The Great Hurricane of 1938

It seems the powers that be, or mother nature, or…some entity had it out for us in the 1930s.  I always marveled at how the Stock Market Crash and The Great Depression weren’t enough karmic punishment, (for what I don’t know!) but there was The Dust Bowl to make things even worse.  Now as I’m reading Babu’s diaries I see that during that decade this area had the worst flood it’s seen since and the worst hurricane.  (We beat it out with the tornadoes we had in our area in 2011.)

As with the flood of 1936, Babu seems not at all flustered and even a bit thrilled at the excitement of the 1938 hurricane.  There was no warning, no warning system, in place to alert people something was heading their way.  Babu doesn’t mention it until the damage is done.

This is NOT Babu’s image.  Found on Yahoo news, caption underneath

Great New England Hurricane

Undermined and weakened by flood waters, the Chicopee Falls Bridge over the Connecticut River , is shown Sep. 23, 1938 at Springfield, Mass. As it was averted downstream. The flood followed the hurricane and deluge that struck the new England State. (AP Photo)

I found an amazing article written in our local paper, the Springfield Republican, but I found it on Masslive.

WMass Recalls 1938 Hurricane

The article states:

Seventy years ago, New England was struck by the most destructive hurricane in its history.

On Sept. 21, 1938, with almost no warning, an intense hurricane sped inland off the Atlantic Ocean, across Long Island, N.Y., and straight up the Connecticut River valley.
When its winds finally died, the “Long Island Express,” as historians later named it, had claimed nearly 700 lives and, in 2008 dollars, left almost $4.8 billion in property damage.

Perhaps the symbol of the storm’s terrible strength, though, were the downed trees – an estimated 250 million in the states it affected.

The best part of this article was personal accounts from people in our local area:

Win Firman

I was a sophomore at Amherst College when the hurricane of 1938 came through. We were at football practice when the skies darkened and the wind came up.

When my brother Joe, the Amherst fullback, punted and the ball flew back over his head landing behind him, Lloyd Jordon, our coach, called off the practice. We changed clothes and headed for our dormitory with huge tree limbs flying by us.

It was very scary, of course, particularly because the field house had a big leaded glass roof and that thing was blowing off in huge chunks, 50-pound pieces, that would have beheaded someone if any of the pieces hit them. We could not get inside fast enough. We hunkered down without supper and without electricity to wait out the storm.

After a tough night, we woke up and the town looked absolutely different. We were all just devastated because the common was bordered with huge beautiful trees, and all of them broken off right in the middle and lying down. All the students came out, we got our power and our food back, but college was called off for a couple of days while we all pitched in with the town of Amherst to cut up all the trees and get them out of there. I think it took Amherst another 40 years to regrow all those trees and shrubs.

Large sheets of glass.  That’s about worst case scenario.

Daniel Kennedy

In 1938, there were no preparatory weather forecasts and no one had advance notice of an impending hurricane. When I was 2 years old our family resided at 203 Westford Ave. in Springfield. Apparently I was aggravating my mother, who was caring for my baby sister. In order to eliminate chaos and to restore household tranquillity and in spite of a rainstorm, she gave me an umbrella and told me to go outside and play.

As I proceeded down the front steps, a gust of wind propelled the umbrella and me up in the air dropped me on the front sidewalk. I can recall my mother’s concern, and she came running out to pick me up, as I was crying with scrapes and cuts. Aggravation or not, she immediately brought me back into the house. Later, she realized that was the Hurricane of 1938.

This one was my favorite:

Linda Ann Larivee

The story I am going to tell was told to me by my mother and father, Pauline Stycharz Larivee and Arthur Larivee. It was Sept. 21, 1938.

My mother was just a teenager, and she was walking home from her friend’s house, the rain and wind blowing. As she ran through the park on her way home, a teenage boy in a long raincoat was walking ahead of her. A tree branch crashed to the ground. The boy turned around and my mother was blown into his coat. They were both really afraid they would die in the park. He held her inside his coat and they got to my grandparents’ house.

The whole family … and the teenage boy sat in a candlelit kitchen and waited out the storm. My grandmother had homemade bread and hot tea, and they played cards and checkers. When the storm was over, they went out in the yard and there were downed tree limbs all over.

The teenage boy that saved my mother went on his way home safely. About four years later, his sister arranged for him to date her friend from work. His sister’s friend turned out to be my mother, the little teenage girl he saved during the 1938 hurricane. They got married three years later.

And as always, something I treasure, I have Babu’s account:

sept 20.jpeg

Wednesday, September 21st, 1938
Chicopee is in complete darkness tonight.  Candles are the order of the night.  New England had a minor hurricane today and has left behind uproot trees, broken lines, etc.  It took me from 4:20 to 8:00 to get home.  Took a flashlight and went exploring in the dark city.  Really, it is hard to recognize the place.

sept 22

Thursday, September 22nd, 1938
Our water supply was shut off today and we had none at all.  Got to work on the bus.  Only girl there.  Answered a few calls and carried books from the vault up 4 flights.  Mr.  Burnham drove me home.  We went to the Chicopee Falls Dam that was swept away.   All afternoon Sophie and I walked around.  Tonight I walked down street alone with my flashlight.  No street lights yet.

Friday, September 23rd, 1938
Called up the office but didn’t have to go in.  Sophie and I walked around and I house cleaned some in the afternoon. Went to the library and talked with Farmer.  Nat, Zosh, and I met Depathy after work and he and I went bowling while they watched.  Got 64 for highest.  He brought me home and asked for another date.  Still no streetlights.  Hurrah!

She says:  “Hurrah!”

If you couldn’t tell by the late nights, the busy social life, the horseback and airplane rides and driving at tops speeds in cars with boys (top speed for the 1930s, anyway) then you can certainly tell at times like these the adventurous spirit she has.  She may pine away over only the boys she can’t get like any other girl of her era, but she counts the amount of “numbers” she gets at dances because she wants to be out on the floor dancing.  She doesn’t sit life out.  And when disaster strikes and the whole world is dark, she wants to be out with her flashlight.
The only disappointment is that she took no pictures of the aftermath.  Why not, I wonder.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. lisakunk says:

    Such fun stories (at least looking back) We have a healthy respect for flooding in our area of NC. Happen far too often.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow. What an awful flooding.


  3. joychibuzo says:

    Thank you for sharing these stories and memories, so lovely to read. Still, it is quite scary to know that there was not a warning system back in the day to alert people. At least, today we can have a good estimate of where an impending storm is headed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I agree and thank you very much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. joychibuzo says:

        You’re welcome 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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