Some stories are just too good to pass up. Some stories blow you away, in a manner of speaking. The anniversary of our biggest gale is almost upon us and we are challenging our authors to write the story, yet again. This time, however, we shall use the words of some of our neighbors who lived through it.
The Long Island Express blew into our area on September 21st, 1938. Following, are some narratives from some of our neighbors.
My family was renting a house for the summer in 1938 in Westhampton on Dune Road. It was a big house, right near the ocean. I was little and young then but we have photos taken on the beach in front of the house. The hurricane came and we had to leave, of course. And it turns out our house was one of the few remaining standing, since it had a basement. And it is still there today.
Babs Kouts, Brookhaven, NY
Our house was at XXX Dune Road. The air conditioner in my little room blew in and sand began to pile up against the door. My mother forced it open, got me out and put me in the back seat of the garaged Dodge with a pack of cards to play with. (Doubtless it is why I eventually went on to a career in the great casino of Wall Street.) Next door to the West was the Penniman “cottage” where the barrier dune was at a very low spot.
The first part of the storm featured very high wind. Mother watched as a back porch ice chest, filled with blocks of ice, took off as if made of paper and was wind borne away into the marsh to the North of the Dune Road. She had talked by telephone with Mrs. Gilbert (Peggy Stanton’s mother) who had rented the house for the summer and had decided to go East with her children when the eye came. (She and family ended up spending the night in the Tiana Beach Life Saving Station feeling lucky to be alive.)
But we went West. The eye of the hurricane featured the sun coming out, seagulls flying around and an eerie calm. The Dodge held my mother, me and Lizzie, our elderly cook who had been in the room as a sixteen year old servant girl when my father was born at home. We made it to the Quogue beach Club.
With water over the engine, the auto stopped. We got out into the water, my mother carrying me on her shoulders. Wading up to their necks, Mom and Lizzie struggled through the water to the old bridge at the end of Beach Lane.
There Quogue’s one village taxi, owned and run by Mr. Randall, awaited a Beach Club patron who never arrived, having walked away much earlier before Mr. Randall had arrived.
Things were beginning to blow again so we climbed into Randall’s taxi and went off to the vonHennig’s house where Schweste Marie, a Swiss friend of Lizzie, took care of two children roughly my contemporaries, Pupa and Dieter.
The second half of the hurricane arrived, featuring the tidal wave which carried away the Penniman cottage, two Cauchois houses, half of East House, belonging to Johnny Post’s family & later rented to John O’Hara, and possibly several others between our house and the Quogue Beach Club.
My father, working in the city, had seen the hurricane pennant atop the W.R. Grace building in the City and, having been a Navy pilot in World War I, knew what it meant. He caught that afternoon’s last train east to Long Island, The storm hit and blew down trees over the tracks so that several times the men on the train had to go outside with fire axes and chop them away. Finally in the dead of night, the train could go no further than Speonk.
Dad took off on foot. By chance he had a hundred dollar bill in his pocket. When he came upon a farm house, he woke up the farmer and offered him the $100 bill if the man would drive him immediately to Quogue.
Dad arrived in Quogue at daybreak and happened upon Reggie Cauchois trudging towards the damaged bridge. They made their way across the canal on the one remaining span still left on the ruined bridge, found the inert Dodge at the other side, and walked to inspect the desolation.
Our house, miraculously, was saved because Mr. Abe Post had advised the parents to build it well back of the dunes. Of course the dunes were flattened. Soon, however, they were completely rebuilt as a prime Village priority to save the whole village from the winter storms that would soon arrive. Old cars, trees, detritus from ruined houses were all piled up and covered with sand to create new dunes. Today’s vestigial dune is already far behind that line Northward and desperately needs rebuilding and maintenance lest future storms cause a breakthrough. Thus, in my opinion, beach maintenance in Quogue still remains a strategic survival priority.
Pieter Greeff, Quogue
Weather coverage of that day was not anything like what is available today. For instance, no satellite, radar, or anything except ship reports. The spread of this information to the public was limited and most people didn’t pay a lot of attention, since Long Island weather never seemed to fit the pattern of the continent most of the time.
It had been raining for two weeks almost daily. The ground was soft and there was a fair amount of standing water around. Grey skies are no novelty in that part of the world, particularly on the fall equinox. “Line” storms were an expected feature. It would take about a week to get them organized – the wind would haul around to the northeast, the rains would come in cold, nasty, squalls and once in a while a branch would break off somebody’s tree; the leaves which were about to hit the ground were accelerated somewhat and fall came in like a lion. For all intent and purpose, it was a bad case of normalcy.
Arthur D. Raynor, Westhampton
We see the perplexed expressions on our reader’s faces. Where are the stories about Hampton Bays? Who lost their life in Hampton Bays? How many houses were destroyed? Well, that’s the good bit of news. We were very fortunate in that it didn’t really happen here. Fortuitously, the storm hit the shore just to the west.
Our Main Street is far from any water and many feet above sea level, so we would not see the damage done to our commercial district that Westhampton Beach did. Additionally, given that our barrier beach isn’t populated with buildings, there were none to wash into the sea. We did, in fact, lose one important building: the Shinnecock Life Saving Station. Today, we know it as the Shinnecock Inlet. The men stationed there fled to Southampton to escape, but the long-awaited and hard-won inlet was carved through. So yes, windows rattled, branches and trees flew, but all in all, we were holding aces.