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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chatham Commercial Fishing

Above is a photo of what goes on at the Chatham, Massachusetts wharf on an average day. The commercial fishing boats come in, unload their catch, and seagulls swarm over the treasure.

Chatham and Provincetown are the two towns on the Cape in which commercial fishing remains as an important local industry. These days the fishermen have to seek their catch farther and farther out to sea.

Here is a link to a site for more interesting information on the history of Chatham commercial fishing and a way of life that is not just a part of some colorful past, but as important now as ever.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hurricane of 1938 - Part 3

In Hartford, there were 4,000 homeless, (30) but by the weekend, cleanup was advancing and the railroads would announce some new schedules on Sunday. (31) The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that 250 million trees were lost in the region. (32) Five years later, the U.S. Forest Service in Williantic, Connecticut announced that the last of the hurricane timber in the state was finally salvaged, and so closed its office there. (33)

The trees were a heartfelt loss. Recollections of the tumbling trees bowled over by an unseen hand is foremost in people’s memories. The terrific wind lasted only for about four hours, but in that time the landscape was forever changed. Trees which had stood since the Revolution were toppled. The dunes along the beaches would build up again, but it would take fifty years, it was said at the time, for the trees to return to their former glory.

It has since been 70 years, and we know now that those scenes are gone for good. An editorial in the New York Times by Elmer Davis noted, “The first thing almost everyone said was that it didn’t matter about the houses, they could be rebuilt; but the trees…would never be restored in the lifetime of anyone now living here.” (34)

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts lost 16,000 shade trees. The lumber pulled from the city streets was piled up at the City Infirmary, most of which was distributed to welfare recipients to use as fuel. The price of wood then was $6.50 per cord. (35)

About a week after the storm, First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt arrived in Springfield to deliver an address at the Municipal Auditorium on behalf of the Springfield Teacher’s Club to help raise money for the Child Welfare Fund.

Mayor Roger L. Putnam and two of the committee met her in Harford, Connecticut to personally escort her because of the “precarious travel conditions.”(36) Her address on the “Problems of Youth” was standing-room only. In his welcoming speech, Mayor Putnam asked Mrs. Roosevelt to convey their gratitude to the President for so swiftly sending out Federal aid, and help from the CCC, the WPA among other agencies to help in the crisis. Reportedly, Mrs. Roosevelt phoned her husband and kept him abreast of the conditions she witnessed in New England. Evidently, Eleanor’s efficiency could rival FEMA’s. (37)

The high death toll, nearly 700 lives lost, was the result of the storm crossing with no warning what was, and still is, a densely populated area. One note of good fortune was that though some 369 cottages were destroyed on Misquamicut Beach, Rhode Island, the death toll there was held at 41, as the New England beachfront properties were populated mainly in the summer months, and in late September, had already been boarded up and closed. (38)

The injured numbered over 1,700. Homes completely destroyed amounted to nearly 9,000, with damaged to nearly 73,000. The total economic loss was set at $3 million 1938 dollars. (39) Over 93,000 families shared in this loss, and over 15,000 families required, or at least sought, assistance. Many delayed requesting aid “with typical New England reticence” until they had exhausted resources of their own. (40)

Some thirty-two immunization centers were set up to curtail the spread of illness from cholera and other such diseases when water and sanitation systems are impaired.(41)

Of the New England states, according to the Red Cross, Massachusetts led in the most storm damage and injuries, though Rhode Island suffered the highest death toll. (42)

More relief funds were required in Massachusetts than in the other states, and western Massachusetts was harder hit than the Boston area because the storm precariously traveled up the Connecticut River valley. Fund raising was slow, although there were contributions from sympathetic donors through the country, including a group of California hoboes who collected $2.10 specifically for the City of Springfield.(43)

Hurricanes, as it happens, are not new to New England. Governor William Bradford, Massachusetts Bay Colony leader, recorded a severe tropical storm in August 1635, and there was also the Great September Gale of 1815. However, the people who suffered those storms did not rely on man-made infrastructure.

In 1938, almost all telephone and telegraph communications were crippled between Boston and New York. Train and bus service was hampered, and air travel, rarely used, enjoyed a brief if desperate deluge by stranded business people. The use of short-wave radio helped during the complete loss of communications in many places. The tracks of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad were blocked for two weeks. (44)

About 240 communities, it was estimated, were virtually isolated. Trains, steamships, telegraph. It sounds rather archaic today, but New England was heavily populated and therefore was one of the most sophisticated in terms of communications and city infrastructure.

