. . . and Happy New Year

My guess is that there's a good chance that your living room looked a lot like this earlier today, or maybe it still does.

This shot of Macy's Department Store in New York shows the aftermath of the Christmas rush. The photo was made by Nina Leen for Life in 1948.

I'm glad 2009 is almost over. Here's hoping that 2010 is a better year. And I do hope people will start calling it "Twenty-Ten" instead of "Two Thousand Ten."

Happpy New Year.


Merry Christmas

This video animation by Joshua Held of The Drifters' version of "White Christmas" has been making the rounds on the Net for several years now, but I never get tired of it. In my opinion, The Drifters' arrangement is the best version of this classic ever recorded.

The Drifters recorded their version in 1954, shortly after tenor Clyde McPhatter left The Dominoes and joined the group. McPhatter sang lead on most of the Drifters' recordings, but for "White Christmas" bass singer Bill Pinkney took the lead.

It was an inspired move. Pinkney's resonant bass does wonderful things with Irving Berlin's lyrics that Bing Crosby couldn't touch. And Clyde McPhatter adds his soaring tenor in a brief solo.

The backup vocals are provided by Jimmy Oliver, Gerhart Thrasher and Andrew Thrasher.


'Twas the Season, Part 12

In 1916, the U.S. Congress passed the first federal child labor laws in the U.S. But the Keating-Owen Act applied only to kids 16 or younger working in mines and factories. The law was aggressively opposed by textile mill owners in the South, however, and it was overturned by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in 1918.

It would be 20 years before another effort was made to regulate the labor of children. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 included restrictions on child labor that withstood a legal challenge in 1941.

This Christmas drawing makes a statement about child labor nearly a century ago. The drawing is from the December 1916 issue of Harper's magazine. The artist's name is Calvert, but I could not dig up his or her full name.


'Twas the Season, Part 11

Christmas 1861 was clouded by the war that had erupted eight months earlier at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. What caused the American Civil War – slavery, state’s rights, an inevitable clash of incompatible economic systems – is still being debated today. But before it ended in 1865, more than 620,000 American soldiers would die.

When the January 4, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly was sent out to 120,000 subscribers, few Americans realized how prolonged, grim and bloody the conflict would become. Harper’s editors certainly didn’t have a clue. “A Happy New Year!” they wrote in that issue. “It can hardly fail to be that. The tempest upon our Southern horizon is already wasting itself away.”

This engraving by Winslow Homer was on the cover of Harper’s January 4 issue. It shows Union troops happily opening a crate of Christmas presents. Socks, food, books and booze are being handed out to the delighted soldiers.


'Twas the Season, Part 10

A junior executive makes merry with the secretaries at this office Christmas party in New York in 1948. If you look closely, you'll see that there are no wedding bands on anyone's fingers, so you have to wonder if he eventually steered one of them to the mistletoe.

Note the guy's tie. The 1940s were a classic era for men's ties. Hand-painted silk neckties were the style, and flamboyance was the norm. This guy's tie, with its geometric design, was the height of fashion for the day.

The photo was shot by Cornell Capa for Life magazine.


'Twas the Season, Part 9

December 1951. U.S. troops were mired in a politically unpopular war on foreign soil. Among the American casualties was Marine Corporal Richard E. deVilliers. He'd worked for Bell Telephone before being shipped off to Korea, where he was killed in action.

As a memorial to their former co-worker, a group of Bell employees in San Francisco sent Christmas packages to every member of deVilliers's unit. The grateful Marines found a South Korean tailor to create a Santa costume, turned a jeep trailer into an impromptu wheeled "sleigh," and celebrated Christmas far from home.

The above drawing depicting the Christmas 1951 celebration is from a Bell Telephone ad that was published in the December 1952 issue of Harper's magazine. If there's an artist's signature on the drawing, I couldn't find it.


'Twas the Season, Part 8

This is downtown Spencer, Iowa in 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression.

Times were very bad, but Spencer still managed, in a very modest way, to observe the Christmas season. How? You have to look closely for the town's seasonal decorations. There's a single strand of lights strung between streetlamps, and another strand from the roof of the Spencer Daily Reporter across the intersection to, presumably, another building on the other side of Main Street.

Click on the picture to enlarge it and get a better look at the lights.

The photo is from the website "Papa Ted's Place," http://www.papatedsplace.com/, and was posted by Ted Althof Jr. There's no information about who shot the photo.


'Twas the Season, Part 7

This photo of an anonymous young girl standing stiffly beside her family's Christmas tree is from the early 1930s. Things were much more formal back then. Getting your picture made was an Event and not an everyday casual occurrence.

The photo is from the website "Papa Ted's Place," http://www.papatedsplace.com/ and was posted by Ted Althof Jr. There's no info about who the girl is, or who shot the photo.


'Twas the Season, Part 6

There's not a lot of info about this photo in the Life magazine online archive. It's titled "Shantyman's Christmas," and it was part of a series of photos shot for Life by George Silk in 1953.

