Archival hurricane photos on exhibit at Montauk Library
until October 30, 2018
The Hurricane of 1938 remains the most devastating hurricane in recent memory, a gale with winds of 110 miles per hour that stormed into eastern Long Island and New England with no warning. Montaukers fled from their homes in Fort Pond Bay Village as a tidal wave of water broke through windows and doors. The wild sea ate homes and sheds, depositing topsy-turvy buildings along the jumbled shoreline. Boats, shuffled around by the angry surf, sometimes floated to the top of hills where they sat peacefully, high and dry. Those who spent the night in the Montauk Manor remember seeing only chimney tops as they peered down onto the Village below. Miraculously, however, almost everybody from Montauk survived.
Donations to the Montauk Library’s archives over the years have included sensational photographs of hurricanes and their aftermaths; not just the 1938 Hurricane, but other storms that were devastating, as well. Hurricane Carol in 1954 is considered the second-worst hurricane to have hit Montauk in the last 100 years. On August 30, 1954, the Village was turned into an island as the highway between Amagansett and Montauk became impassable, deluged under water in a repeat performance mimicking the Hurricane of 1938. This deluge can be seen in some of the spectacular images that are on display at the Montauk Library.
Other pictures in the exhibit document the destruction done by Carol and Edna, too, a hurricane that arrived less than two weeks later, on September 11, 1954. This time, there were motels on the oceanfront that took a direct hit, their busted windows and sandy foundations eaten away by ferocious waves. Hurricane Gloria landed in 1985 with high winds, shooting debris like flying projectiles through the air. And our most recent hurricane, Superstorm Sandy, also caused great havoc, a sore reminder about erosion and the risks involved in building on the dunes.
Several years ago the Montauk Library received the scrapbooks of Anne Duryea Kirk, sister to Perry Duryea, Sr. Filled with letters that give a graphic account of the 1938 hurricane, these scrapbook memoirs with accompanying photographs are among the best primary source material available to historians, revealing details and emotions about the effect of the 1938 hurricane in Montauk. “You of course have heard from Jane about the hurricane we had last week, never was so frightened, hope I never live to see another, all our trees down, we are certainly thankful we have a roof over our heads. Westhampton hard hit, so many lives lost, and all homes on the dunes gone, the Dune Deck where we had lunch gone, also the “Barbour Club” … I have not been to Montauk, Uncle Harry would not let me, the floor was ripped up in shanty, everything afloat, porch gone, cannot understand how it stood up, did not move, all other bungalows pushed back and twisted, understand your bungalow went across pond, no lights, telephones, & water pretty short. Lost ice house, so means big loss did not carry hurricane insurance.” These letters are matched in power by a telegram shared with Tom Grenci by Ralph George. Written to Vitus Pitts who was residing in New York City at the time of the hurricane, his mother sent this “reassuring” message via Western Union: “ALL FINE. DON’T WORRY. HOUSES MONTAUK GONE. LOVE MOTHER.”
This telegram, the scrapbook letters and pictures, and more than 60 photographs, along with numerous newspaper and magazine articles from the Library’s Vertical Files that describe each hurricane in detail, comprise an in-depth look at the history of hurricanes in Montauk and the experiences of the people who lived through them.
The exhibit closes on Tuesday, October 30th.