One should not attempt to draw too many parallels between Hurricane Katrina and the New England Hurricane of 1938. They were both unique in the breadth of the damage they brought to the lives and the cultures of each stricken area, and both inevitably to become part of the folklore of the region.

The lesson appears to be that if it happened once, it can happen again. New England has had a span of several years, even decades to recover after each hurricane since the 1938 storm. New Orleans may not be so lucky, as evidenced by Hurricane Gustav. The area around Houston and Galveston, Texas are currently grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. If the warming trend of the ocean continues, perhaps New England may not be so lucky, either.

This concluces our three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.


Footnotes for this series:

1) Howard Koch. “War of the Worlds” radio play. (NY: Nostalgia Lane, 1982).
2) William Elliott Minsinger, M.D., ed. “The 1938 Hurricane.” (East Milton, MA: Blue Hill Observatory, 1988), p. 9
3) Federal Writers Project. New England Hurricane. (Boston: Hale, Cushman, & Flint, 1938), p. 7.
4) Everett S. Allen. A Wind to Shake the World. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1976), pp. 347-348.
5) Providence Journal Company. The Great Hurricane and Tidal Wave - Rhode Island. (Providence: September 1938), p.1.
6) ibid.
7) New York Times. September 3, 1938, p. F-9.
8) Springfield Daily News. September 6, 1938, p. 5.
9) American Red Cross. New York-New England Hurricane and Floods - 1938 - Official Report of Relief Operations. (Washington: October, 1939), p. 1.
10) New York Times. September 20, 1938, p. 1.
11) Boston Daily Globe. September 20, 1938, p. 2.
12) Boston Evening Globe. September 20, 1938, p. 9.
13) New York Times. September 21, 1938, p.24L.
14) p. 51L.
15) Springfield Daily News. September 21, 1938, p. 1.
16) P. 2.
17) Ibid.
18) Photo Record - Hurricane and Flood - New England’s Greatest Disaster. (NY: New England Historical Events Assoc., Inc., 1938), p. 1.
19)Aubrey Parkman. Army Engineers in New England. (Waltham, Mass.: US Army Corps of Engineers, New England Division, 1978), p. 179.
20)Hartford Courant. September 22, 1938, p. 1.
21)Providence Journal Company, p. 1.
22)Newsweek. October 3, 1938, p. 13.
23) BDG. September 22, 1938, p. 9.
24) Newsweek. October 3, 1938, p. 13.
25) SDN. August 18, 1958.
26) SDN. September 22, 1938, p. 2.
27) P. 7.
28) American Red Cross, p. 5.
29) Federal Writers Project. New England Hurricane, p. 219.
30) Hartford Times, September 24, 1938, p. 1.
31) Boston Evening Globe. September 24, p. 1.
32) Army Corps of Engineers, p.179.
33) Allen, p. 95.
34) NYT. September 24, 1938, p. 10.
35) Springfield Union. April 2, 1939.
36) SDN. September 29, 1938, p. 3.
37) SDN. September 30, 1938, p. 13.
38) Robert L. Nichols & Alwyn F. Marston. “Shoreline Changes in Rhode Island Produced by the Hurricane of September 21, 1938” published in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 1939, p. 1362.
39) American Red Cross, Official Report of October 21, 1938, quoted by Nichols, p. 1362.
40) American Red Cross, Official Report of 1939, p. 24.
41) P. 52.
42) P. 78.
43) SDN. September 26, 1938, p.5.
44) Photo Record - Hurricane and Flood - New England’s Greatest Disaster, p. 1
45) Allen, p. 349.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hurricane of 1938, Part 2

This is the second of a three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.

The Boston Globe announced that the European powers were yielding to Hitler, and then somewhere on page two, a short note about a hurricane moving toward the Bahamas. Forecasters believed there was a “fifty-fifty” chance of the hurricane’s moving back northward or northeastward, but “in that event, its effects probably would not be felt along the Atlantic Coast.” (11)

Two disasters, war and a hurricane, both were shrugged off, but in time, neither would be averted.

Rainy weather in New England had defeated many sporting events and harvest fairs that month, and more rain was predicted. The Boston Evening Globe on the 20th reported the hurricane passing east of Hatteras, its exact location recorded at 28N, 75W. Florida did appear safe, so there was no more worry about the storm. It went out to sea. (12)

But it shot north, to an already rain-soaked New England that did not know it was there.

On Wednesday the 21st, hours before the hurricane struck, the New York Times ran a curious portent of an editorial. The article congratulated science on its advances in hurricane tracking and referred to our knowledge of the current hurricane which missed Florida.

