed on the National Weather Service site include:
- The maximum recorded sustained wind was 121 mph at Blue Hill Observatory, in Mass.
- The maximum recorded wind gust was 186 mph at the same location.
- The storm surge peaked at 17 feet above normal high tide.
- There were 700 Deaths
- The storm left approximately 63,000 people homeless with approximately 8900 homes or buildings destroyed.
- There were approximately 3300 boats lost or destroyed.
- The economic cost was estimated at $620 million in 1938 dollars.
- The hurricane made landfall near Bellport, NY as a Category 3.
- There was a second landfall made in Connecticut between Bridgeport and New Haven, also as a Category 3.
- New London, Conn., saw a record storm tide of 10.58′ MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water)
- Bridges, utilities and railroads were wiped out and there was catastrophic damage to fishing fleets.
My featured postcard today shows a picture of many shattered boats and wreckage at New London, Connecticut.
This card is unused, so there is no postmark and no message. However, there is printed information, from the publisher, on the reverse side of the card, as follows:
September 21, 1938, will long be remembered as
the date of the Big Hurricane which swept New
England–in all history something never before
known to this part of the country.
The loss of lives was appalling; property damage
mounted to hundreds of millions of dollars and
the homeless counted to hundreds of thousands.
The tremendous fury of the wind left behind
destruction, destitution and utter ruin.
In the coming weeks, I may share a few more of the postcards from this ’38 Hurricane set and I also have some newspaper clippings tucked away that may lead to a longer piece–at some point.
Until next time…