Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dad’s Photos #8 - The Hurricane of '38

In the US, we typically think of hurricanes hitting the southern states along the Atlantic & Gulf coasts, but they do occasionally stray northward to New England, & can wreck considerable damage along that coast as well. One of these was the "New England Hurricane of 1938," also known as "the Long Island Express" because its initial landfall was on Long Island & because its forward movement was very rapid—this kept it from weakening even as it traveled over the cool North Atlantic waters.

The hurricane struck on September 21, 1938, & according to Wikipedia was the sixth most costly Atlantic hurricane ever, causing the equivalent of $39.2 billion dollars (adjusted to the contemporary dollar). The storm killed somewhere between 680 to 800 people.

Of course, as followers of the Dad’s Photos serie
s know, my father was working on Cape Cod in 1938, & so saw the devastation first hand. He also brought his camera along & captured what I believe are some arresting images. I’m including all 10 of the hurricane photos found in the album I inherited.

The Hurricane – Onset, Mass

Dry Sailing – Onset, Mass

High & Dry
A Seagoing Boat Out of Place

Wareham, Mass – Ever Ready Telephone Men on the Job

Road Past the Public Pier – Onset, Mass

Wareham, Mass

Buzzard’s Bay

Some Wind!

Bridge at Wood’s Hole (not a drawbridge either)


  1. Wow.

    I wonder if it was possible to predict hurricanes in the 30's.

    Reminds me of that great film Key Largo.

    The power of nature is truly awesome.

  2. incredible... thanks for sharing the history and your family treasures.

    I have learned that in addition to my dad, my grandfather was also a real shutterbug, I wonder who in the family has all of grandpap's snaps....boy, would I like to see them....

    I love how old photographs can transport us back into time. perhaps our children and grandkids will use our photos for future time travel?

  3. Hi Reya & Mouse:

    Reya: Yes, I love "Key Largo"-- such a great film. I don't know what the tracking, if any, was in the 30s. This was before they started "naming" storms.

    Mouse: Thanks! I hope you can find your grandfather's photos, & I expect photos (& video) will continue to be a form of time travel for a good long while.

  4. Did you restore these photos or was he just a brilliant photographer for his day? These are really wonderful. That one of the coffee shop is something else!

  5. Hi Jen:

    I did sharpen the focus (on automatic setting) in Photoshop, because the photos are starting to fade. I've questioned that a bit, but I know these photos as they exist now aren't as sharp as they were when taken 70 years ago (!) so I think for me it's ok.

    I do think Dad was a gifted photographer.

  6. You are really blessed to have your father's photographs document history like this! I always enjoy these.

    I'm planning to do a post on my father soon, in some part inspired by your series.

  7. Hi Raquelle: Thanks-- I'm looking forward to your writing about your father!

  8. These are great. I wish I had them for my post on the hurricane last September.

    In answer to Reya's question about predicting hurricanes in the 1930s, no. They had the barometer, that was it. If a ship at sea spied a hurricane, they would send word to whatever ships or closest land in the area by radio, but nobody in New England had any idea a hurricane was barrelling toward them until the tree came down on the house.

    It was an interesting storm of coincidences. It coincidentally hit at high tide, during a full moon, and came after several days of rain, and once it hit land, followed almost directly the Connecticut River. As we know by now, hurricanes gain strength over water and loose strength over land. This one didn't konk out until it entered Canada without it's birth certificate or passport.

    Great photos. Father did good work.

  9. Hi Jacqueline:

    Well I wish you'd had them too-- & if you ever want to use any of them on NE Travels, just let me know.

    Great update on Reya's question & great facts about why the storm was so devastating. There was one in 1976 (I think) that followed the Connecticut, & that was pretty bad too, but nothing like the 38 one. By the time it hit VT there was a lot of wind, rain & flooding, but it wasn't a hurricane anymore.

    Thanks again!

  10. Those are some amazing photos, John. I agree, you dad was a gifted photographer. The houses look as if they were tossed about like toys. Tragic that so many lives were lost.

  11. I remember huddling, waiting out hurricanes. They are freaky scary. My mother would open the windows just a crack, so that the house wouldn't explode (implode?). A poplar tree came down on our car one time, and the basement flooded, but we never lost the house (or even the roof, as other people nearby did).

  12. The photos are all excellent. I had to do a brain jog for a second there with the word "Onset" for the first picture.

    There's always a sort of wry humour in your father's titles - even in such a serious situation. I like that "A Seagoing Boat Out of Place" and "Some Wind". He must have been a card.

    Really enjoy this feature on your blog, John.


  13. Fascinating pics John, I wonder how many photos did your dad take in total? Still trying to keep up with your blog.It's tough when just even the latest post alone would take me a week to decipher and digest.I am not an intellectual and I think that may be why when I see words like form and sonnets,rhyming schemes and iambic pentameter and petrachan and villanelles.i shrink and freeze Seeing only straightjackets,sudenly I'm back to being the boy hiding at the back of the math class plotting his escape :)

  14. Hi Willow, Sandra, Kat & TFE:

    Willow: Apparently there were sustained winds around 150 miles an hour; the house in the "some wind" photo looks like it was torn clear from whatever foundation it had.

    Sandra: I've never lived in real hurricane country-- Vermont & Virginia both got effects but not the actual thing; my parents did in Florida until my mother left last year for New England. I definitely worried about them thru the summer & fall.

    Kat: Yes, he had a very wry sense of humor. I've wondered if Onset, Mass got its name because it's on the Cape & was exposed to storms.

    TFE: Glad you liked them. As far as other posts go-- I say, "take what you need & leave the rest." I have bad feelings about math class, too!

  15. Love your dad's photos, as usual.
    My mom, who lived in Rhode Island in 1938, often recounted her story of that storm -- one of our favorites (her story, not the storm!).


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