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The hurricane of 1938 as seen through the eyes of four high school students and others in Marlborough
Peter B. Snyder «
The winning essay in the 2011 Marlborough Historical Society Scholarship Competition
The Marlborough Historical Society Marlborough, Massachusetts www.HistoricMarlborough.org
Seventy-threeyears ago on September 21st four high school students from Marlborough along with the rest of the town, in fact along with all of New England, experienced something that had not happened in over a century in the northeast. One of the high schoolersencountered it while commuting in a Model A Ford; another was caught unaware on his cot in the kitchen; one teen had a hilarious run in with a selfappointed crossing guard; and the last student saw an unforgettable sight out her bathroom window. This was the great Hurricane of 1938! The storm formed near Africa in the Azores on the tenth of September. It continued to head straight to Florida, however the wind from the west and a southerly wind pushed the storm up towards Long Island and New England rather than curving away as was expected. The category four hurricane¶s eye was40 mileswide, with a 200 mile diameter of swirling winds. Charles F. Brooks, founder of the American Meteorological Society, and former Director of the Blue Hill Observatory, was quoted in Minsinger¶s book,The 1938 Hurricane,³This vortex rushed northward to Long Island and New England with the speed of an express train, augmenting wind velocity to extremes of about 120 mph on the east of the path of the center.´1What made this hurricane in particular so unusual was that
Fig. 1. Goddard, Steven. Chart of path of Hurricane of 1938.http://stevengoddard.files.wordpress.com/ 2010/09/800px-1938_new_england_hurricane_track.png?w=640&h=396
Minsinger, William Elliott, M.D. The 1938 Hurricane. Randolph Center, Vermont,
Greenhills Books, 1988: 10.
it ran up the eastern seaboard so fast and so straight. Most hurricanes lose speed when they hit land and veer off to the Atlantic. The Hurricane of 1938 did neither, it maintained its straight course and went all the way up the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont and even into Canada. Weather advisories had been issued, however given the unexpected speed,traveling at fifty mph, a lack of advanced metrological equipment, and no quick easy way to spread the word, save for the radio which really was more for light entertainment at the time, there was little that they could do to warn the populace. Arthur Marsan who lived in Marlborough for many years said, ³I was 16 years old, and had just started attending Worcester Trade School that fall, being trained as an electrician. The winds were really picking up. As we were looking out the school window from our electrical class on the 4th floor, we said µMan look at that wind and rain!¶ Then all of a sudden we hear, µO.K. class is dismissed.¶ I think it was about 11 o¶clock in the morning. The school cleared out fast. We were in a Model A, real fancy. Most of the cars were
Fig. 2. Model A Ford. http://www.anyupholstery.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/ owned by older guys. And they would pack as many as you could pack in, images/Model_A_Ford.29693941_large.jpg
sometimes five of us or as many as eight, if someone needed a ride. We¶d come up to Shrewsbury center, into Northborough to drop off some of the guys. The police cordoned off the area in Shrewsbury due to downed electrical wires. The trees were down and we couldn¶t get any
farther. So okay we turned around and went back. We were driving against the wind and the Model A, being a light car, we were sitting up high. We really could feel that wind. All the way back we were saying, µGee I hope we make it.¶ We had no idea it was a hurricane. All we knew was it was a heavy rain storm.´ John Noble,(pictured right) another lifelong resident of Marlborough, recalled, ³I was a freshman at Marlborough High in what is now the Walker Building. I was at Glee Club rehearsal.Somebody heard that the storm was coming, and I guess that the wind was starting to blow or something, and suddenly they sent us all home. By the time I got home [146 Prospect Street], the storm was getting pretty wild. It obviously by then was going to be a terrific storm, but we were not expecting a hurricane. So my father immediately woke my brother and told him to go to the shoe factory on Howland Street where my mother worked. He told him, µGet up there and walk your mother home.¶ Thank God he did that, because it was picking up by that time. He got her back, but I don¶t know what the factory did with everyone else. I was just happy to have my mother home.´ Clearly nobody would ever even think that a hurricane of such magnitude was possible here in our city. In the MarlboroughEnterprise the news on the day of the storm consisted of two actors being paired in a movie for the seventh time and savings on
groceries. The next day on the twenty-second, obviously, there was a drastic change in the news.For starters the Enterprise was published in Framingham that day due to storm related issues. Also it would seem the vultures did not take long to take advantage of the situation, as there were already ads for house damage repair and insurance. Interestingly enough regular news such as dresses for the season and comics were still to be found in the paper despite the hurricane.2 During the storm Leonard Tremblay over on 51 Grant Street was at home in their third floor apartment not doing too much. ³I was 15 years old,´ he reminisced. ³I had injured my knee at school and had to have stitches. So I was laid up on a cot in the kitchen recovering. My family was with me in the kitchen, when all of a sudden the chimney came down. I wasn¶t hurt, only plaster came down and covered me, it was a mess. We didn¶t realize it was a hurricane.´ When a member of the current Immaculate Conception Choir, Phyllis Fortin Tremblay (pictured left), was asked if she remembered this storm, she gasped, saying that she quite clearly remembered it, and, more importantly, she saw the moment that the Immaculate Conception parish steeple fell. ³There are many stories associated with this hurricane, I¶m sure. But I vividly remember seeing the Immaculate Conception Church steeple go down,´ Mrs. Tremblay started. ³You might ask: how could we see the I.C. steeple fall? Visualize our house on the top of Washington Street, number 58. We, the Fortin family, were on the
