Tag Archives: Onset

Looking back at the Hurricane of 1938

My grandfather Elmer Shaw in Onset. Click on image for more photos.

In late September 1938, an enormously destructive storm hit most of the northeastern United States. The Hurricane of 1938 resulted in 564 deaths and more than 1,700 injuries.

The hurricane has also been a matter of family legend. The Shaws, my mother’s side of the family, owned a cottage on the water — “Shawnee” — along East Boulevard in Onset, part of Wareham. I spent many happy summer days there in the 1960s and early ’70s. And I was always told that my grandfather Elmer Shaw had done such a good job of building the cottage that it was the only one along East Boulevard to survive the hurricane.

Here’s how the Boston Globe of Sept. 22 described the impact of the hurricane on Wareham:

Without lights and almost completely inundated in many sections, the town remained on the verge of isolation. No trains arrived and it was utterly impossible to enter the town through the main street.

All stores in the business district were completely under water. The warehouse of the Tremont Nail Company was 10 feet under water.

I seem to recall family members saying that the hurricane came with no warning. If that’s the case, then perhaps they weren’t paying attention. Though the cable-news saturation of 2011 was unimaginable back then, the Globe ran several stories as the storm drew closer, among them “Hurricane Moving Toward the Bahamas” (Sept. 19) and “Hurricane May Spare Florida” (Sept. 20).

Still, if the Globe’s online archives are complete, then the next time the word “hurricane” popped up was on Sept. 22, after the storm had swept through. But people did listen to the radio in the 1930s, and it’s hard to imagine that storm updates weren’t part of news reports.

Recently my cousin Sue discovered a trove of family pictures, including some of Onset and of the Hurricane of 1938. I thought you might enjoy having a look.