A shantyman is a sailor who leads the crew in sing-alongs. The word is derived from the French word "chanter," which means "to sing."

There's no info about where Silk shot this photo. I'm guessing maybe New England. What is clear, however, is that the captain and his crew or family are decorating his small craft for Christmas.


'Twas the Season, Part 5

The previous photo in this series showed Santa Claus with a problem: A scared little kid who clearly wasn't happy about sitting on Santa's lap. That's a serious problem for someone whose job is spreading the joy of the season.

But it looks like this Santa was up to the job. There's no record of what he said or did to calm the kid's fears, but whatever it was, it was exactly the right thing. The kid's faith in Saint Nick has been restored.

The photo was shot by Frank Scherschel for Life magazine in 1946.


'Twas the Season, Part 4

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as Santaphobia. And it looks like this kid might be a victim of the irrational fear of Santa Claus.

Some kids are really scared of Jolly Old Saint Nicolas. For starters, he’s a lot bigger than a little kid. And after all, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good.”

Yikes. And if that’s not enough to induce some deep-seated adult neuroses, there's also the fact that you can’t keep him out of your house.

Frank Scherschel shot this photo for Life magazine in 1946. It looks like this Santa had a public relations problem to deal with -- a little kid who did not like being picked up by a big hairy guy who knew his every thought and action and could come into his house at will.

How did he handle it? Check back tomorrow.


'Twas the Season, Part 3

This photo could be subtitled "The Creepy Side of Christmas." It shows an infamous and immediately recognizable dictator at his 1941 Christmas party, when he was approaching the peak of his power.

The photo was shot by Hugo Jaeger for Life magazine.

I'm posting old Christmas photos from the Web. Stay tuned for more.


'Twas the Season, Part 2

Here's a followup to yesterday's photo of the Santa seminar at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. This Santa is taking the seminar's final exam. Looks like he's working on an essay question.

The photo was made by Martha Holmes for Life magazine in 1948.

I'll be posting old Christmas photos as I come across them on the Web during the next few days.


2009 hurricane season was quiet, but 2010 season may be more active

The 2009 hurricane season, which ended yesterday, was very quiet thanks to an El Niño that created storm-suppressing wind shear over much of the Atlantic Basin. The Atlantic season produced nine named storms, three hurricanes, and two major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 mph.

An El Niño is a weather phenomenon produced by unusually warm waters off the northwest coast of South America. The event causes prevailing upper level winds – known as the jet stream – to shift southward over the Atlantic. The winds disrupt hurricane formation.

But meteorologists think next summer could be more active than this year because the El Niño effect probably is going to dissipate before next spring. And while the El Niño kept the lid on the Atlantic season, it was a major factor in a very active hurricane season in the Pacific. The central and eastern Pacific saw 20 named storms, including powerful Hurricane Rick, the second-most-powerful hurricane on record for the Pacific.

Meteorologists at Colorado State University also noted a few other characteristics of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, including:

• A late-starting season. Tropical Storm Ana – the season’s first named storm – did not form until August 15. That’s the latest that the first storm formed since 1992. That year’s first storm was memorable, however, because it was Hurricane Andrew.

• The nine named storms that occurred during 2009 are the fewest since 1997 when eight named storms formed.

• There were 27.25 days during which a named storm was active. That’s the lowest number since 1991, when only 24.25 named storm days were recorded.

• Three hurricanes occurred in 2009 - the fewest hurricanes since 1997 when there were also three hurricanes.

• There were only 11.25 days during which a hurricane was active, the fewest hurricane days since 2002 when 10.75 hurricane days were reported.

• Only two major hurricanes formed during the 2009 hurricane season. The last time that fewer than two major hurricanes occurred in a season was in 1997 when only one major hurricane (Erika) formed.

• No Category 5 hurricanes developed in the Atlantic in 2009. This is the second consecutive year with no Category 5 hurricanes. The last time that two or more years occurred in a row with no Category 5 hurricanes was 1999-2002.

• No named storms formed in June or July. The last time that no storm activity occurred in June or July was 2004 (Alex formed that year on August 1). This is the 18th year of the past 66 years with no storm formations in June or July.


Gehrig, Jeter and the Age of Context-Free Sportscasters

I don’t like Tim McCarver. But if I’m going to watch any of the World Series that starts tonight, I’m going to have to put up with him.

McCarver, who was a catcher for four Major League teams from 1959 to 1980, is now a baseball broadcaster for Fox Network Sports. He’s won Emmy Awards as a sports analyst.

I don’t care. In my opinion, he’s a shallow huckster who, like so many sportscasters today, sees his job as selling a product rather than giving an accurate description of what’s happening on the field.

Last week during one of the American League Championship Series games between the Los Angeles Angels and the New York Yankees, McCarver glibly stated that Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ star shortstop, has more “postseason” hits than Lou Gehrig, the Yankees’ legendary first baseman from 1923 to 1939.

