Out to sea with the Hurricane of 1938

By Georgia Sparling | Sep 18, 2013
Photo by: Sippican Historical Society Two men (Al Boothby, right) stand waist high in water in front of Dexter House in Marion. The storm surge was more than 11 feet above the normal high tide. At Bird Island, the water was 16 feet high, according to historican Judith Rosbe.

With winds whipping at 100 miles per hour, the Hurricane of 1938 was the Hurricane Bob or Katrina of its day.

Saturday, Sept. 21 marks the 75th anniversary of the storm that battered the northeast and destroyed many sections of Marion and Mattapoisett, including the Kittansett Club, Bardens Boatyard and Pico and Crescent beaches.

According to local historian Judith Rosbe, in her book “Maritime Marion,” the water surge was 11.25 feet above normal, and the storm left more than $1.5 million of damage in Marion.

“Nothing in the experience of those living in New England had prepared them for the terror and disaster to be visited on them that day,” wrote Rosbe.

In an article titled “The Two Celias,” Marion resident John Hawkings recounted boating through Marion Village with his brother as they floated through the town toward the harbor to get their boats the Celia I and Celia II.

“As we rowed down the street, people called to us, offering us hundreds of dollars to remove their favorite possessions,” he wrote.

The Hawkings brothers declined, but did respond to a father who asked them to take his young daughter who had pneumonia.

“We rowed right through his front door and across the living room to the top of the staircase where he stood with a little girl in his arms,” wrote Hawkings.

His brother Phil jumped out of the boat and asked to use the upstairs bathroom.

Later, Hawkings said, “I asked Phil what had possessed him to ask for a bathroom at that particular moment. ‘I didn’t want to pee in his living room’ was the logical answer.”

While there were a few light moments, the storm had a lasting effect, especially on the children.

In Center School’s yearbook following that storm, ninth grader August Wilken wrote about his experience in the aftermath of the hurricane.

“I thought that our house would not be there. Although it was still standing, the windows were all smashed and broken and the sun porch was torn right off. It was off its foundation by five feet,” Wilken wrote.

In an interview for Mattapoisett Museum’s exhibit on the storm, Ann Briggs, who was also a student at Center School, recalled walking around town after the storm.

At Pico Beach, she and her family found something unusual.

“There were just pieces of cottages…but there was a shelf with books still on it. A bowl with an egg…how it tore houses apart and didn’t break the egg, I don’t know,” she said.

The Hawkings brothers were also astonished to find both of their boats intact.

As they came ashore people asked them, “How did you do it?”

“Despite the devastation and lack of sleep, we were feeling pretty good, and I couldn’t resist replying, to my brother’s beaming approval, “We’ve been to sea before.”

A light moment during the storm in front of Jenkin's store on Front Street. (Courtesy of: Sippican Historical Society)
Two men prepare to canoe from Taber Academy down Front Street in Marion (Courtesy of: Sippican Historical Society)
Barden’s Boatyard was completely destroyed by the storm. Watts Boatyard where Burr Brothers now stands, was also destroyed, but by fire during the storm. (Courtesy of: Sippican Historical Society)
The summer beach houses at Pico Beach in Mattapoisett as well as other area beaches were mostly destroyed by the storm surge. In Mattapoisett 300 houses were destroyed. (Courtesy of: Mattapoisett Historical Society)
Boats washed several yards inland at Water Street and Pearl Street in Mattapoisett show the storm’s force. (Photo by: Mattapoisett Historical Society)
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.