Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eliot Kleinberg—that terrible day in Palm Beach County, September 16, 1928

Eliot Kleinberg wrote a book about this day in Palm Beach County called, "Black Cloud: The Great Hurricane of 1928". It's called the 1928 Hurricane because this was before the naming of storms began. There was the 1926 Hurricane also. There is a mass burial site in West Palm Beach where many victims of the 1928 Hurricane are buried. (They took special care back then to make sure that bodies of Black and White people were put in the correct mass grave.)

Last year Mr. Kleinberg wrote this article in The Palm Beach Post; a not-so-gentle reminder of what's possible this coming Hurricane Season here in south Florida:
     That day, a massive hurricane smashed the coastline from the Treasure Coast to Miami, then moved inland and washed out what then was a flimsy dike around Lake Okeechobee, sending a wall of water into the countryside. The official death toll is 2,500, but it could be as high as 3,000. [emphasis added]
     With 86 years now having passed, finding anyone who survived the storm, and was old enough at the time to have any memories now, has become nearly an impossible task. We were thrilled when longtime reader John Weigand of Delray Beach directed us to retired shop teacher Leslie Douglas, now living in Ocala.
     Douglas, who turned a spry 96 in February, was born in Jacksonville; his father, an electrical contractor, moved a wife and four young children in 1925 to a home along Federal Highway in Lake Worth.
     Three years later, the big storm approached. Young Leslie, then 10, and his siblings helped his father nail three-quarter inch plywood to the windows.
     Soon the wind was roaring, perhaps as much as 50 to 60 mph.
     “I remember very well being flattened,” Douglas recalled last month from his home. He said he felt like “a human kite.”
     Soon the storm was on; “it was almost like a fire siren,” Douglas said. “The trees shook. The house shook.”
     For as much as four hours, he recalled, his mother, “94 pounds of her, was sitting in the high chair with her fingers in her ears. We could see a lot of things going by.”
     When the storm had passed, Douglas recalled, “our little bungalow was not touched.”
     Much of the region hadn’t been as lucky. Douglas recalled victims being brought by the truckload to the iconic Gulf Stream Hotel in downtown Lake Worth, where his father had helped organize a relief command post. Some were alive, but “didn’t have anything. I’m talking about nothing but the shirt on their back.”