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Hurricane of 1938 | The Wind That Shook the World

Hurricane of 1938 | The Wind That Shook the World
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HurricaneThis Yankee classic is from September 1988.

For the first time his wife Irene could ever remember, Harold Higginbotham decided not to go to work. It had been rainy and muggy all week along the stretch of Atlantic Coast from New London, Connecticut, to Point Judith, Rhode Island — a fitting conclusion to a summer that had been pretty much of a washout. Even though school had resumed and it was the third week of September, many families lingered on in cottages at summer beach colonies near the border towns of Westerly and Pawcatuck, hoping for one last break in the dark skies.

All week Harold, a foreman at the American Thread Company in Pawcatuck, and Irene and two of their three sons, Jimmy, 10, and Stanley, 20, had been staying in a small cottage on Montauk Avenue at Misquamicut Beach. Harold had been fighting off a cold, which on the evening of September 20, 1938, grew worse. The family packed up and drove five miles home to West Broad Street in Pawcatuck.

But they got a surprise the next morning. The weather cleared dramatically. There was just a riffle of breeze from the southeast and a benediction of warm sun. It was the kind of fine morning people had been waiting for all summer.

As the fishing fleet put out from harbors up and down the coast, sailboats appeared in Little Narragansett Bay, and college boys hired to close up the big summer houses of Watch Hill stripped off their shirts. Striped umbrellas appeared. Beach outings were hastily assembled.

At Christ Episcopal Church in Westerly, just before 10 that morning, a dozen women from the Mothers’ Club assembled with their rector for a drive to the beach and a picnic at the Clark cottage. At their handsome house in Watch hill, Mr. And Mrs. Geoffrey L. Moore, their four small children, a visiting relative, two family employees, and a college boy named Andy Pupillo were also talking about the sudden spell of good weather. There was some talk of strolling down to the Watch Hill carousel to take a ride on the famous carved wooden horses with their real agate eyes.

Sometime before lunch Stan Higginbotham got a telephone call from his mother at the Morris Plan Company, a bank where he worked as a teller. She explained that his father was feeling better. It seemed a shame to waste such fine weather, so she and Jimmy were taking Harold back out to the cottage at Misquamicut. Stan and his girlfriend Jean, she suggested, could join them there after Stan got off work at five.

Young Westerly Sun reporter Bill Cawley was just checking his beat at the Stonington City Hall and cursing his luck at having to work on such a nice day. City Hall was dead, and it would be a slow news day, yet he couldn’t shake “an eerie feeling . . . something in the air, like a kind of suspension was about to end.”

Cawley thought he was merely reading the social weather of the times: there were still some 10.5 million Americans out of work, and President Roosevelt had just recently declared the beginning of “the real drive on the Depression.”

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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