That was one of those smoke-and-mirrors statistics that broadcasters today love to recite. I think they throw those kinds of stats out there to make you think that the athletes you’re seeing today are the greatest in history, and those old guys who played the game back in the prehistoric days before 1980 can’t compare to the jocks of today.

Now, Derek Jeter is a fine baseball player who will be remembered as one of the best shortstops for a team that already has two shortstops – Tony Lazzeri and Phil Rizzuto – in the Hall of Fame. Jeter almost certainly will enter the Hall the moment he becomes eligible.

And technically, Jeter does have more “postseason” hits than Gehrig. But the operative word in McCarver’s statement is “postseason.”

Jeter joined the Yankees in 1995. Since then he’s played in 132 “postseason” games, which include the elongated league playoffs as well as the World Series. To get to the World Series, a team can play in as many as 12 postseason games. The World Series could add as many as seven more games to the modern “postseason.”

Jeter has collected 164 hits in those “postseason” games. By comparison, Gehrig had only 43 “postseason” hits during his career. So if you lump all of Jeter’s postseason games together, he has more hits than Gehrig by a wide margin.

What McCarver didn’t bother to mention, however, is that Gehrig’s “postseason” games only included the World Series. When Gehrig played, there were no league playoffs preceding the World Series. The first place team in the American League played the first place team in the National League in the World Series.

Gehrig played in 34 World Series games. When you compare Jeter’s and Gehrig’s performances in World Series games – that is, when you compare apples to apples – the outcome is different. In 32 World Series games, Jeter has 39 hits – four fewer than Gehrig.

But McCarver will never provide that kind of background. He will merely spout context-free statistics that create misleading impressions about the game you’re watching. He'll tell you that Jeter has more "postseason" hits than Gehrig, but he won't tell you that Jeter has played in about four times as many "postseason" games as Gehrig did.

So if McCarver starts reciting statistics during the 2009 World Series trying to tell you that today's players are breaking longstanding records, don’t take his word for it. Look it up.


55 years ago, wailing sirens warned of Hurricane Hazel

From their small house in Cherry Grove Beach, South Carolina, a block or so from the Atlantic Ocean, Bessie Mauney and her four friends heard the sirens wailing throughout the day on Thursday, October 14, 1954. But it never occurred to them that they were in any danger.

The women were from Stanly and Rowan counties in the heart of North Carolina’s piedmont, far inland from the coast. There was not a television in the modest cottage, and they were enjoying each other’s company too much to turn on the radio or even glance at a newspaper. They were unplugged from the rest of the world.

Fifty-five years ago this morning, Mauney and her friends realized why the sirens had been blowing. In those days before The Weather Channel and satellites provided continuous coverage of hurricanes, the sirens had been a warning that Hurricane Hazel, one of the worst hurricanes in history, was headed their way. The storm’s eye came ashore on Friday, October 15, 1954 with peak winds of at least 140 mph and a storm surge that reached 18 feet in some places.

“She said they were doing a lot of talking, and they weren’t paying any attention,” recalled Bessie Mauney’s son, James Mauney, of New London, North Carolina. “They heard the sirens but they didn’t know what it meant.”

The cottage was built on stilts high enough to allow Bessie to park her 1952 Chevrolet beneath the house. But the storm surge quickly put the car underwater and sent seawater rising into the cottage. The women were trapped.

The U.S. Weather Bureau started tracking the storm that would become Hurricane Hazel on October 5, 1954. The Weather Bureau’s office in San Juan, Puerto Rico said a “small hurricane” had formed in the Atlantic about 30 miles east of the Caribbean island of Grenada.

As the storm moved westward across the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, it quickly intensified into a deadly Category 4 hurricane with winds exceeding 130 mph. By October 9, Hazel had turned sharply to the north. In Miami, Weather Bureau meteorologist Grady Norton was so worried about the powerful hurricane that he was working long hours despite a serious heart condition that had prompted his doctor to order him to take it easy. But Norton suffered a stroke while on the job and died.

On October 13, Hurricane Hazel moved through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. The storm lost some of its intensity as it crossed Haiti and the Bahamas, but quickly regained strength when it got back over open waters.

The U.S. Air Force sent a hurricane hunter flight from Bermuda to monitor Hazel on October 14. Captain William E. Harrell, who’d flown into other hurricanes, had never seen anything like what he saw that day in Hazel’s eye.

“Usually the ocean is blue or green with little cotton-white patches,” Harrell told reporters after his flight. “But the ocean on each side of the hurricane was like a sheer white sheet as far as I could see. To me, this was a phenomenal sea.”

As Hurricane Hazel moved northward paralleling the coast, the storm picked up speed and soon was racing along at almost 30 mph. Around 8 a.m. on October 15, the hurricane’s outer fringe reached North Island, South Carolina, just south of Myrtle Beach. An hour or so later, Hazel’s eye came ashore near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Its huge storm surge was made worse because it happened to make landfall at exactly the time of the highest tide of the year along that part of the coast.

