Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1938, 1944 ...

My cousin Stuart Brewster, who lived at 98 Preston Street ("Pine Knoll") as a boy, wrote to me via email from CA this week in response to reports of Hurricane Irene and a story I had sent him:

"Your Hurricane story brings back many memories of Hurricanes especially the 1938 disaster where hundreds were killed.  It happened on Sept. 21, 1938, if I recall correctly.  On the two days before, we had driven my brother Dudley to Proctor Academy in Andover, NH, and David to the U. of Mass. in Amherst.  It rained continually on both these day trips.

"Late in the afternoon on the day of the big storm, we (Aunt May, my mother, Mayon and myself) were out in the back yard at Pine Knoll watching the clouds that were passing overhead at an unbelievable speed. Aunt Margaret had been in Salem at some Church affair and drove in, put her car in the barn and announced that we were going to have a Hurricane.  What is a Hurricane? was the response.  We then noticed that a hugh locust tree that was near the western side of the house was leaning, fortunately away from the house.  We all stood there and watched it fall, closing off the Western driveway.

"For the rest of the night, the wind blew and blew. The noise was like that of a freight train roaring by at top speed.  This lasted all night. We could hear trees crashing all around and were worried that one might fall on the house but none did.  I don't think anyone went to bed or considered getting undressed since we were worried about a possible fire from lightning or if the chimney fell.  Also there was a big Maple tree on the South side that was a big worry for hitting the house and then rain would pour in.  Of course, we very quickly lost all power and did not get it back for weeks. But we had a coal stove in the kitchen so were able to cook.  Many in town who had electric stoves were not so lucky.

"The next day, we could not believe the carnage.  The Pine Grove which is why it was called Pine Knoll was almost all gone.  A few White Pines were left but the grove area was far more open. The Eastern drive entrance was not blocked.

"I was still attending Speedwell School held at Locust Lawn.  The drive up to the house was blocked by many fallen trees. School was to have opened on October first but was delayed for a number of weeks.

"The next Hurricane came in 1944. I was in college at Tufts living in Somerville. It didn't cause much damage since it went up the middle of the state somewhat like your current storm.  Renate talked about how she had just arrived as a freshman at Mt. Holyoke when the storm hit causing extensive damage to trees on the campus.

"The 1954 storm was strong but there wasn't the loss of life as in 1938. Pine Knoll lost more trees. I also drove over to Marblehead early in the day before it really hit in order to see the surf.  It was very scary with the waves smashing against the shore on the Neck and the spray spreading over the road.

"My last one was the weekend of [my nephew's] wedding in Rockport, held on the day after what had been projected to be a hugh one. [Hurricane Gloria, September 27, 1985]
 I had been at a ... retreat held on the Cape in Chatham.   [... People debated] about staying or moving up to Boston.  I made a strong statement pointing out that if the storm hit as predicted and the two bridges were closed, then we could be caught there for days.  Cooler heads finally prevailed and we moved.  Andy and Sally who lived on the Cape could not get to the wedding.

"Thus endeth my recollections of Hurricanes in New England."

Sunday, August 28, 2011


As Hurricane Irene threatened New England this week, I thought about the hurricanes we experienced in Danvers during my childhood: Carol and Edna in 1954 and Connie and Diane in 1955. Downed trees created green jungles to play in. That was my perspective as a youngster.

During Reunion last month I heard a hurricane memory from Chuck Roy, who grew up on the Burley Farm in Danvers. During Hurricane Carol he watched a farm worker there attempt to put a truck into a barn:
"From the safety of my home I watched as the storm raged on. At one point I saw Nate heading to the “A” barn to put a truck inside. He rolled open the two large barn doors that would allow him to drive into the barn. As he turned and walked back to his truck a gust of wind blew into the barn and lifted the entire A-shaped roof right off the barn, dropping it just a few feet to the side! I can just imagine what was going through his mind when he turned around and saw what was left of the barn. I was thinking I would have lots of wood to make a new fort."
Forts, jungles...  Hurricanes can create new playgrounds for kids. See what I wrote in 2007 in my column: Hurricanes in my childhood [now copied into this blog, as the newspaper archive isn't accessible.]

For another perspective, read Mr. Richard Trask's article: Of microbursts and hurricanes in Danvers. (November 2009).

Today as an adult I'm relieved that Hurricane Irene weakened to a 'tropical storm' before reaching us.