Marlborough Enterprise, September 22, 1938, page 1
second floor apartment, my aunt and uncle owned the house. If you walked to the back of the apartment (pictured right), the bathroom window faced out toward Prospect Street, right in alignment with the Church steeple. My aunt and uncle and my parents were at home. I don¶t know whether the factories let people go home or not. But I think that they must have let them out because my parents there. My father worked at the Diamond M (I think that was the name) Shoe Factory on Pleasant Street. And my aunt and uncle worked at the Curtis Shoe Factory on Cotting Avenue. My mother took care of my aunt¶s only child, my cousin, we were closer than sisters. All of my family lived on Washington Street. There were seven of us living upstairs looking through the small bathroom window. There were no houses in the way, and the steeple was very very tall, about 100 feet tall. We could see it swaying. Absolutely! We were just gasping with awe watching out the window. We saw it sway about a half dozen times or so. We stayed right there and saw it go for good, right on Judge McDonald¶s big round porch. The steeple didn¶t hit the house proper, but mostly it knocked the porch down.´
However had the steeple fallen it would find nobody to smash since a heroic patrolman, EugeneMullane, had just saved the people in the house. According to the Marlborough Enterprise,Eugene was on his beat when he saw the hundred foot steeple waving in the hundred mile per hour wind and saw that the steeple was going to fall to the north.
Fig. 3. Immaculate Conception Church minus its 100 foot steeple. From postcard courtesy of John Noble, printed by Tichnor Bros. Inc. 160 No. Wash. St., Boston, Mass.
Since the late judge¶s house was no less than fifty feet away he rushed in to the house telling them to get out.OfficerMullane then went into the next house belonging to Miss Mary Campbell and evacuated her too. No sooner were the people out then the resounding crash of the steeple was heard ³leveling [the McDonald¶s] front porch to kindling wood´ 3
Fig. 4. Immaculate Conception Church with repairman on top. Alatalo, Susan with the Marlborough Historical Society, Images of America Marlborough, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2003: 91.
Marlborough Enterprise, September 22, 1938, page 1.
The four local residents toldother stories besides the ones about the terrible strength of the storm, but there were two pertinent taleswhich were quite amusing.Mr. Marsan(pictured below) told a story that happened during the hurricane, [M]y father and I were looking over the street and walking around retrieving whatever we could. Our neighbor, Dick, who lived two doors down the street liked to bend the elbow a bit too much. By then he was feeling no pain. He had a metal roof that was built in slots like layers. One of the layers had just come off, just rolled off, rolling UP the street. My father said, µI¶ve got to go stop him, he¶s going to cut his arm off if he retrieves it,¶ because the guy was running after his roof trying to stop it. My father said, µIt¶s a good thing he¶s feeling good.¶ Even today I can see clearly old Dick running trying to catch his roof.´ In fact there were two funny stories about drunks that day.According to Mr. Noble after he was dismissed from school, as he was walking up Prospect Street to get to his house ³[t]here was this fellow directing traffic at Lincoln and Prospect. He said to me, µAlright now, move along before somebody else gets killed.¶ I said, µWhy? Did somebody get killed?¶ He said, µNo, but I might.¶ I then discovered that he had a little smell of the brewery. Laughingly I recall that was all right, I guess he had appointed himself to that job.´
As a result of the hurricane, Marlborough was placed under martial law to ensure against looting.Despite the drunks there was no record of looting during the aftermath, but just to be safe the WPA and National Guard were called in.4
A strange quirk is that the clean-upin Marlborough apparently was relatively quick (well the major things to make sure that life could continue easily, for instance schools in session, most power restored, and roads cleared). This could be inferred from the fact that in the Enterprisethe next week there was a brief article about the aftermath of the storm in Connecticut, but not much else. 5
Yes the clean-up of the some ³275,000,000 trees« darkening the houses of seven-eighths of those served by power lines, and cutting off nearly one-third of the telephones,´ would of course take a while to fix and the fact that ³1,675 head of livestock, and one-half to three-quarters of a million chickens were killed,´ would certainly be a hindrance, life in Marlborough at any rate would carry on. The fallen steeples of many churches were repaired at least a year later, although the Immaculate Conception Church never had its steeple¶s grand height or its four clocks restored.By the next day, by 10 A.M. all of the factories save 2 were fully functional again.