At Cherry Grove Beach, winds reached an estimated 130 mph, and seawater was three feet deep in Bessie Mauney’s cottage. Afraid that the building wouldn’t stand up to the storm, Bessie and a cousin climbed into a nearby tree. With the hurricane roaring around them, they clung to the tree for hours. Inside the house, their terrified friends climbed atop a bar to escape the water.

The storm surge lifted the cottage off its foundation and carried it away. The building held together, however, and finally came to rest in a marsh about a half-mile away. “It was well-built,” James Mauney said. “A carpenter here from New London, James Eudy, built the house in the late 1940s.”

As fierce as Hazel was at Cherry Grove Beach, the hurricane was even worse a few miles away in North Carolina. The hurricane’s eye came ashore at Oak Island around 9:30 a.m. The Coast Guard station at Oak Island estimated Hazel’s winds at 140 mph.

Bessie Mauney and her friends survived their ordeal, but it was two days before she was reunited with her family back in Richfield. Eventually, the cottage was returned to its lot at Cherry Grove Beach, and James Mauney said it’s still there today.

Hurricane Hazel is still the worst hurricane to strike North Carolina.

"All traces of civilization on that portion of the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated,” the U.S. Weather Bureau later reported. The storm killed more than 600 people from Haiti to Canada, and caused more than $2.6 billion in damages in today’s dollars.

Bessie Mauney’s ordeal during Hurricane Hazel had a powerful effect on her, and she and her husband sold their interest in the cottage.

“My mom said she didn’t want to go to the beach anymore,” James Mauney said. “I don’t think she ever went back to the beach. It really shook her up.”

Photo of historical marker by J.J. Prats, from The Historical Marker Database


UVa 16, UNC 3 (dammit)

To my niece Patty at the University of Virginia

Dear Patty:

Here’s the photo of me wearing a UVa T-shirt to pay off the bet we made a couple weeks ago during the trip to Richmond. I have a bag over my head because I was frankly embarrassed by the Tar Heels’ performance yesterday, or, rather, their lack of performance.

I don’t know who the geniuses were that ranked UNC in the Top 25 at the start of the season, but they clearly don’t know beans about football. Carolina did win their first three games, but they weren’t exactly playing powerhouses – The Citadel, Connecticut, and ECU. And when the real season starts, they lose to Georgia Tech and then UVa.

So I think the Tar Heels were very overrated. They can’t even beat a team that lost to William & Mary, for chrissakes.

Oh well, basketball practice starts in a few weeks.

Hope to see you soon,


Looking for Captain Q-Tip

I lived briefly in Richmond, Virginia after I got out of the Army, and I’ve had a deep affection for the city ever since.

It’s got problems – some of them identical to other larger cities, some of them unique to Richmond. But it’s also a colorful, quirky old city with deep history and some fascinating neighborhoods.

I lived in a neighborhood known as The Fan, a residential district that was started soon after the Civil War ended in 1865 and much of Richmond was rebuilt. The neighborhood gets its name from the fact that it’s shaped roughly like the old-fashioned fans that were used in churches on hot days before air conditioning.

Richmond is full of statues, and when I lived there, one of the neighborhood landmarks was a statue of a Civil War soldier that was nicknamed Captain Q-Tip. The statue actually was a memorial to a Confederate artillery company known as the Richmond Howitzers. But you can tell at a glance how Captain Q-Tip got his name. An often-heard phrase when I lived in The Fan was “Meet me at Captain Q-Tip.”

I went looking for the Captain on a recent weekend trip to Richmond with my wife, my mother-in-law Shirley Morrow, and our niece Patty Morrow, who’s a junior at the University of Virginia. But it’s been many years since I was in the old neighborhood, and I couldn’t find the statue. I also discovered that new construction by Virginia Commonwealth University has dramatically changed the landscape of several city blocks in The Fan.

So I started wondering if perhaps Captain Q-Tip had become a victim of VCU’s progress. Finally, I saw a man and a woman that were old enough to have lived in Richmond for a while.

I interrupted their conversation and asked if they knew of a nearby statue of a Civil War soldier holding an artillery swab. They looked puzzled. “We used to call him Captain Q-Tip,” I said.

They smiled. “I’ve never heard it called that, but I can see where the name came from,” the woman said.

Turned out I was less than two blocks from the Captain. Patty shot the above photo of my reunion with my old friend.


Dairy farmer recalls working while Hurricane Hugo howled

Twenty years ago, an old friend in Richfield, North Carolina was trying to get his dairy herd milked while Hurricane Hugo roared around him.

I’ve known Butch Brooks since we were in the first grade together. He’s now running his family’s dairy farm near Richfield, which is 186 miles inland from Charleston, South Carolina. Hugo made landfall at Charleston around midnight on September 21, 1989 with peak winds exceeding 135 mph and a storm surge of about 20 feet.