“If New York and the rest of the world have been so well informed about the cyclone, it is because of an admirably organized meteorological service. From every ship in the Caribbean Sea, reports are radioed to Washington, Havana, San Juan, and other stations….” (13)

The weather report in the newspaper for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut was “rain, probably heavy today.” (14)

The Springfield Daily News reported that the Czech cabinet voted to surrender to Hitler, while the rain locally was such that flood waters created a “virtual state of emergency” in the South End of Springfield. (15) The Exposition in West Springfield stoutly declared they would not close despite the rising flood waters on the Westfield River which bordered the fairgrounds. The entire Connecticut River valley was in danger of flood.

That late afternoon, the intense low pressure and seemingly unending rain were relieved by that worse natural disaster in New England history. The hurricane which missed Florida and had been forgotten, slammed into Long Island and traveled up the obliging Connecticut River valley, with winds reaching over 180 mph. The evidence of something strange happening was discovered in spurts.

Families were evacuated from Athol, Massachusetts, a small town in the northern central part of the state which faced the difficulty typical to factory towns. (17) Its rivers, responsible for its industrial existence, were flooding the factories and the homes. Like islands at sea, these small industrial communities could not have been left more isolated if there had been walls built around them; and so walls were constructed, in swollen rivers, washed out railroad tracks, bridges, and in barricades of fallen trees. In some communities, notably Peterborough, New Hampshire and New London, Connecticut, fires started and quickly spread. The New London fire destroyed much of the business section. (18) Each town faced its own peculiar troubles, and faced them quite alone.

The railroads were impassible due to trees and debris, and in some cases the tracks were twisted wreckage. Then the body count began, but even the media’s sudden discovery of the situation would not be enough to fully realize the extent of the storm’s destruction. That job would be left to the Red Cross and government agencies, and that aftermath would take months.

Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was dry was moment and then under ten feet of water the next. (19) The wind tore roofs off buildings and downed power lines, and as the Hartford Courant reported, “caused theaters to be emptied in alarm.” (20) Over 300 people were killed in Rhode Island, the “Ocean State.” (21) At Watch Hill, a crowd examining the ugly, churning surf were swept away in a single huge wave. Sixty-nine were found dead, and sixty-one others were not found. (22)

Boston Harbor sailings were canceled in these days of trans-Atlantic ocean travel. The Eastern Steamship line canceled for the first time in fifty years of operation. (23) The steeple of the First Unitarian Church of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts was ripped off and dashed to its pews, only one of several church steeples that did not survive the storm. (24)

People in need were left largely to the hospitality of neighbors or their own beleaguered Depression-strapped town and city governments. People who were injured or stranded were at the mercy of the elements and time. Only the dead were without burden.

Many newspapers the day after the storm excitedly chased the scattered facts, but failed to note the magnitude.

In Springfield, where seventy trolley cars were stalled about the city, headlines of the Springfield Daily News raced but barely managed to keep pace with the rising Connecticut River. (25) Even the intrepid organizers of the Eastern States Exposition had to admit defeat when the roof of a building was hurled 100 feet through the air, and police ordered an evacuation of the fair, (26) and cattle were prodded up onto the bridge over the Westfield River to Agawam, to escape the flooded fairgrounds. (27)

A flimsy network of local police and adventurous Boy Scouts, which had comprised the vanguard of the rescue personnel, was bolstered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s calling out the Army, the Red Cross, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The coastal areas were worse hit by the combined and quite separate tragedies of the powerful winds and the very high tides. Inland, all major cities and populated areas were located on rivers, a legacy of the Industrial Revolution. In Hartford, Connecticut, as in Springfield, Massachusetts, WPA, CCC and volunteers strived to save dikes along the looming Connecticut River.

The wind had destroyed much, but while the sudden danger had passed, there was left a more insidious peril, the incessant floods. For New England, the four-day rainfall that coincided with the hurricane left up to seventeen inches of rain in more afflicted areas. The crops of the harvest season were destroyed, including the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts tobacco crops, (28) an almost total loss of the region’s apple crop, much damage to sugar maple trees and small truck farms. (29) Traveling to stores was impeded by blocked highways, and wrecked railroad tracks prohibited normal shipment of foodstuffs from other parts of the country.

As victims’ names were added to published lists, the regional tragedy brought nation-wide concern. Families from across the US had sent their children to New England colleges, and the semester had just begun.

For more photos on the destruction caused by the Hurricane of 1938, have a look at this website.