However one thing that was not immediately reopened, much to the joy of the students, was the schools! ³It was sort of exciting and having school off for the next two days too,´ said Mrs. Tremblay. Even Mr. Marsan and Mr. Noble admitted to being glad for lack of school, with Mr. Noble saying, ³I guess the important thing to me, at that age, was that there was no school until Monday.´ On Saturday the Marlborough Enterprise
Marlborough Enterprise, September 22, 1938, page 1 Marlborough Enterprise, September 26, 1938, page 1
warned the students not to touch any fallen wires or hanging limbs as they still proved a threat.6 Although this storm took quite a toll on all of New England and Long Island, in Marlborough, Massachusetts, we carried on strong, never for a moment letting ourselves be hindered by a strong hurricane and, what¶s more, we are fortunate to have vivid stories from our senior citizens.
Marlborough Enterprise, September 24, 1938, page 1.
WORKS CITED Alatalo, Susan with the Marlborough Historical Society, Images of America Marlborough, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2003: 91 photo of churchsteeple. Any Upholstery. Model A Ford. http://www.anyupholstery.com/yahoo_site_admin/ assets/images/Model_A_Ford.29693941_large.jpg Goddard, Steven, Chart. http://stevengoddard.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/ 800px-1938_new_england_hurricane_track.png?w=640&h=396 Marlborough Enterprise, September 21 through October 1, 1938. Marsan, Arthur, Personal interview, March 9, 2011. Minsinger, William Elliott, M.D., The 1938 Hurricane, Randolph Center, Vermont, Greenhills Books, 1988: 9-15. Noble, John, Personal interview, March 12, 2011. Tichnor Bros. Inc. Immaculate Conception Church minus its 100 foot steeple. Picture postcard, courtesy of John Noble, Tichnor Bros. Inc. 160 No. Wash. St., Boston, Mass. Tremblay, Leonard, Personal interview, March 11, 2011. Tremblay, Phyllis Fortin,Personal interview, March 11, 2011.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Alatalo, Susan with the Marlborough Historical Society, Images of America Marlborough, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2003: 91 photo of churchsteeple. Allen, Everett S. A Wind To Shake The World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane. Boston, Toronto, Little Brown and Company. 1976. Any Upholstery. Model A Ford. http://www.anyupholstery.com/yahoo_site_admin/ assets/images/Model_A_Ford.29693941_large.jpg Goddard, Steven, Chart. http://stevengoddard.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/ 800px-1938_new_england_hurricane_track.png?w=640&h=396 Marlborough Enterprise, September 21 through October 1, 1938. Marsan, Arthur, Personal interview, March 9, 2011. Minsinger, William Elliott, M.D., The 1938 Hurricane, Randolph Center, Vermont, Greenhills Books, 1988: 9-15. Noble, John, Personal interview, March 12, 2011. Perley, Sidney. Historic Storms of New England. Beverly, Massachusetts. Memoirs Unlimited, Inc. 2001. Scotti, R. A. Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938. Boston New York London, Little Brown and Company. 2003. Tichnor Bros. Inc. Immaculate Conception Church minus its 100 foot steeple. Picture postcard, courtesy of John Noble, Tichnor Bros. Inc. 160 No. Wash. St., Boston, Mass.
Tremblay, Leonard, Personal interview, March 11, 2011. Tremblay, Phyllis Fortin, Personal interview, March 11, 2011.
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