The people in Richfield and other towns in the rolling hills of North Carolina’s southwestern Piedmont don’t usually concern themselves with hurricane warnings. But Hugo was a very unusual hurricane in many ways. The storm was what is sometimes called a “bulldozer” hurricane – a storm that retains much of its power after making landfall and causes unusually severe damage as it moves inland.

Butch had been following news reports of Hugo’s landfall in Charleston. Forecasters said the storm would pass over the area around Richfield – about 40 miles northeast of Charlotte – around daybreak on September 22. So Butch and his crew started work around 2:30 a.m. to try to get the herd of 180 dairy cows milked before Hugo arrived.

It seemed like a good plan, but the storm moved faster than forecasters expected. Butch and his workers had just started the milking process when Hugo reached them. They’d been working for about an hour when the electricity went out, shutting down the milking machines.

Hugo’s winds were still blowing at around 85 mph when it reached North Carolina, and some residents recalled later that the air smelled like they were at the beach.

The milking crew hooked a portable electric generator to the power takeoff of a tractor and kept the milking machines going. Trees and a few small buildings were going down around them as they worked in the dairy barn. “Debris was flying around through the air,” Butch said.

Postponing the milking until the storm passed wasn’t an option. If cows aren’t milked, it can cause serious health problems or perhaps even kill them, Brooks said.

But Butch’s wife Wanda wasn’t happy about her husband being out in the middle of a howling hurricane. She and their kids rode out Hugo in their basement. Wanda later told me that, as the storm roared outside, she thought to herself, half joking and half seriously, “If (Butch) lives through this, I’ll kill him.”

It took about four hours to get the herd milked. They finished about 6:30 a.m. just as Hugo was finishing its destructive work in Stanly County and moving into the North Carolina mountains. Trees had been blown down across his pasture fences and a couple of small buildings had been destroyed, but no people or animals had been hurt.

Hurricane Hugo cut a path of devastation through the Carolinas and was the most expensive hurricane on record at the time. The storm killed seven people and did about $1 billion worth of damage in North Carolina alone. The total death toll from Hugo in the U.S. and Caribbean was 76, and damages totaled about $10 billion.

Butch said Wanda hasn’t forgotten that September morning 20 years ago. “She reminds me of it rather often, her idiot husband who went out in the middle of a hurricane,” he said.


Hurricane Floyd brought epic flooding to North Carolina

Ten years ago, Hurricane Floyd came ashore at Cape Fear, North Carolina, bringing flooding of epic proportions. Before the waters receded, the little town of Princeville and parts of several other towns would be underwater, and rescuers in boats and helicopters would pluck 1,500 people from roofs across eastern North Carolina.

Hurricane Floyd became one of the most expensive disasters in the state’s history. But the stage was set for Floyd’s devastation by a nearly forgotten storm that lingered over the state a couple of weeks earlier. Hurricane Dennis soaked the Outer Banks and eastern North Carolina, moved offshore, then looped around and gave the same area a second dousing. The ground was saturated with at least 10 inches of rain from Dennis when Floyd came ashore.

Hurricane Floyd formed from a tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on September 2, 1999. Floyd got its start in the infamous spawning grounds of monster hurricanes near the Cape Verde Islands. “Floyd was a classic Cape Verde storm, very large, one of the largest I can remember,” recalled Rusty Pfost, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Miami.

By September 12, Floyd had developed into a major hurricane. I was in the Florida Keys working on research with historian Jerry Wilkinson. Around 6 a.m. on the morning of Monday, September 13, 1999, Jerry and I checked The Weather Channel. Floyd’s peak winds were approaching 150 mph, and it had turned toward the Bahamas and the Keys.

Jerry and I stared at each other for a moment. “I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” I said.

I helped Jerry and Mary board up their house on Key Largo. Around 9:30 a.m. I started one of the eeriest journeys of my life.

As I drove northward from the Keys up the Florida peninsula, Floyd was ripping into the Bahamas with winds of around 155 mph. It seemed that I was just ahead of a rippling wave of fear. When I stopped for gas, lines were starting to form at the pumps. Interstate 95 was gradually getting more crowded. I got the feeling that if I stopped for even a few minutes, I’d be engulfed by traffic. So I kept moving.

I stopped for the night in Darien, Georgia, about 60 miles south of Savannah. I was back on the road early the next morning. Behind me, Floyd had turned and was menacing the southeast coast from Jacksonville north. What would become the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history was starting. During the next two days, more than 2.3 million people from Florida to Maryland would move inland. In South Carolina, Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia was gridlocked.

Rain was falling steadily when I reached eastern North Carolina, and in some places secondary roads were already underwater because the ground couldn’t absorb any more water. That seemed ominous.