Come back Friday for the conclusion of this three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricane of 1938 - Part 1

This begins a three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938, as this September 21st marks the 70th anniversary of the storm. Above is a photo of a flooded Hartford, and it is from the collection of the Hartford Public Library. Rather than post photos of the storm's devastation, because almost all that I've found are still under copyright restrictions, I will instead include links where you can see some very dramatic shots of what the hurricane did.

I will also for the first time include footnotes at the end of this series, because there is a lot of material which requires notation. This is more an article than an essay, and the incredible facts of the Hurricane of 1938 fly fast and furious.

Sit back then, and remember. Or if you don't remember, then pull up a chair and imagine what it was like when the impossible happened. For some people, it was the end of the world.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on a helpless New Orleans, and the anxiety with which Hurricane Gustav was observed on its approach to that same area seems to have visited a new era upon us and a new relationship with these storms, once considered meteorological freaks. The New England hurricane of 1938 was considered a freak, and now in this new era of devastating possibilities, it illustrates how helpless an entire region can be when, unlike in modern hurricane forecasting, no one even knows a hurricane is approaching.

The autumn of 1938, a period of time that came between the depths of the Depression and the height of war, atmospherically was shadowed with fear that was the result of some peculiar current happenings, but the danger that ultimately materialized was the one never imagined.

As Orson Welles put it in his famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast that October, “With infinite complacence people went to and fro of the earth about their little affairs, secure in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood….” (1)

The events of the preceding month left the populace of this planet anything but complacent, and by the time Welles delivered his knockout punch, nobody, particularly in New England, felt safe anymore. One of those events was the Munich Pact crisis, reports of which were broadcast over the radio with staccato urgency. Both the Munich Pact crisis and the War of the Worlds were brought to us immediately, intimately, through radio.

The third big event which occurred that autumn, devastating to the northeast, was what came to be called the Hurricane of 1938, and unlike the two other crises, the danger it presented was real, the aftermath was severe, and it was not covered by radio. Clocked at 186 mph, today it would be called a category 5 hurricane.

In retrospect, the Hurricane of 1938 gives an interesting perspective on the resilience of human beings left to save themselves when infrastructure is suddenly made fragile, or wiped clean away, and when swollen rivers destroy what manufacturing had managed to survive the Depression. Millions of dollars were lost, miles of coastline were altered or swept away. Nearly 700 people were killed. (2)

In that murky late summer/early autumn when reality took a back seat to war with Germany and war with Mars, the hurricane is remembered clearly only by a generation of New Englanders and Long Islanders now in their 80s and older. Impressions of that storm were profound and they lasted, yet at the time war, even with Martians, was more easily believed than a tropical hurricane in New England. It was such a myth that the United States Weather Bureau assumed the east coast was out of danger once the storm passed Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The hurricane that began as myth became legend in the northeast. It was even lionized as the ultimate joke on a people who take their weather seriously. The feeling of unreality was what most remember about the storm, of a strange yellow-colored sky, of rain blowing across the air sideways instead of falling downward, of tasting the salt sea far inland, far from the shore.

After passing Cape Hatteras, the storm had gone out to sea. However, it headed north, increased momentum and covered 600 miles of ocean in just twelve hours, (3) an average of 50 mph. (4) At that time, ocean weather was gathered by voluntary reports from merchant ships and commercial planes. There was no hurricane-tracking aircraft, no satellite photos. This storm, in macabre coincidence, also hit at high tide.

The Providence Journal Company published a report shortly after the storm that lamented, “The story can never emphasize too much the element of people’s unawareness of the hurricane’s imminence…It was this very element of unawareness that cost scores of lives, the lives of those who stayed and thought they were safe, and were swept away when a sea whipped to great heights engulfed them….” (5)

Rhode Island suffered the highest casualty rate with 312 dead. (6) This special publication noted that the storm brought out the best in humanity in the desperate trials of rescuers and would-be rescuers. There were looters, too.

For others, disbelief and shattered confidence, loss of family, friends and home was the lasting souvenir. This was not yet an age of thick skin and sophisticated if somewhat benign response to tragedy.

It hit New England on Wednesday, September 21st. On the fourth of that month, Washington announced a new study conducted by the Navy would record data on the origin of hurricanes. Their “ringside seat” for observing was Swan Island, 150 miles off the coast of Honduras. (7)

The “European situation” was growing more urgent with the Nazi Party rally at Nuremburg. Western Massachusetts prepared its West Springfield fairgrounds for the 22nd annual Eastern States Exposition, an agricultural fair for all six New England states. The fair this year was scheduled for September 18th through the 24th. (8)

By September 10th, headlines in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Daily News warned that Britain and France were preparing for war, and it appeared that the immediate future had more to do with man-made crisis than natural disasters, but a hurricane was forming near Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean. Its later discovery by the U.S. Weather Bureau would be compiled from a report by a ship at sea, six days later on September 16th. (9) Meanwhile, Germany was reported to be massing troops on the Czech border. War seemed a certainty.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 20th, the day before the hurricane struck, the first in-depth news of the hurricane was reported. According to Grady Norton of the U.S. Weather Bureau, the hurricane was heading for Florida, but it had turned out to sea.

