Nurse’s archive captures damage from 1938 hurricane

SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

SHELTER ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | Access to North Ferry was blocked so traffic couldn’t access the road in and out until a cleanup had been achieved. There was a period when boats started landing at the town dock to accommodate those who wanted to get to and from the Island.

No Shelter Islanders on land lost their lives during the Hurricane of 1938, but one seaman met his fate 75 years ago from “The Long Island Express.”

Captain Roy Griffing died aboard the seine boat in which the crew of the sinking fishing steamer, Ocean View, had taken refuge. The ship overturned in East End waters forcing the crew into the smaller boat that couldn’t weather the winds and waves, according to a newspaper account at the time.

Captain Griffing had engaged in “beam trawling” off Montauk for many years and was a well respected resident, according to a newspaper account.

A second seaman from West Neck had been feared lost aboard the Catskill on a New London-Orient Point route, but the boat rode through the storm to safety.

Islanders were not spared close encounters with death that September day. “Scores of bodies” washed ashore from the ocean between Center Moriches and Sag Harbor, according to an account from nurse Viola Farrow of Shelter Island Heights, who kept a scrapbook of her own observations along with newspaper clippings.

Those who drowned were said to have occupied cottages along a 50-mile stretch of shore between Montauk Highway and the Atlantic Ocean and stretching from Center Moriches to Westhampton, Ms. Farrow wrote. She said six bodies washed ashore at Westhampton alone and 30 who had lived in what became ruins of 160 summer bungalows were missing.

On Shelter Island, roads were blocked by fallen trees and forests were “reduced to acres of tangled branches,” according to an unidentified newspaper account contained in the scrapbook. The wooded drive at the then Dering Harbor Club was destroyed; the east veranda and side roof of the country club was partly blown off and the course was strewn with pieces of the caddy house. A beautiful forested area around Hay Beach Point that covered nearly 200 acres was wiped out. Dering Harbor Village roads and lawns were strewn with oaks and locusts.

Ram Island Road was impassable as huge waves tore up the Lower Beach road at Ram Island Estates, allowing the bay and harbor to meet across the roadway for hours. Great Ram Island’s forest was destroyed and the shore at Coecles Harbor was covered with boats that had snapped their moorings at the height of the storm. The Ram Island Beach Club was divided by the wind and waves, the main club room left standing, while the two bathhouse wings “floated merrily off to fi nd a new location on Emil Brogel’s domains,” a newspaper account said.

Garages at Ram’s Head Inn were blown down and serious damage was done to several houses in the area.

At South Ferry, a detour had to be created on the Bailey-Smith property to provide access to the rest of the Island.

Two large windows were shattered at what was then the Bohack store in the Center.

At Menantic, five boathouses belonging to then Supervisor Everett Tuthill were “reduced to kindling wood” and 28 trees on the property were “torn to pieces.” Mr. Tuthill and three others had a narrow escape when a section of roof from one of the boathouses blew off and cut through the roof of another just a moment after the four men had evacuated the building.

North Ferry boats were landing at the town dock until fallen trees in the Heights could be cleared two days after the storm.

It took three days after the storm for 50 telephone company workers to begin untangling wires from trees. The following day, workers were able to begin to restore electricity to the Heights.

“Kerosene lamps and candles are in great demand and those having a hand pump and well are aiding waterless neighbors,” the newspaper account said.