SEPTEMBER 21, 1938
By B. T. Brown
The rain had been falling steadily for three days and on the morning of September 21, 1938 there was very little change, although the wind began to increase about nine o'clock and by two o'clock was blowing in gale proportions.
Irving, Tom and I were standing in the gas station watching the progress of the storm. Suddenly there was a resounding crash and we saw that the tall cottonwood tree had fallen on Uncle Charlie's back kitchen. Ruby ran over through the rain to point out with great excitement the tree that crashed a moment later on the garage of Rev. C. A. Pepoon.
Tom and I walked over and helped the minister get his car out of the garage. From that time on, this was about 2:30, trees began to fall with increasing rapidity. The large elm in front of the school twisted and turned and shed a great many tons of wood but remained upright. The large thorn trees in front of Frank (Dickie Toots) Tuttle crashed across the main highway and traffic was tied up.
Electric light wires were down all along the line and great tongues of flame and smoke would shoot around as the wind carried the dangling ends of the live wires against the tree branches.
About 3:30 the power company turned off the electricity and as there was no chance of selling any more gas I took the car and went down Bay Avenue, this being the only highway not blocked by trees.
Tuttle Bros. duck farm was split wide open. Roofs lay everywhere and as I proceeded down the avenue I found that the ranch of Capt. Gordon, just purchased by Harry Baker, was also almost completely flattened by the wind.
River avenue was blocked by tree trunks across the road by Frand Lubniewski's farm and so after surveying the damage done at Wilbert Tuttle's and across the creek at Mottus' and Warner's, I turned about and returned to the gas station.
School was let out at about 4 o'clock and I volunteered, as did several others, to try to take students through to East Moriches, because it was impossible for the bus to get through. Men with axes and saws were trying to clear a narrow path around trees so that the highway could be opened up. At John Romanski's on our way to East Moriches we were held up a short time while the light men were clearing the wires across the road. Finally, by various detours, across lots, around trees and over ditches we managed to get to East Moriches and as my supply of gas was low I stopped at Frog's Garage and filled the tank with a hand pump.
About 5 or 5:30 I reached Eastport and was greatly surprised to find that the strong North East wind had suddenly shifted and with new fury had driven the waters of the ocean over the dunes and had filled the bay and creeks to such an extent that water had risen 18 ft. above common tide in Eastport, and was pouring into the pond like a torrent.
Not knowing to what extent the flood water would rise I decided to get a supply of groceries at Lachall's A. & P., and then try to return home by the north country road before that highway was reached by the ever increasing tide. Just as I was about to go into Lachall's I espied Mr. Fred Tuttle coming across the dam, splashing through water which reached to his knees.
The wind began to abate and as I came out of the grocery store I found that the water had began to drop, almost as fast as it had risen, so I was able to drive across the dam and so on home.
When I reached home I learned that great damage had been done along the shore front at Eastport. Boats of all descriptions lay high and dry where the forces of wind and wave had swept them around like matchwood.
Stories that seemed incredible and yet were vouched for by dozens of people came to light. A chimney weighing tons had been swept a quarter of a mile from Ridgewood to the East shore of the cove. A large sharpie had been driven up the East Creek and came to rest upon a wagon at Harry Baker's.
Tragedy along with the humorous side had played its part. As the storm had risen in mid-afternoon, the various boat and yacht owners had turned to the task of securing their craft against damage. Joe Tuttle had run his boat up on the meadow by Bullet's Canal and tied her to a cherry stub and there she stayed high and dry when the water had gone down. Several others had thus saved their boats and many had left them to the elements. But O. R. Raynor had taken his chief mechanic from his Garage and was on his boat as the storm rose, and as it steadily increased he decided, against the advice of many friends, to ride out the storm. With motor running smoothly he turned his boat out into the cove and for a long while lay off Haven's point but as the wind turned and the water rushed out he was last seen headed directly for Moriches Inlet.
The storm lifted and still no word had been heard from Iron and Blue, or Marshall and Ollie. The next day their battered bodies were found off Swan Island near Moriches Inlet. It was at least a week later that their boat was found broken in two about one fourth of a mile east of the Inlet on the ocean side.
Just at night fall on Sept 21st Hub, Bub, Jo and I decided that we would go East on the highway and survey the damage done. Road men had cut a narrow path down through and we went as far as Westhampton where we discovered that terrible havoc had been wrought.
At the height of the storm water rose over the dunes and houses were swept toward the main land or smashed against one another like chips upon an angry sea.
It would take many chapters to enumerate all the personal experiences, but I will just give a glimpse of one or two that I know to be absolutely authentic.
Wells Tuttle of Eastport who worked as a life guard for D. Rogers, narrowly escaped with his life. He says, "The sea filled gradually but kept piling up so after inspecting the bath houses and doing all that could be done to make things hold we decided to go to Demmie's house on the beach. We stayed there until water began coming in on the ground floor and then started in my car for the bridge tower. We had to leave the car and struggled through water to the bridge. I saw my car and several others swung around and thrown up on the meadows by the force of the sea. We went into one of the towers but soon the wind had blown the glass out and so we went across the bride to the other tower which had safety glass and there we stayed. Houses were swept by and several times crashed directly into the bridge and were broken to pieces. It seemed that the bridge must go but we had no alternative but to stay, so that we did. Although the water reached the bridge top, we were safe in the tower some feet higher up. Later we were able to get to the mainland as the water receded."
Many people saved themselves by clinging to bits of wreckage or roofs of buildings.
Key to some individuals referred to in the above article:
B. T. Brown Bartlett Tuttle Brown (1911 - 1976)
Irving Irving S. Brown (1895 - 1985)
Tom Thomas L. Brown (1899 - 1974)
Ruby Ruby M. Brown (1908 - 1990)
Marshall Marshall Hawkins (mechanic) (1913 - ?)
Ollie Oliver Raynor (1892 - 1938)
Hub Herbert F. Brown (1914 - 1987)
Bub Feltsie (Kazel) Brown (1917 - 2005)
Jo Josephine (Lawrence) Brown (Bart's wife, 1908 - 2004)
Uncle Charlie Charles L. Brown (1852 - 1944), known as "Little Man"
Frog's garage "Frog" Chapman's garage, just west of the old
East Moriches school
"Gas Station" belonging to Bart Brown, on N.E. corner of Montauk
Highway and Tuttle Avenue, Eastport
D. Rogers Demarest Rogers, owner of Rogers Beach Club, opposite Beach Lane Bridge, Westhampton Beach
Additional information about the 1938 hurricane:
During the Hurricane of 1938 Louis Green came across the bay in Westhampton on a piece of a damaged house. The lady homeowner who Louis was working for that day came over on the same piece of house. They ended up on the Golf Course of the Westhampton Country Club. I think it was in the area of Shore Road. This story was told to me by many people in Westhampton. -- Richard F. Adelwerth, February 6, 2005.