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Aug 28, 2012 4:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

A Look At How The '38 Hurricane Hit East Hampton

Aug 28, 2012 6:27 PM

In 1938, after the September 21 hurricane finished blasting the East End and it was safe to step outside, people did what they would do today.

They took pictures. Photos of giant fallen trees with roots exposed and of displaced things, like a house resting on its roof, a car in a pond, a boat on a lawn. A cottage in Montauk that had all but collapsed but in which a birthday cake rested, intact, on a shelf. A steeple dislodged from the Amagansett Presbyterian Church, past which schoolchildren walked. Tangles of branches and detritus on East Hampton’s Main Street. People posing amid the wreckage with their child or their dog.

Richard Barons, the director of the East Hampton Historical Society, will lead a curator’s tour at 10 a.m. on Saturday and on September 15 of an exhibit of such photos now on view at the Clinton Academy in East Hampton. The show is called “The Long Island Express: Rare Photographs of East Hampton after the 1938

Hurricane,” using one name for what was at the time the costliest natural disaster in the United States. The storm hit Westhampton with 100-mile winds and waves of between 30 and 50 feet. Although the worst damage occurred west of East Hampton Town, one man was crushed to death by his garage, several people were injured and the peninsula of Montauk became an island.

Most photos in the historical society’s exhibit come from the family of Herbert N. Edwards and from 101-year-old Camilla Jewett, with whom Mr. Barons was having tea when they discovered, in a guest room bureau drawer, two albums filled 
with family photographs taken after the hurricane. “‘Why don’t you just take this to the museum,’” she suggested, and he did.

Many of those photos were by her late husband, Edward Jewett, whose mother, Maude Jewett, had a studio in Georgica called The Inkpot. Some show wrecked cabanas and a flooded pool at the Maidstone Club, and there is another of a car that was squashed by a tree while its owner was at the hairdresser. Others were taken by Mr. Jewett’s friend Hamilton King, a commercial artist known for his bathing beauties on postcards from all down the East Coast, including Montauk. Among his shots is one of White’s Drug Store in Montauk with its soda fountain exposed, when the front wall was sheared off by the wind.

The prints are displayed in cases with their original albums, complete with the little corners that tuck photos in place and handwritten captions in white ink. One envelope is marked “very special hurricane picture of 1938.” It contained a photo of Juan Trippe’s plane on a dock outside his house in Georgica, which he’d come to visit to assess the damage.

Many of the photos in the Edwards collection were taken by Earl Gardell, a handyman who lived in Amagansett and traveled all around town to do jobs. “Wherever he went, he took his camera with him,” said Mr. Barons. Mr. Gardell’s dog, Spot, appears in several photos, and there are also shots of a safe that ended up on the beach and of R.B. Allen’s real estate office standing alone during the very early development of Beach Hampton.

Peggy Edwards Sherrill, whose grandfather was Herbert N. Edwards, found “2,000 pieces of ephemera” while cleaning out her mother’s belongings, and the photos were among them, Mr. Barons said. “She was overwhelmed that a show could be made of their family material,” he said.

Mr. Barons called it “serendipity” that the two private collections were donated to the historical society within about one year’s time. “So all of a sudden we had enough to make a show,” he said, which was bolstered by photos from the Montauk and East Hampton libraries, Barbara Borsack’s late mother-in-law, Dorothy Borsack, the society’s own small collection and one photo from Jack Driver, the historical society’s present-day maintenance man, who can be seen as a child in front of a felled tree with his father, Lister Driver.

The original prints were reproduced in enlarged form and framed for display; although they were shot in black 
and white, they were reprinted in color to reveal the 
“tonalities” of aging, Mr. Barons explained.

Whether they capture the contents of a house drying outside at the old Montauk fishing village, a yet-unVictorianized house on Main Street in East Hampton Village or the old Amagansett IGA when chain stores were still in their infancy, the photos reveal not only the damage that the hurricane wrought, but also what different parts of 
town and of life here were like in 1938.

Even people not “smitten with history” have been visiting since the exhibit opened on July 28, Mr. Barons said, noting that the composition of some photos makes them interesting as art, as well.

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There are more photos of East Hampton's '38 hurricane damage in the Long Island Room at Rogers Memorial Library.
By joan s (53), hampton bays on Aug 30, 12 7:39 PM