Remembering September 21 and 22, 1938 | The ’38 Hurricane

New England old-timers will never forget the dates of the ’38 Hurricane.

By Judson D. Hale

Sep 01 2013

As we all know, we’ve had our share of damaging hurricanes here in New England over the years, the majority of them occurring during the month of September. However, there’s really only one that remains an integral part of this six-state region today—and it occurred seventy-five years ago this month. No, it wasn’t referred to as Doris, Thomas, or Carol. In fact, it had no name at all. In history books, poems, and old magazine articles, this particular storm is always referred to as simply “the ’38 Hurricane.”

When I say the ’38 Hurricane remains with us today, I don’t mean only through books and magazine articles. Walk through a New England forest and note the sudden departure from tall pines to hardwoods just as you crest a ridge and start down in a southerly direction. That’s because so many huge evergreens on those southern New England hillsides blew down in the ’38 Hurricane.

“Built with hurricane lumber” is still a remembered term, in reference to houses constructed of wood from trees downed by gusts reported to be as high as 186 miles per hour and regular wind that averaged 75 miles per hour. High-river markers all over New England have a notch or a notation for ’38 Hurricane floods. Historical societies in dozens of New England towns still display framed photographs of flooded, tree-strewn main streets. In vestibules and vestries of churches are photographs taken a few days after their steeples were blown down. Some, as in Dublin, New Hampshire, (where Yankee Magazine is published) show the steeple sticking upside down out of the roof. Commemorative plaques at the sites of once-loved trees, victims of the storm, can be found in many towns. Along rivers, one can occasionally find a plaque indicating the site of an historic covered bridge that was washed away by the storm. Quite a few elderly New Englanders have family photo albums with a page or two filled with September 1938 newspaper clipping and snapshots.

In short, there’s hardly a New England town in existence today that does not possess in some form or another, physical proof that a certain blockbuster of a no-name hurricane came roaring through New England one September day seventy-five years ago.

No other hurricane, before or since, can claim the same.

DON’T MISS: Hurricane of 1938 | The Wind That Shook the World