The hurricane’s eye passed over Plymouth around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, September 16. By that time, the storm’s winds had diminished dramatically. Around 9:30 a.m. we lost power, but it was back on by 3 p.m. Other than the brief power outage and a few tree limbs down, we saw little effects from Hurricane Floyd in Plymouth.

Still, the storm dumped around 20 inches of rain on ground still saturated from Dennis. The results were devastating. Everything around us seemed to be underwater. But we were high and dry in Plymouth.

I heard later that we’d stayed above water here because the Roanoke River’s floodplain has not been altered by development. When Floyd’s floodwaters came downstream, the water spread out into the Roanoke’s natural wetlands. So we were untouched in Plymouth. But if we’d wanted to go to Raleigh, about 120 miles west on U.S. 64, we’d have had to drive north into Virginia and then turn back into North Carolina to get around the swollen rivers and flooded roads.

It was weeks before the waters receded and the cleanup could begin.

The Wilmington (N.C) Star-News reported Hurricane Floyd’s grim stats:

· 35 people killed in North Carolina, most of them drowning in freshwater. A total of 57 people died during Hurricane Floyd in the U.S. and Bahamas.

· Spectacular livestock losses in North Carolina, including 2.1 million chickens, 753,000 turkeys, and 21,500 hogs.

· $6 billion in damages in North Carolina.

· 7,000 North Carolina homes destroyed, 17,000 homes uninhabitable, and 56,000 homes damaged.

Photo: NOAA satellite photo shows Hurricane Floyd approaching U.S.


1935 flight of first hurricane hunter has been forgotten

Seventy-four years ago today, Leonard Povey climbed into the cockpit of a tiny fighter plane and went in search of one of the most powerful forces ever to roam the Atlantic Ocean.

Povey found his quarry in the Straits of Florida – the storm that became the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, still the most powerful to make landfall in the United States. It was almost certainly the first time that an airplane was used to track a hurricane. But Povey’s historic flight has been forgotten.

Povey was an American who was a flight instructor for the Cuban army air force. He was based in Havana. Cuban authorities decided to send Povey in search of the hurricane because there were conflicting predictions about its position and forecast track. The U.S. Weather Bureau – the predecessor to today’s National Weather Service – said the storm’s center was just off Cuba’s northern coast and would make landfall at or near Havana. But barometers in Havana were rising, an indication that the hurricane was moving away from that city.

“Conflicting reports of Havana observers kept the capital in jitters most of the day,” the Havana Post, an English-language newspaper in the city, reported in its edition of September 3, 1935. “One of the reports said that the hurricane would strike here at 6 p.m.”

So on the afternoon of Monday, September 2, 1935, Povey was dispatched to locate the storm.

The Post said that Povey made his flight in an “army pursuit plane.” He confirmed that the hurricane had turned to the north and was moving away from Cuba and toward the Florida Keys.

The Associated Press wrote about Povey’s flight a few weeks later, and the story was published by newspapers in Florida, including the Miami Herald. The story, published in the Herald on September 23, 1935, included a few quotes from Povey about his flight.

“I was unable to fly close to the disturbance, visible to me for miles,” Povey said. “It appeared to be a cone-shaped body of clouds, inverted, rising to an altitude of 12,000 feet. The waves in the sea below broke against each other like striking a sea wall.”

Povey didn’t try to fly into the hurricane’s eye, as hurricane-hunters do today.

The storm’s eye made landfall a few hours later at Long Key, Florida. Its lowest recorded barometric pressure reading at landfall was 26.35 inches, or 892 millibars, making it the most intense hurricane on record for the U.S. The storm’s winds – thought to have been around 200 mph – and its storm surge of 18 feet or more devastated a 40-mile section of the Keys from Tavernier to Marathon and killed more than 400 people. The death toll included about 260 World War I veterans who were working on a New Deal construction project building a highway between Miami and Key West.

Povey suggested that airplanes be used to monitor hurricanes. But there’s no indication that anyone followed up on his suggestion. In 1944, however, military pilots based in Texas flew into a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. By that time, Povey’s pioneering flight had been forgotten, and the 1944 flight is regarded as the first time an airplane was used to track a tropical storm.


Quiet summers can produce a monster hurricane

The forecast for the 2009 hurricane season predicts a calmer summer than we’ve usually had in the past decade or so. But very powerful storms have formed in summers that have been otherwise very quiet.

The forecast for this summer from William Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University predicts 11 named tropical storms forming by November 30, when hurricane season ends. Five or so of those storms are expected to strengthen into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 miles an hour. And two of the hurricanes are expected to intensify into major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 miles an hour.

That’s slightly above the average for hurricane seasons since 1851. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website says that an average of nine tropical storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes have formed each summer for the past 158 years.

But a quick look at NOAA’s hurricane archives reveals some worrisome statistics about below-average hurricane seasons.

