Hurricane Carol, Cape Cod, August 31, 1954

By Henry Brown, K1WCC

The boatyard in the picture was across the harbor from where I lived in 1954. Colin MacDougall W1TJW (sk) was a well known local ham who ran the electronics shop there. The boat shed was normally way out of the water.

I can remember being 8 years old, ready to start Third Grade in the Village School in Falmouth. We lived a few hundred yards from the ocean. The night before the storm, we had a cookout for my cousin who had just returned from serving in the Army. I can remember the sky looking strange that evening, and people commenting about it at the cookout. Then, my parents went to the movies while my aunt and cousin babysat for us. I can remember it raining very hard that night-I must have woken up when my parents came home from the movies.

The track of Hurricane Carol August 25 – September 1, 1954

The next morning I woke up to a gray, windy and rainy day. My bedroom was in the southwest corner of the house and there was a weeping willow tree next door. It was blowing and flailing away and looked like a giant hand had pushed it down against the ground. What was really significant, after getting up, was seeing my father home. He always went to work before I got up and it was unusual for him to be home so I knew something was up. He was huddled over the old RCA table radio in the kitchen and said we were about to get a hurricane, a new word for me.

Edgewood Yacht Club in Rhode Island. The club house survived Hurricane Carol in spite of the high storm surge.

The rest of the day was dramatic. Our neighbor Bruce Pease was the Water Department foreman and he was out at Woods Hole trying to do something with the sewer pumping station there. His wife was at our house. We lost power so my father made a blowtorch stove with firebricks for hot coffee and soup. I can still remember seeing that stove making soup. At about 11 AM or so, my father took me in his Chevy pickup and we drove down Swing Lane towards Falmouth Inner Harbor, a very short distance. The water was up the road about 100 yards so we left the truck there and walked over to Tom Richard’s house on Scranton Avenue. It was very windy with driving rain-I couldn’t stand. When we got to the Richards’, the water was swirling around Scranton Avenue and up to my chest. I had played in this area most of my young life and it was always dry land. It was shocking to
see water everywhere. We helped a few people with their boats but I remember a chaotic scene-there wasn’t much people could do.

Storm surge damage from Hurricane Carol at Westerly, RI.

Later, the storm was over by late afternoon and it had cleared up. We took a walk to the harbor in the early evening. We walked down Swing Lane and in front of the Swing’s driveway was the square, peaked roof of the old “Hurricane Deck” restaurant, just sitting there. Apparently, the battering waves and storm surge had pushed it there. I can remember wires hanging down, leaves everywhere, junk everywhere and white houses tuning yellow from the gases churned up from the harbor bottom. They just slowly turned yellow! We walked to the old Hurricane Deck location, where the Regatta condos are now, and picked up a few pieces of silverware. The place was completely wrecked. I remember a fully armed and helmeted soldier came over to see what we were doing-the National Guard was guarding the area. The harbor was full of upside down boats, some with just masts sticking up. We walked down to Wormelle’s Boatyard, saw more devastation there, and walked home up Mr. Phillips’ road and through Peases’ yard. Our house had cheery lights in the window so we figured the power was back on, but my Mom had lit a large number of old kerosene lamps and it was bright inside. We all sat around in the house with some neighbors, and my father said “I hear there’s going to be another big blow tonight”. That sent shivers up and down my spine, but it was only a rumor he had heard on our walk. (like they say, don’t listen to rumors!) Without a radio we were out of touch, and no one really understood the storm tracks like we do today. Later that night we got power back, since we were on the Main Street circuit, and businesses needed to be up and Running.

Storm surge from Hurricane Carol in Connecticut.

The next morning we took a ride. It was a beautiful day and I remember being stunned by the wreckage along the water. I always took the beach roads at Surf Drive, Menahaunt and Falmouth Heights for granted, as solid objects. Now they were gone, just rubble and sand. The beach houses along Surf Drive were either in Salt Pond or on the other side of the pond. Telephone poles were down or leaning at crazy angles. Big houses were destroyed or horribly mutilated. People were beginning to dig out and rebuild: to me, it looked like it would take forever. But it didn’t.

