Track Of The Storm
Born south of the Cape Verde Islands off the western coast of Africa on September 9, the storm grows for two weeks into a monster as it gains strength by being funneled between two high pressure areas northward into the New England coast. It is a Category 3 Hurricane when it makes landfall at roughly 2:00 in the afternoon, its winds blowing at a sustained rate of 120 miles-per-hour (150 winds will be measured during the event), creating a storm surge 25-35 feet above the normal high tide sea level ... and most of the inhabitants of the area are unaware it is coming until too late (a time before the Internet, television, smart phones, and satellite radar tracking of weather, most people don't know the storm is coming, and those that do hear the weather reports, are told that gale winds are coming, but nothing about a tropical storm or hurricane).
Havoc measured in numbers, the storm causes $308 million in damages (by modern day adjustments, $4.5 billion in 2011 dollars), there are 682 known deaths (with an additional 708 people injured enough to require medical treatment), 4,500 residences are reported as destroyed, 63,000 people are made homeless, 26,000 automobiles become junk, 20,000 electric poles are toppled, 35% of New England's forests are effected, with 2.7 billion board feet of wood fallen (1.6 billion will be salvaged), and ten new inlets are created on eastern Long Island. The region's fishing industry is destroyed, and half of the area's apple crop is lost.
Some Of The Devastation
Devastation everywhere, the surge destroys most of the Atlantic City boardwalk, the Mitchel Field army airbase has water over its entire surface that is knee deep, an entire movie theater, its 20 matinee patrons and movie projectionist in Westhampton, Long Island are swept two miles out to sea and drown, another movie theater is blown down in the town of Greenport, for a time, low lying Block Island ceases to exist, Napatree Point in Rhode Island, a small cape containing 40 families is completely swept away, the Whale Rock Lighthouse on Conanicut Island is toppled (killing its keeper, Walter Eberle), on Prudence Island the lighthouse survives, but the keeper's house is washed out to sea (killing 4 of the 5 people that had sought shelter within the structure), the waterfront business area of New London catches fire and burns out of control for 10 hours, a permanently anchored, 240-ton lightship at the mouth of New London Harbor, is washed on to a sand bar two miles away, in Massachusetts, the Chicopee Falls Bridge is washed away, two-thirds of the boats in New Bedford Harbor are sunk, a peak gust blowing at 186 miles-per-hour is recorded by the Blue Hill Observatory (still the strongest gust of hurricane wind ever recorded in the United States), over 2,000 miles of public roads in Vermont are damaged, a train is derailed near the town of Castleton, and ten bridges are destroyed in the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire.
More Of The After Mess
One story typical of many, and showing the storm plays no favorites whatsoever, involves the near death of a Hollywood legend ... actress Katharine Hepburn. Declared box office poison by the Independent Theatre Owners of America (despite owning the Best Actress Oscar for 1932) after a string of flops, Hepburn retreats to her family's summer beach home in the Fenwick borough of Old Saybrook, Connecticut to recharge her batteries ... enjoying time with her family, rounds of golf on the nearby course, and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. On the morning of 9/21, she goes through her normal morning routines ... swimming in the ocean (and noticing the usually turbulent waters are as flat as a pond), playing a round of golf, and then returning home for lunch ... with Hepburn are her mother Kit, her brother Dick, and the family maid. Branches of trees soon filling the yard as the shoreline begins moving towards the home, Hepburn's mother insists everyone will be safe inside the house, but relents to her daughter's demands that they leave when water reaches the front door and the shingles on the roof starting blowing away. Just in time, everyone escapes through a dining room window into the standing water now surrounding the house with only the clothes on their backs, and make their way to a bit of high ground just in time to see the home of 25 years swept away (it will come to rest about 1/3rd of a mile away, where the storm turns it to rubble). The next day, the family returns to the site and searches the rubble for any possessions that might be salvageable, rescuing Kit's entire tea service and 85 pieces of silver flatware, but little else ... movie star Hepburn loses 95% of her personal belongings, including the Oscar she won for Morning Glory (it will later be found intact and returned to its owner). Coming from the steel spine stock of New Englanders that originally colonized the area, Hepburn, like so many others, will quickly rebuild, a new, bigger home on the waterfront, which she will live in until her death at the age of 96 in 2003.
The Original House - Two Months Before The Storm
A Break From Digging
The Next Day Among The Ruins
Why today mattered? It mattered because of the devastation that took place along the eastern seaboard of the Unites States on 9/21/1938!