First, two of the three most powerful hurricanes to strike the United States formed in seasons when there was very little activity otherwise. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which is still the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States, formed in a summer that saw only six total tropical systems – far below the 158-year average. That’s the same number of tropical storms that formed in 1992. But 1992 also produced Hurricane Andrew, the third-most powerful hurricane at landfall.

Only Hurricane Camille, which became the second-most intense storm to make landfall in 1969, came out of a very active season. That year, 18 tropical storms formed.

There’s more unsettling info among the list of other very intense hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States.

· The summer of 1900 produced only seven tropical storms. But one of those storms became the Category 4 killer hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas and killed 6,000 or more people.
· In the summer of 1915, only six tropical storms formed. But one of them intensified into a Category 4 hurricane that struck New Orleans and Galveston.
· Only five tropical storms formed in 1919. But one of them was a Category 4 bruiser that devastated Key West and crossed the Gulf Coast to strike Texas.
· In 1928, six tropical storms formed. But among them was another infamous Category 4 killer, the so-called “Okeechobee hurricane” that came ashore at Palm Beach, roared across the Everglades, and shoved a deadly flood out of Lake Okeechobee. That storm killed perhaps 3,000 in the small lakeside towns.
· In 1960, Category 4 Hurricane Donna followed a track very similar to the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, making landfall in the Florida Keys. Only seven tropical storms formed that summer.

Powerful and deadly hurricanes also formed in seasons that saw exactly the same activity as is predicted for this year.

Hurricane Hazel, the most intense hurricane on record for North Carolina, formed in 1954. Eleven tropical storms formed that year. And Hurricane Hugo, a devastating Category 4 hurricane that made landfall near Charleston, South Carolina, formed in 1989, a summer that also saw 11 total tropical storms.

I don’t know that there’s a correlation between quiet hurricane seasons and very intense storms. But this list of murderous monsters that blew away otherwise quiet summers is a pretty clear indication that residents on the Southeast and Gulf coasts should keep a wary eye on the Atlantic for the next few months.


Facing the realities of war

The United States had been involved in World War II for about 18 months when Life magazine published an issue focusing on American casualties. In its edition of July 5, 1943, Life reported that 12,987 Americans had been killed since the United States entered the war in December 1941.

The magazine’s cover showed Army Air Corps soldiers carrying the flag-draped coffin of a fallen comrade to a grave in Tunisia. The photo was seen by millions of Life readers. Life also devoted 23 pages of that issue to listing the name of every armed forces member who’d been killed in combat.

“As a nation, the U.S. is not accustomed to big war casualties,” an accompanying story said. “Not since the Civil War has its manpower been seriously weakened by battle losses.”

Yet Life’s editors thought that Americans were strong enough to see a photo of a dead soldier’s coffin and 23 pages of names and hometowns of those killed in action. And the magazine’s editors also noted that combat deaths were going to rapidly increase. “During most of that time, it has been on the defensive, fighting only when necessary, building up its strength,” the editors wrote. “When the great, offensive battles come, its casualties will mount.”

They were right. When World War II ended in 1945, more than 416,000 American soldiers and sailors had been killed.

In other issues throughout the war, Life also published photos of American combat dead on the battlefield. And newspapers across the nation published a daily list of war deaths.

That’s a stark contrast to the policy put in place when United States troops invaded Iraq in 2003. Photos of flag-draped coffins of the Iraq war dead have been prohibited.

That’s a bad policy, one that is intended to sanitize the war and hide its grim realities from the American public. And instead of protecting the privacy of families who have lost someone in the war, it’s an insult to them. Their loss and sacrifice goes unnoticed.

But that may be about to change.

The New York Times reported yesterday that 69 percent of respondents to a recent poll want the photo ban lifted. And in his speech to a joint session of Congress last night, President Obama noted that the United States has been at war for seven years. “No longer will we hide its price,” he said.

Maybe that statement is an advance notice that the ban will be lifted. It’s time to face the realities of war. We were strong enough to face it during World War II, and we need to know that we’re still strong enough for it.


You're never too old to have some fun

Our cat, Beau, isn't as agile and lively as he was in 1993, when we got him as a kitten from the animal shelter in Fort Pierce, Florida. He'll be 16 in a month or so, and that's roughly equivalent to age 80 for humans.

But like the grandfather who still enjoys a couple of stiff vodka martinis from time to time, our old pal still knows how to catch a buzz once in a while. He's always had a decided fondness for catnip, and Jane brought in a couple of fresh bags last night.

I seriously doubt that I'll be able to lie down and rabbit-kick like this if I live to be 80, but I do hope to still be enjoying my vodka martinis.


Site Where Racial Barrier Was Broken Is Now Blocked By A Wall

Jackie Robinson had quite a day when his Montreal Royals went to New Jersey to open the 1946 International League season against the Jersey City Giants before a sellout crowd of 25,000 fans in Roosevelt Stadium.

Robinson, playing his first game as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Class AAA farm team, banged out four hits in five trips to the plate, including a three-run home run in the third inning. Montreal pounded Jersey City 14-1.