Surface weather analysis of Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954

Hurricane Edna arrived a couple of weeks later, on September 11. I don’t remember too much about that one. It was an afternoon storm. We were in our upstairs bedroom watching the heavy rain hit the roof of the house next door. It was so hard it made a “fog” over the roof. Later, my father called the police and they suggested that we leave the house since it was close to the water, so we went to my grandparent’s house on Oakwood Avenue, about a mile inland. There were lots of family members there and that’s all I remember.

Hurricane Carol destroyed this boat in Marblehead Harbor. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Editor’s Note: Hurricane Carol Facts

  • Recorded maximum sustained winds: 115 mph, Gust 125 mph
  • Storm Surge: 14 feet
  • Lowest Pressure: 955 mbar, 28.2 inHg
  • 72 fatalities
  • $462 million damage including 40% of crops destroyed
  • Estimated 10,000 homes, 3500 cars, 3000 boats destroyed
  • The name “Carol” was retired from the list of storm names.

Hurricane Carol destroyed thousands of automobiles like this one. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Storm surge damage after Hurricane Carol

4 thoughts on “Hurricane Carol, Cape Cod, August 31, 1954

  1. I was living in New London, CT, a mere 9 year old and can still remember all of the damage caused by Hurricane Carol. The Eye passed right over New London, CT The weather went from extremely stormy to calm with the sun out. We were warned via our local radio station (WNLC 1490) (whose transmitter was less than 1/2 mile from my house located on the old Central Vermont freight yards) to avoid venturing outside as the weather would then grow stormy as the backside of the storm would again batter the area. Fortunately, the backside was not nearly as strong and the storm had been quite spent by that time. During the height of the storm, the lumberyard which was located between our house and the CV Yards contained large bundled stacks of lumber, 4X4’s and 6X6’s. The wind picked those large pieces of lumber and flung them toward the Thames River. Some of these pieces of lumber pierced the 2 coal gasification tanks like a series of spears. The next day, I was finally able to do some limited exploring around my neighborhood. One thing that I still vividly remember is the pier upon which the end of the CV yards jutted into the Thames river were constructed of dryfitted granite blocks approximately 12 feet X 6 feet by 3 feet thick, were tossed around like pieces of wood. It took about 2 weeks for school to reopen. The only other rather large problem was that the storm also carried the Dutch Elm Disease which killed most of the Elm trees in New London proper. We had one on our property and by that next spring, had died.

  2. There is a lot of interest in past hurricanes here in New England.

    The 1938 took us by surprise and caused massive destruction. Knowing about the storm a day ahead of time may have mitigated the loss of life but the damages would have been essentially the same.

    I think that today, should we get another storm similar to 1938, the damages would be much worse due to the amount of new shoreline construction in New England. Here in Falmouth, in Hurricane Carol in 1954, there was a substantial house built of stone located on a local beach. There were 4 people, 2 adults and 2 kids, in the house and as the storm ramped up they were urged to leave the property by the police. They did not, and the house was broken up and pushed into the pond behind the beach by the waves. All 4 people died. Today, that very beach has a strip of houses and a large time share building located on it. Heavy battering by waves generated by a SE hurricane would likely destroy the road and damage or destroy the buildings. But, they would be insured and most likely built again.

  3. I was 6 and remember being woken up at 2 am by my mother. We lived feet from the beach. We had to evacuate as the water was lapping over the little bridge going into our village Old Silver, in Falmouth, MA. We stayed at a neighbors on high ground overlooking the village. I remember seeing only the roof of our house and cars floating on the water. Soon the water subsided and we went back home.
    The second floor was dry, but the first was soaked and water filled the basement.
    From that time forward, i had a healthy respect for the power of the ocean.

  4. I was 4 at the time but remember riding with my Grandfather (Chief Baker) and watching a beach house float across the street,we were on Walker st. in the cruiser.
    Our beach house had to be winched across the street 3 times ,the last time it was too bad to fix so my dad built a block one for the Careeys and we used it in October after we had a fire at our house fireplace and a space heater always raw and cold.
    Hurricane Bob I guess ruined it as i don’t see it there anymore.

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