Looking back at the Hurricane of '38, 75 years later
The great Hurricane of '38 hit Rhode Island 75 years ago, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1938; this Saturday marks the anniversary. In the days after the storm the then-publisher of the Warren and Barrington Gazette, the Warren Publishing Company, published a short "Hurricane Album" with photos of the destruction taken across the East Bay. Following are a few photos from that book, alongside reports of the damage published in the Warren and Barrington Gazette. Click below to see a PDF version of the Hurricane Album, or read on.
From Bay Spring all along the shore to Bristol there was revealed Thursday morning a scene of desolation which no resident had witnessed here before. No disaster that had ever occurred in this area could be recalled that did not wane into nothingness. There simply was no basis for comparison. With the elements in uprising late Wednesday afternoon there was presented the most awe-inspiring spectacle that one could imagine, and it was all the more forceful because it held a personal message for every beholder. Those who felt reasonable assurance that their property would not be washed away could not know at what moment their homes would be demolished by the hurricane. Raging up form the South, the hurricane visited a state to which such an upheaval of nature's forces had never before been known, and the state was wholly unprepared to cope with the elements. Accompanying the hurricane, the tidal wave acted in concert to bring sudden, devastating tragedy upon people who, a few hours before, had no reason to believe that the elements would so act as to menace their lives and homes. Whipped up by the great wind that bore down directly upon Barrington, Warren and Bristol, the Warren, Barrington and Providence rivers were giant streams. Waves 15 and 20 feet high were hurled ceaselessly, beating mercilessly against everything in their path. Houses were picked up from their foundations and swept into the rivers, where they bobbed up and down, now sinking out of sight only to rise again on the crest of a wave. Yachts and boats of all description were torn loose form their moorings, to go careening crazily as they were buffeted by the hurricane and swept by cross currents of the tide. Twelve bodies were washed up on Barrington shores along a three mile stretch from Rumstick Point to Bay Spring, the bodies being those of residents of Shawmut Beach and Conimicut, across Narragansett Bay.
From the extreme southern section of Warren's shore colony along the Warren river, to the Warren bridge, wrecked houses and debris, familiar landmarks no longer seen, gave evidence of the hurricane and tidal wave that in a few hours changed the entire aspect of the waterfront. Not a house was left standing at Scott's Landing. At Greene's Landing the houses were tipped over or pulled from their foundations, portions of homes being torn loose and carried away. The colonies at the foot of Bradford, Maple and Locust streets were likewise destroyed. At the colony adjacent to the E.B. Blount & Son Co. area one house was left with only portions of the walls standing, another floated away and the remainder were badly damaged. The oyster boat Priscilla overturned at the wharf. Mr. and Mrs. Byron Blount's home was so badly damaged that it will be good for little else than kindling wood, Mr. Blount said. The Lauren Park Improvement Association Casino was lifted from its cement posts and placed on a new site, but members had one consolation, they at least had their casino. They saw the casino which had been torn from its foundation at Camp Slocum go by, bobbing in the rough of the high waves headed for the bridge at Child street.
The body of Edwin Bowen Arnold of 901 Main St., south Warren, was found Saturday noon in Hundred Acre Cove off Strawberry Hill, in Barrington. Mr. Arnold lost his life when a car in which he was riding toppled into the water as the Massasoit ave. bridge collapsed Wednesday evening. A companion, Carol Terry, of South Old street, Long Island City, saved her life by clinging to wreckage until she was carried ashore. Found wandering along New Meadow rd., dazed and hysterical, she was taken to the home of Mr. and Mrs. William J. Burdge. Mr. Arnold and Miss Terry were returning to Warren as the storm broke. Fearing it might be dangerous to continue on they were said to have stopped at a house and asked to be taken in until the storm was over, but were refused permission. They re-entered their car, it was said, and continued their drive. As they were riding over the bridge it started to sag, and Mr. Arnold was unable to get out of the car. It was stated that the car was picked up by the waves and hurled over the bridge.
Although reported drowned in the tidal wave, Richard Holmes, 14-years-old, was found on the "first bridge" 11 o'clock that evening by Henry Conklin of Maple street, Warren. It was feared early in the afternoon that the youth, a freshman at Warren high, had been a victim of the hurricane when he was seen being swept up the river in his small rowboat unable to help himself whatsoever, except to try and balance the boat in the angry waters. Young Holmes revealed the gripping story of how he lost his boat which was smashed to pieces when it drifted into the woods on the Barrington side of the river. The youth climbed aboard a raft on which were two women, one of whom couldn't swim, and then stripped off most of his clothes and swam for help which was obtained, and the two women were carried to safety. One of the most eventful escapes was that of 11-year-old Lillian Carone, who after being tossed into the waters and separated from her friends as they rode a housetop, clung to a piece of timber and, refusing to loosen her grasp despite the buffeting she received, was carried at Nayatt Point.
There are in use in Warren and Barrington today relics which for long years had lain dusty and unnoticed in attics and barns, but which are now repaying their owners for having retained them. With electricity still not available in many sections of the two towns, and with gas service not yet restored, the people were forced to resort to emergency measures to insure any degree of comfort whatsoever. One Warren woman is using a charcoal flat iron brought over from the Azores, an article that had been forgotten until the hurricanes' aftermath brought it to mind. Old kerosene lamps valued fro their association were also put to use and are still giving service, and will continue to do so until the conveniences of today are restored. It was impossible Friday night to purchase in this section an oil stove, lantern or canned heat device. Stores had been besieged with customers who cleaned out such stock. Those who delayed were forced to dispense with such aids. Candles were first used, together with flashlights, and batteries and bulbs went the way of oil stoves and lanterns. Then came the call for chimneys, wicks and kerosene. Lamps which were first used 100 years ago were dug up, and such was the pleasure of their owners that they seemed to throw a bright light that compared very favorably with electricity. It seemed to be so because the flickering candles had resulted in tired eyes.
Lost it all
William A. "Sonny" Martin Jr. and Miss Rita Kilroy, who had purchased new furniture in anticipation of their marriage, were informed that their home on the Blount property at Water street floated serenely up river with the curtains hanging as straight as though they had just been placed on the rods. Included in the furniture was a studio piano which Mr. Martin was ready, at least on Thursday morning, to sell for something less than a song. Mr. Martin also abandoned his coupe and raced for Water street with Miss Kilroy on his shoulders, when flood waters came in too fast. He had attempted to drive across Burleigh's Point, when food waters blocked the roadway from the house. When he reached Water street water was up to his waist. Later he discovered that a motorboat had landed with considerable force, on top of his car, smashing the top and sides.