“While this is reassuring,” the report concluded, “we urge that you stand by for another 12 hours…” It was impossible at that time, Mr. Norton felt, to say whether the whole Atlantic coast would escape the storm. (10)

Come back next Tuesday for Part 2. Here is a link to some very dramatic photos of the storm's wreckage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Eastern States Exposition

The Eastern States Exposition, or the Big E, runs from September 12th through the 28th this year. Above is a shot from the top of the Ferris wheel looking north towards Mt. Tom. The Big E illustrates not only the culture, products, and heritage of the six New England States; it also illustrates the phenomenon of what happens when tens of thousands of people converge upon an otherwise quiet town. As you can see, the fairgrounds is an island in a sea of Western Mass. green.

West Springfield, Massachusetts is the annual location the Big E and has been since its founding in 1917. Through the decades, through the boom of the 1920s when agriculture was becoming mechanized, through the Great Depression years, the wars, the eras which passed and made up our lives, the Big E has been one constant feature that begins our most celebrated New England autumn.

Here is a photo which marks one such event from a Big E and an autumn long ago: the Hurricane of 1938. The photos marks the high water point of the flooding on the fairgrounds. This Friday we begin a three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.

Here is a link to the website of the Eastern States Exposition with information on events, exhibits, admission and times. Folks from all over New England (and even some of them outlanders from beyond) meet up here. I hope you can, too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Over the bounding main.

Above, a woman rows a dory off the coast of Rockport, Mass.

Below, a sailboat navigates Nantucket Sound with Martha’s Vineyard in the background, while a passing gull launches itself across the sky.

Dories and sailboats have been with us as workhorses and pleasure craft, the object of artwork and handicrafts, gift shop trinkets, symbols of a seagoing way of life, and sense of freedom. Whether propelled by one’s own strength or the gift of the wind, the sense of freedom is perhaps the same.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cape Neddick Light - York, Maine

The Cape Neddick Light in York, Maine is also called the Nubble Light, for the island rock on which it sits, called the Nubble.

First constructed in the 1870s, it was automated in the 1980s, and remains one of the most popular tourist destinations among lighthouse fans. A unique attraction is the Christmas celebrations when the lighthouse and outbuildings are illuminated with Christmas lights.

For more information on the history of this lighthouse and the stories of its keepers, have a look at this website.

Friday, September 5, 2008

One-Year Blog Anniversary

It has been a year since this New England Travels blog was started. Thanks for the pleasure of your company.

This month we’ll feature another lighthouse or two to cap off the summer, a nod to the Big E, and a three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938. I hope you can join us.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day for Industrial New England

Lest we forget, and leave the holiday entirely behind us, this is face of Labor Day. This day has become less political, less infused with debate on social issues, and become a more benign holiday. Perhaps we could say as much for Independence Day or Memorial Day, but then maybe backyard picnics have a way of lulling us into a sense of comfort. We need that. But the desire for comfort rather than the actual attainment of it is what labor was about in the era these photographs were taken.

The photographs in this post are not from my collection, but from the United States Library of Congress. They are from the records of the National Child Labor Committee, and all were taken by photographer Lewis Wickes Hine. They represent an industrial New England before the jobs went overseas, before they even went South. People from all over the world emigrated here for the work, not just for an idealized notion of freedom because the work itself represented freedom.

Pictured aboved, Clarence Wool was 11 years old, a spinner in a North Pownal, Vermont cotton mill. The year was 1910.

This little girl was a spinner in Fall River, Mass. in June of 1916.

Here is the spooling room in an Indian Orchard, Mass. factory.

Most were non-English speaking, many illiterate. These are children. This doffer, a boy who changes the bobbins in a cotton mill, is in Fall River, Mass.

These doffers are in North Pownal, Vermont in August of 1910.

Here is the noon lunch hour at the Sanford Manufacturing Company in Sanford, Maine, in April of 1909.

Here are some workers from the carding and weaving room of the Kilburn Mills in New Bedford, Mass., August 1911.

These girls work at the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, in May 1909.

When we fire up the grill, it’s appropriate to remember the “good old days”, and count one’s blessings.

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