Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On This Day… The Great New England Hurricane of 1938

While Boston’s weather patterns have a reputation for being inconvenient or unpredictable, thankfully today’s forecast is not as dire as the storm that struck New England on this day seventy-eight years ago.* On September 21, 1938, 100-mph wind blasts toppled trees that had long stood on the Boston Common. Buildings provided questionable shelter, as windows were smashed by flying debris, and some roofs were blown clean off. In the aftermath, the region struggled with mass blighted power and telecommunication systems. While Bostonians struggled mostly with the hassles of property loss and nonfunctional roads, in areas more exposed to the storm, the consequences of the hurricane left lasting trauma. Six hundred people and 5000 homes were gone in a single day, and in the chaos that followed, communities were forced to cope as they searched a flattened, transfigured landscape for missing family members. This natural disaster, remembered as “The Great New England Hurricane,” wrought changes that remain to this day.

Here at the Special Collections department at the State Library, we recently acquired a postcard illustrating storm damage right outside our door. This donation is not the only commemorative postcard that we hold. As a long-standing, public-serving institution, our library has had the opportunity to collect ephemera and memorabilia generated by the residents of our city in response to contemporary events. You can come by and view these historic documents; we are located in Room 55 of the gold-domed State House, and open to the public Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm. For more information about the State Library and our collections, visit our website.

* See Celebrate Boston’s article on “the Great New England Hurricane, 1938.” Or check out Stephen Long’s Thirty-Eight: the Hurricane that Transformed New England (Yale University Press, 2016). The book is available at the State Library, Room 341 of the State House.

Caitlin Sanders
Special Collections Reference Intern