"THE BIG ONE"
Hurricane of September 21, 1938
Was a sales term of Plymouth in the 1930's. But I don't think this is what they had in mind. Here a new 1938 Plymouth 4 door sedan is having a rough time of it treading water as an amphi-car out in Westhampton.
For newly united Mastic Beach with all of its ten sections and all of Long Island for that matter plus much of the North East, their version of Katrina hit before hurricanes had names. Ever since I have started this web site, I have been collecting stories (mostly) and I have several first person histories of being in the storm and a few photos and more stuff about that day. I have recently learned that I will be getting some actual movie footage that was shot in Mastic & Mastic Beach the day after the storm. If the film turns out to be usable, you can look for a pretty large addition to the web site in the weeks to come.
In keeping with the aftermath idea, here is a first person account from Lorena Hickok AKA "Hick" who lived on the Dana Estate in Mastic from 1937- 1955. Lorena was personal secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt and was commuting from Mastic to work in Queens, NY as a PR person for the upcoming 1939 Worlds Fair at that time.
On her sunporch at the "Little House" on Dana Estate 1937
Lorena had met with the First Lady that day in NYC for lunch. It was raining heavily as they left the restaurant
"I told Mrs. Roosevelt that I might not drive out to Mastic unless it cleared up. And of course it didn't. The radio said a hurricane was blowing up the coast. Could that be possible ? Florida and Cuba had hurricanes, but Long Island? My first thought was for Prinz (her dog) The old boy was kept on a trolley adjoining a kennel that would keep him dry in an ordinary storm. But Bill and Ella (Dana) were back now from out west and Bill would surely think of bringing in Prinz."
"The next morning the papers scared the life out of me. Hundreds dead in New England. Wires down everywhere. Of course I couldn't reach a soul by telephone out in Mastic, nor even get through to a nearby town to find out what had happened. Worried sick I planned to leave the office at 5 but Grover (Whelan) * sent for me. He WOULD! Not until 6:30 did I get started and then I drove like mad hoping that if I got stopped for speeding, the cop would understand the circumstances and be lenient."
I soon had to slow down because tree branches were blocking the road. Nearing the shore I had to detour completely because of a fallen tree. From the Mastic Railroad Station ** on as I was driving towards the water so many trees were down I stopped counting them. As I reached the entrance to the estate it was dark and I proceeded in first gear because the branches were brushing the roof of the car. Not far in my headlights shone on a huge pine lying across the road. The lush green of it's needles seemed eerily alive. It was like looking at a person who just died. I got out of the car and the silence stunned me. Not even the katydids made a sound. Nothing but fallen trees and I had no flashlight. At first I decided to go ahead on foot but then it occurred to me if anyone in there was dead or even badly hurt, word might of reached the post office somehow. So I turned back. But they had heard nothing in the village of anyone dying on the Dana place. But they could not say the same for the animals out there. I was desperate, then Johnny a young fellow who owned the store that also served as the Post Office offered to see if he could get through with his car. So back we went. I parked by the first fallen tree, but Johnny got around it. A few feet further and we were stopped by an oak. A car had been left there. I thought it belonged to one of Ella's cousins who had a house back in the woods.
Johnny offered to walk in with me but it was more crawling than walking. Nearly a mile and a half of of climbing up and scrambling over what seemed like a mass of fallen trees. Of all the disasters I had encountered as a reporter I could think of nothing like this. The further in we went the more hopeless it seemed. If the wind had been so bad here in the thick woods how could anyone of survived out in the open where most of the houses stood? After an hour and a half we came to a tractor. By then we were almost to the Dana mansion. Someone had obviously been at work, clearing the road from that end. Stumbling over the litter of small branches still impeding us we hurried as fast as we could toward a light and the sound of a motor running. That turned out to be a generator supplying electricity for Bill and Ella's house.
And there they were all alive even Prinz, who had a very narrow escape. All camped in the Dana mansion, which had scarcely been hurt. Except for one house on the point overlooking the bay none of the Dana estate houses had been damaged too severely by the wind. It was the flooding from the tidal wave that had done the most harm. Clarence and Annie Ross had six inches of water on their ground floor. Ella told me my "Little House" was not quite as bad.
But the trees! Not one of the beautiful locust trees around the Little House survived. Practically every tree around Moss Lots was gone too. With tears in her eyes Ella told me the houses now looked like a new real estate development totally bare.
They were all talking at once. Bill and Clarence had been out in the worst of it trying to rescue boats. One of the other men had gone to look for children who might be trying to get home from school. Another practically swam in boots and oilskins to rescue animals getting to Prinz barely in time. Obviously the old boy had been trying to swim and couldn't with the collar and chain keeping him fixed to the trolley. When Bob reached him , Prinz had almost lost his grip on the kennel door and was howling weakly. I stayed for an hour that night collecting messages that everyone wanted to send to everyone. Since I had to be at work in the morning I gave Prinz a final pat on the head in the Dana kitchen and then crawled my way back to the car in the deathly silence. Around midnight I made a dozen phone calls from Patchogue then had to push on because every hotel room was full. An hour later in Smithtown I found a shoddy hotel by the tracks and collapsed. Since it was Friday, I waited till Saturday noon to go out again.
The reality of what had happened hit me then as I saw it in the daylight. The rest of the day and the next wore me outworking with my maid who I brought from the city to make a start at getting the Little House habitable again. We slept along with a dozen or so others at the Dana house. By then everyone had stopped saying how lucky they were. The aftermath of so much ugliness where there had once only been beauty got on everyones nerves. Tempers flared. Clarence ordinarily the best natured man alive had a terrible spat with Ella. So not just the rare beauty of the place had been spoiled, but also it's idyllic peace. In the three page letter I wrote to Eleanor that Monday telling her of why I had been out of touch I said " Why is it that as soon as I get to care about or depend upon anyone or anything that it must always be taken away from me? No one will ever know what that place (in Mastic) has meant to me. "
Grover Whelan & Walter Shirley
** The distance from Mastic Rail Road Station to the Dana homestead was just over 2 miles
A Bridge in West Hampton
THE LITTLE HOUSE IN MASTIC
As seen from the backyard
Lorena & Prinz in Mastic 1930's
Clarence & Annie Ross Mastic, NY
A machinist & garage mechanic Clarence kept things running smoothly on both the Dana & Floyd estates. Annie was a retired schoolteacher
Somewhere In "The Mastics" 1938