Remembering The Hurricane of 1938
The following letter was sent to me by Mr. Benjamin Beekman of Woodbury, NY, on August 30, 2002.
On September 21,1938, I was two months shy of my 7th birthday. My mother and father had taken my older brother (18) and I out to spend a few days at my aunt's summer bungalow on Hampton Boulevard in Mastic, Long Island. We lived in Queens, New York, and it was always nice to relax in the country. My father docked his 16 foot open boat, the "Nancy B.", at the nearby Mastic Marina at the foot of Riviera Drive, opposite Pattersquash Island. He had built his own small dock at right angles to the shore; at that time no special permit was required for small boats. I remember that my mother was trying to get me to eat my "H O Oats", a breakfast cereal that I didn't especially like. Our bungalow had bottled gas for cooking but we had to get our water from the Mastic Railroad Station, which had a hand operated water pump at that time. We had no electricity and relied on kerosene lamps for night lighting. The wind was howling outside and she said God was punishing me for not eating my cereal. Strange to say, father said he could actually hear the ocean waves for a day or two before the hurricane hit. Normally, we couldn't hear them since our bungalow was about four miles from the ocean. I don't remember what time it was, but soon my father got us into our car, a 1933 Plymouth, for safety, fearing that the bungalow would collapse from the wind. We rode out the storm the rest of the day inside the car. The next day we drove along Montauk Highway toward Center Moriches but found the bridge over the Forge River, just past John Duck's duck farm, was covered with water and no traffic could pass. We also tried to drive down to the Marina to check on the status of our boat but, due to the flooding, couldn't get within several blocks of the Marina. We had to stop and turn around at Ward's General Store on Riviera Boulevard, which, I believe, is still there today under another name. The following day the water had receded enough to allow us to get down to the dock where we found the dock was still there but the boat was missing. The ropes used to tie it to the dock had broken or were missing. Father then began to search for it, driving up and down the streets adjacent to the Marina. Sure enough, after some time we spotted it upside down on the front lawn of a house several blocks away. I can remember that when we turned it over, the interior was filled with sea grass and a dead frog! The boat was otherwise undamaged except for a hole in the bottom, made by one of the two inch diameter mooring sticks used at the dock. The height of that mooring stick was about three feet above the water, which is how high the boat was lifted by the storm surge when the stick punctured the hull. We had no trailer at that time so the boat had to be lifted up onto the roof of the car and tied securely to bring it home for repair. We were later able to drive into Center Moriches where I remember seeing the entire green shingled pitched roof of a large building that had been lifted off and in the middle of Montauk Highway. Traffic had to be routed around it and I got a good look at it as we slowly passed by. Father noted that, of the summer houses built near the Marina, the only ones surviving were those that had been built on wooden pilings driven deep into the ground. Houses that had been built on, and supported by, cement blocks, were gone without a trace. Before the hurricane, there had been a battered red "lifeboat", half in the marina canal and half up on the land. There was an old retired man," Jack" we called him, who was always seen sifting in this boat, fishing for snappers in the canal with his bamboo snapper pole and bob. He was almost part of the scenery, leaning out over the stern and watching the bob to see if it went under, pulled by a snapper. He lived in a summer bungalow house near the beach that, unfortunately, was built on cement blocks. After the hurricane, "Jack", the red lifeboat, and Jack's house were all gone and never seen again. We never found out what happened to him.
My father and our dog, Spotty, standing in front of my aunt's bungalow in Mastic, Long Island. This is the same bungalow we were in when the 1938 Hurricane occurred.