September 20, 2006
I was in high school when the hurricane of '38 struck. The school was not closed. The story goes that the principal, Leon Q. Brooks, who was "from away" had been notified by phone about a hurricane approaching. He is reputed to have said, "We don't have hurricanes around here," and slammed the phone down. He kept school open — until the kindergartners, upon leaving the building were blown up against the chain link fence.
He then closed the school but by this time the busses could not run — fallen trees had filled the streets. The Montauk kids had to arrange with various students to stay overnight. Most everyone walked home . . . Those remaining in the school were to go to the auditorium. There the two gym teachers put on jazz records and started to dance. No one followed in suite. In fact almost no one was in the auditorium except me.
Boys would appear at the upper doors of the auditorium. And then disappear. Some came back and came over to where I was sitting. "Your father's truck is outside." I went to the side door, and sure enough, there was the cream colored pick-up truck with the Sherrill's Dairy insignia on the doors. I got in. I didn't recognize the driver, but numerous drivers were employed for the daily delivery of milk.
I was driven home via back roads — trees were already blown down on Main Street. Arriving at the house, I popped out of the truck, this driver immediately took off. My mother was upset, and tried to tap on the window to signal to the driver to stay here. That was futile. But he didn't get very far. He drove on the cement sidewalk! The car got stuck!
At the dairy, the windmill which pumped water from the barns and for the cows and horses was damaged by the strong winds. But my father had the foresight to have a water line put into the barns when the house got town water, just turned the faucet. The animals need water. Also water was needed to clean all the milking utensils and equipment.
The windmill was damaged, part of a roof of a small barn was blown off and some trees were blown down.
The next day was a beautiful, glorious sunshine, blue sky, soft balmy breeze. My mother said, "It's a beautiful day! Let's go see what happened at Montauk!" She had grown up there. Her father was a freight master for the LIRR when the Montauk station opened in 1895. The LIRR had built the family house — "first house on the beach," my mother would say — the beach being on Fort Pond Bay. The other houses were built "of fish boxes" it was said. What was meant was that a fisherman would inform the company at Fulton Fish Market that he intended to ship his fish to them, that he needed wood for the boxes. With this lumber he would then construct a residence. The property was owned by the LIRR; house owners paid a small rent to that organization.
The Parsons brothers were among the many who lived there. Hale Parsons (my grandfather) lived in the RR provided house. His brother Daniel Parsons had a house close to Tuthill Pond. He was a trap fisherman; his boat was the Ruth R. His fishermen were Nova Scotians. Frank Parsons had a grocery store on the beach. Another brother, Will Parsons, ran the life saving station at Hither Plain. The oldest brother was Charlie, the blacksmith in Springs.
Of course there was no school the day after the storm. With my mother, my brother and I were driven to Montauk. My brother gathered a small carry bag of tools in case there was a shipwreck.
The three of us got into the Buick and proceeded to Montauk. As we came of the high ground at Amagansett to go across the Napeague Beach, there were some cars and a truck idling on the Napeague at a small pond or a large puddle in the west lane. No one was on the road east. My mother just barreled through the standing water, which sprayed all over. The other cars honked their horns and yelled! Mom paid no attention and off we went! The Napeague stretch was dry.
We drove to the "old fishing village," where our mother had spent her childhood. Everything seemed to be in order. No boats ashore! We then drove over to Lake Montauk, or Montauk harbor where the Yacht Club is. Fishing boats that had been moored at the docks on the west side of the harbor had been pushed over to the east side, high and dry on piles of sand. Emerson Tabor's boat was there, in its dry dock.
Emerson was my mother's childhood friend — they had gone to grade school together on Montauk. Emerson tells of his experience. He was in his house in Rod's valley when he got a phone call: "You had better come and get on your boat as the water is rising." Emerson got in his coupe to drive over to the dock. He stopped by the post office and picked up his mail, and the grocery store to get a couple of pork chops for dinner. He parked his car on the bay side of the dock at Lake Montauk.
Other men were there, running their engines to keep the boats in place alongside the dock, even though they were securely tied to the dock. This would relieve some of the strain on the hawsers tying the boat. The lobster boats and beam trawlers were unceremoniously floated across the harbor and channel and eventually nestled in to the sand dunes on the east side. East Lake Drive didn't go that far. The town had to build a road to the area so that the derrick and steam shovels could have access and get the boats back into the water. This, of course, happened many days after the storm.
But what about Emerson's coupe next to the dock? The water swirled around so much, it ate away the sand where the car was parked, and the car was dropped deep into the bottom of the harbor, along with the pork chops and mail!
We drove home along the ocean road. There were no shipwrecks! The fishing village was not wiped out. That was done by the USA Navy, who also demolished two very large docks on the bay to build their naval station. Owners of the house had to move them.
The Springs Historical Society has a film of the destruction, mostly of the trees blown down and men with chainsaws cutting them up. The two elms in front of Nan Barnes house were pushed onto her roof!