Robinson’s debut with the Royals had a much greater significance than his impressive performance on the field, however. Roosevelt Stadium became the site of the first regular-season game in which an African-American player took the field as a member of a previously all-white professional baseball team. That was huge news in 1946, when the U.S. was essentially a segregated society.

Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues the following year when he was promoted to Brooklyn. He was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 and played 10 seasons with the Dodgers. Robinson was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

But Robinson made a contribution to our nation that went far beyond the statistics he compiled as a player. His Major League career broke through the wall of segregation and became a milestone in the civil rights movement. So Robinson’s presence in that nearly forgotten game 63 years ago makes Roosevelt Stadium a legitimate historical landmark just as much as the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina became a landmark after the 1960 sit-ins protesting the store’s refusal to serve black customers.

That Woolworth’s lunch counter is now in the Smithsonian Institution. But Roosevelt Stadium is long gone and all but forgotten. When my brother-in-law Bob Morrow, my nephew John Morrow and I went on our third annual post-Christmas search for ballparks of yesteryear, we found only a few scant reminders of the old stadium.

During the past two Decembers, John, Bob and I have visited the sites of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. The Ebbets Field trek was posted on Jeff Houck’s lively blog, SideSalad, and can be seen at http://sidesalad.net/archives/003056.html.

You can see the story of last year's visit to the Polo Grounds in the Drye Goods entry of January 5, 2008. Each time, I shot a photo of John standing in front of a marker denoting the sites of the stadiums.

I think we’ve discovered a definite trend about what happens to old baseball parks. Like Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, Roosevelt Stadium is now multi-family housing. Unlike the sites of the old New York ballparks, however, there’s no public marker designating the spot where Jackie Robinson started changing the world. Or if there is, the public can’t see it. What once was Roosevelt Stadium is now a gated community called Society Hill.

The guard at the Society Hill gatehouse told us that a stadium had once been there but we couldn’t enter. So instead of the usual picture of John standing in front of a marker, I got a shot of him standing in front of the wall that separates Society Hill from the rest of the world. As near as I can figure, the stadium’s centerfield wall would have been maybe 300 feet behind John, and home plate would have been 700 feet or so from where he’s standing.

The Associated Press photo at the top of this entry shows teammate George Shuba greeting Robinson as he touches home plate after his home run. In those days before high-fives and fist bumps, a handshake was the standard post-home-run greeting of congratulation.

Sixty years after that handshake, New York Times writer George Anderson wrote about the importance of the moment when, for the first time, a white player congratulated a black teammate for hitting a home run. For Shuba, the gesture was automatic.

“Our teammate hit a home run so I shook his hand,” Shuba told Anderson in the 2006 Times story. “It didn’t make any difference to me that Jack was black. I was glad to have him on our team.”

Anderson also reported that Shuba had had a framed copy of that photo hanging in his living room for 40 years.

We found a copy of that AP photo in a Capital One Bank at the Stadium Plaza shopping center near Society Hill. The photo is one of several large pictures of Roosevelt Stadium displayed in the bank’s lobby. But the bank manager wouldn’t let me take shots of those photos without getting permission from her boss, and we didn’t have time to wait for that.

The only other reminder of the ballpark we found was Stadium Pizza, a restaurant in the shopping center.

Roosevelt Stadium was built on an arrowhead-shaped peninsula known as Droyer’s Point that juts into Newark Bay. The ballpark was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration program that was intended to put Americans back to work during the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was designed by architect Christian Ziegler and was considered a prime example of Depression-era Art Deco architecture.

When the stadium opened in 1937, Jersey City Mayor Frank “I am the law” Hague decreed that it would be named Roosevelt Stadium in honor of the president. John P. Gallagher, who was a boy at the time, wrote in a 1984 letter to the editor of the New York Times that “Roosevelt Stadium was our sports palace, playground and pride.” It became one of minor league baseball’s premier ballparks. In addition to hosting the game in which Robinson broke baseball’s racial barrier, the stadium was the site of 14 Brooklyn Dodgers’ home games in 1956 and 1957.

After the 1957 season, the Dodgers announced they were moving to Los Angeles. Jersey City officials scrambled to keep Major League baseball in Roosevelt Stadium, trying to persuade the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds to play some of their home games there. But all three teams refused the offer.

The New York Giants of the National Football League played a few exhibition games at the stadium in the early 1960s, and it was used for minor league baseball off and on until 1978, when it was abandoned. By the mid-1980s, Roosevelt Stadium had fallen into serious disrepair.

In 1984, the decaying ballpark was torn down. In his Times letter, John P. Gallagher lamented the destruction of his boyhood memory and had strong criticism for the forces that allowed the stadium to be demolished.

“Yet in our hearts we'll wonder what kind of a society we live in that has so little respect for tradition and destroys the structures that house them . . . .,” Gallagher wrote.