On the corner... Remembering Hurricane Carol

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 6:45am
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With thanks to guest columnist Susan Moroney Taylor, who spent Hurricane Carol at her family’s hotel, the Ocean View, above Old Harbor. Her remembrance is that of a child, without the concerns and fears that become part of severe storms as we grow older. The Ocean View, shown just after the hurricane had passed and with the roof on the lawn, burned 12 years later, in 1966. — Martha Ball

Today I am thinking about hurricanes — stealing a phrase from Jeanne Verity. The first one I remember was Carol in 1954.

I was seven years old and on Block Island. I recall the night before perfectly. It was a Monday and as usual the weekly Ocean View cocktail party in the Blue Room was the event of the evening. I loved these parties. My sister and I would drink Shirley Temples and munch on hors d’oeuvres — tiny hot dogs stuck on cabbage heads that we warmed over Sterno — cheese and crackers and some kind of anchovy dip for veggies, which I found delicious, probably why I love anchovies on pizza. Sometimes we would steal a Manhattan-soaked cherry from a glass.

This night the adults were talking about a hurricane. A very stern looking woman (who owned/managed?) The Royal Hotel, now the Harborside, said she was worried. Fred, the piano player, was not. He played sing-along songs for the guests and kept things festive. The bartender behind the small, glass-block bar was serving martinis and Manhattans. He said the hurricane was off Cape Hatteras and heading north. That seemed far away to me.

After cocktail hour was over, we went to the hotel kitchen for chowder. My mother then did some work in the hotel office and I read a Bobbsey Twin book in the hotel lobby. Everything seemed normal. My sister, Kathleen, and I got to flip the switches to turn on the hotel porch lights, just as we did most nights. It made us feel quite important. Then it was bedtime.

Sometime early the next morning I heard intense wind and rain. The ocean was roaring. It was still dark. My mother got us dressed, and guided by a flashlight, led us downstairs past the lobby to the library, a little-used north facing room on the west wing of the hotel. There were many other people there. The storm was getting wilder. Someone brought juice and slightly burned brownies from the hotel kitchen. My mother apparently got a screwdriver, the drink not the tool, from the hotel bar and alternated drinking with saying the Rosary. All of a sudden there was sudden darkness and then a huge crash. A large portion of the eastern wing of the roof had blown off and landed on the cars parked in front of the hotel. I was very impressed, but not scared. I kept thinking “How did this storm get here so fast?” Adults were a little panicked. I ate a burned brownie. A few hours later it was over. The wind and rain stopped and the sun came out. We walked to the village and went to the Star Department Store that, strangely enough, was open. I guess we needed dry clothes. I got a red shirt and khaki pants. It is odd what you remember.

The Ocean View remained open for guests. The power came back on and everything returned to what seemed to be normal, considering it all. Mike, the cook, was upset about his car. The hotel staff was doing the best they could to get ready for Labor Day Weekend. Life went on as usual after that stormy Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1954.