September 21, 1938, the day of The Hurricane, must have been
a busy day for Jerauld Manter. The Connecticut State College
faculty member was the official photographer for the campus
and he spent much of the day getting photos of storm damage
around eastern Connecticut.
Throughout the region and the state, rivers and streams were
near flood stage. Dams were overflowing. Some dams were breaking.
Barns and homes were badly damaged. Livestock had been killed.
Manter's photos were of damage caused by five days of torrential
rain that soaked New England. He wanted to document as much
of the aftermath as possible. But, like everyone else that last
day of summer in 1938, Manter didn't know the region's troubles
were far from over.
As the hurricane approached, students were heading for Storrs
for the beginning of fall classes. Registration for new students
was the day of the hurricane, and freshmen had been arriving
since Monday, September 19. Returning students were to register
September 22 and classes were scheduled to begin Friday, September 23.
On the day of the hurricane and the following day, about 300
students arrived on campus.
"One group (of students), after traveling 50 extra miles to
get across the raging Connecticut River, was forced to remove
shoes, socks and trousers to wade across the Willimantic River,"
on their way to Storrs,"
according to an article in the first regular issue of the student
newspaper, the Connecticut Campus for the fall semester, published
October 4, 1938.
What students found as they arrived was a campus without electricity
or telephones, no water, and hundreds of trees blocking roads
and walkways. There was also a concern about food shortages,
but the campus managed with a delivery of meat from the Norwich
With no telephones, one student rigged up a ham radio and a
generator to get messages out of Storrs to students' worried
parents. Using the one antenna on campus that had not been blown
over, and two batteries - one pulled out of a car - Ronald Rast,
a senior from Terryville, worked into the night after the hurricane
to set up his amateur radio. He then sent word to the state's
disaster headquarters about the campus's need for water, and
sent a story on storm damage to The Hartford Courant. The message
was relayed via a shortwave station in West Hartford that picked
up the signal of Rast's 10-watt transmitter.
At least 40 messages were sent by Rast. More than half the messages
went to parents as far away as the Maine coast and York, Penn.
By Saturday, the main power lines to the campus Dining Hall
and the Fenton River pumping station were restored. Most power
was restored to the campus by October 1. But by October 4, although
calls could come in to the main switchboard in Beach Hall, there
was only one other working phone on campus, in Holcomb Hall.
With telephones down, campus communications continued through
special editions of the Connecticut Campus, normally a weekly
during the semester. Following the hurricane there were several
extra editions, printed on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine.
The first is dated September 22 - the day after the hurricane.
Sometime on Thursday, the day after the storm, two students
undertook to catalog the damage. Barbara Everett (Fitts), Class
of 1939, and Rodman Longley, Class of 1940, split up the campus
and recorded every fallen tree - 42 species in all.
On the north end of campus, Everett counted 15 trees down on
what was referred to as the front campus - the green area along
Route 195 from North Eagleville Road to just north of Mirror
Lake. Twenty-nine trees were down between Beach Hall and North
Eagleville (at the time, only the Duck Pond - now known as Swan
Lake - was between Beach and the road).
But this was just the beginning. Between the dining hall and
the heating plant, Everett counted 527 trees uprooted or snapped
like sticks. In all, she counted 1,112 trees down.
At the south end of campus, Longley counted 150 trees down in
the grove north of Mirror Lake. Over on faculty row, he counted
220 trees down. His total was 650.
Combined, Everett and Longley cataloged 1,762 trees, only a
few of which would be saved. A series of photos by Manter shows
one uprooted birch tree, located on the front campus across
from what is now the Honors House, being pulled back into place.
But most of the trees were total losses. An oak honoring alumni
and students killed during World War I was destroyed. At the
Valentine Grove, an area that included many oaks and in which
early commencements were held, 116 trees were demolished.
There was no loss of life at the college, and no severe injuries
recorded (throughout the Northeast, however, hundreds lost their
lives and thousands were injured). But there was quite a bit
of damage to facilities: the estimated cost in 1938 dollars
for damage to dormitories, barns, and other property, excluding
trees, was put at $87,065 (with trees, the loss was later said
to be nearly $250,000).
Twenty-two of 26 hen houses were leveled and 200 hens, 40 percent
of the flock, were killed. The International Egg Laying Contest,
a program on campus for more than 50 years, fared a little better
- all 50 contest houses held up to the storm, and only 70 of
1,000 birds died. Birds had been sent to Storrs from 15 states
for the annual contest and, despite storm damage, they had to
be returned to their owners.
The Connecticut Campus reported that years of research in the
Animal Diseases Laboratory was lost: 300 chickens were killed,
and 600 to 800 suffered from exposure. Eleven wooden research
structures used by Animal Diseases were destroyed.
Albert Moss, a professor of forestry, later noted that he had
found salt spray from Long Island Sound as far inland as 45
miles, damaging a large number of trees.
Two short items in the Connecticut Campus give chilling gimpses
of the strength of the storm. One noted that slate, which "hurtled
from roofs like machine gun bullets, is being withdrawn from
walls." They were brick walls.
The other item is written in a light-hearted vein, challenging
the description of the storm as a hurricane and posing the suggestion
that perhaps it was a tornado: "The proof: While the houses
still standing at the poultry plant were being surveyed after
the blow, a couple dozen light bulbs were found on the floor
- intact. When the clean-up squadron replaced the errant bulbs
after the power was restored, it was startled to find them still
in good condition.
"Quite a wind to unscrew those bulbs; in fact, some 'twister'."
Yet despite all the damage, the loss of electricity and telephones,
and hundreds of trees down, classes for the Connecticut State
College student body of 1,050 began as scheduled at 8 a.m.,
on Friday, September 23.
Mark J. Roy
Sources: Issues of the Connecticut Campus, Sept.-Dec., 1938;
special editions of The Hartford Courant and The Hartford Times,
October 1938; Jerauld Manter photograph collection for the Hurricane
of 1938. "Trees Destroyed by Hurricane, Connecticut State College
Campus, September 21, 1938," by Barbara Everett and
All these materials are in the collections of
the University Archives at the Thomas J. Dodd
Hurricane of 1938 - Part Two