THIS WEEK IN SAG HARBOR HISTORY
Sept 21, 1938
"The Long Island Express"
[With the recent near-miss of hurricane Henri, our post today is quite timely: A look back at the Hurricane of 1938, which hit Long Island with full force. This post was written by our summer employee Charlotte Robertson, who has now gone off to her freshmen year of college. Best of luck Charlotte!]
Nicknamed the “Long Island Express” due to its incredible speed, the Hurricane of 1938 was one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century to strike the northeast, and the ruin to Sag Harbor was significant.
On September 21st, at around two in the afternoon, the Sag Harbor schoolhouse was in full session when the hurricane hit the coast of Long Island. The students, being kept in the building to wait out the storm, watched as every window shattered from the high winds. Glass breakage was one of the primary problems in Sag Harbor; down Main Street, flying glass from broken storefronts injured several passersby.
Several buildings were damaged, including the house next to the Whaling Museum. More than a hundred chimneys throughout the town were torn to the ground. The theatre and the Post Office lost their roofs. The Episcopal Church endured damage to its steeple and shingles. A handful of houses were crushed by debris.
The most notable damage was the 185-foot spire of the Old Whaler’s Church, which was blown off. Built in 1844, it has been said that the church’s spire was so tall that it became a landmark for whalers returning home, as it could be seen from the ocean. It has never been restored.
The storm’s impact was unfortunately during high tide, making Sag Harbor especially vulnerable to flooding. Two boats anchored in the harbor were wrecked. Rowboats glided down the streets to rescue residents from their homes.
The hurricane also created a widespread blackout, preventing all telephone communication. The village was also physically isolated for several hours, the roads being blocked with debris, especially fallen trees.
The loss of trees was widespread. Oakland Cemetery was hit particularly hard, with reported hundreds of trees littering the ground amongst upturned headstones. Fallen pine trees buried the lawns of the John Jermain Memorial Library and the Pierson High School. Five trees fell into Otter Pond. And throughout town, residents mourned their now-empty backyards. As noted by the Sag Harbor Express: buildings can be rebuilt but restoring the village’s beautiful tree population would take half a century.
With modern weather radar and communication systems, Hurricanes can no longer catch us unaware – only unprepared.
[BELOW: 1 - A grove of spruce trees was planted on the turnpike after the Civil War; their toppling caused a near-impenetrable barrier to the village until removed. 2- The remains of the barn-like kiln at Mr. Griffing's Brickyard, located on the way to Bridgehampton. 3- A car on Madison Street pinned by a fallen tree.]