The Big Blow of 1889
Whenever anybody mentions "the storm" in Ocean City, most people think of either the big blow of 1962 or the one in 1933. Having recently celebrated my ninetieth birthday, I can remember back a bit further than many of my friends. The storm to me was the one we had in 1889, when I was fifteen. That was the year everybody in Ocean City had to flee from the storm.
Three-quarters of a century ago there were three hotels in Ocean City in Ocean City, the Atlantic Hotel, Congress Hall and the Seaside and perhaps two dozen cottages on the beach. Vacationers came and went by train. The railroad station was in South Ocean City. From this point the tracks crossed a trestle over Sinepuxent Bay to reach the mainland, and proceeded thence to Berlin, Salisbury and Claiborne, where they made connections with the Chesapeake Bay boat that ran back and forth between Claiborne and Baltimore. Getting to Ocean City was a long and tiring journey in those days, and it is little wonder to me that most families stayed for the whole summer when they got to the resort.
In 1889, my father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. George M. Upshur and I occupied the Goldsborough cottage on First Street near the boardwalk. United States Senator and Mrs. Ephriam Wilson, shared our cottage.
On a Friday morning, September 5, we noticed that the tide was quite high, and the waves were angry. That morning two fishermen had gone out, their boat had capsized and they had drown before aid could get to them. The tragedy was the first excitement of the storm. It sent a stir of apprehension through the town. The beach was patrolled all day by life-savers who expected the bodies to come ashore. The tides continued to come in higher and higher, until on Sunday afternoon the water washed into our cottage.
Several of the cottagers left Monday, but the tide had gone down somewhat and we decided to stay. We knew that if trouble developed we could stay with friends who's cottage was on higher ground down near the Life-Saving Station. But scarcely had the train left Ocean City for Claiborne when the tide began rising rapidly again and we knew we would have to leave.
We hurried through supper and got into an ox cart and went up there, leaving our cottage and everything there to the mercy of the storm. The scene from that time until eleven that night was grand beyond description, but terrible as well. The boardwalk was all washed away and bathhouses torn to pieces. The tide again seemed to recede and we fell asleep. About 2 o'clock we were awaken by the most terrific wind and every wave seemed to break against the cottage. By 4 o'clock we were dressed, not knowing how soon the cottage might be blown over.
Soon the water was a foot deep in our high ground cottage. We were thankful to learn that a train had been sent back to rescue us, then frightened to learn that the train could not cross the shaky trestle because the wind was heavy enough to blow over bother train and trestle. Men from Berlin crept across the bridge on foot. Everybody evacuated Ocean City then, even the life-savers. The men had put a handcar into service. We loaded onto it--everyone holding on to each other--and we slowly rode across the railroad trestle, the wind causing the handcar to lurch and sway with every gust. But we made it safely. We waited out the storm on the mainland. Two days later we came back to Ocean City and found sand everywhere. Things at our cottage were as we had left them--even the silver and hastily finished meal and its remains on the table were under great piles of sand, but they were otherwise undisturbed.
Ocean City was, of course, a wreck. All the porches had been swept away from the Atlantic Hotel, and the bathhouses had been battered to pieces and washed away.
The boardwalk was gone. Congress Hall, south of the present inlet, was partially washed away, while several cottages nearby had vanished. I have seen many more storms in the years that have followed, for even before I made my permanent home in Ocean City I came every summer. I saw the big storm of 1933, and the one in 1962, These later storms caused more property damage, of course, because there were so many more buildings. But for sheer fury of the elements, I have never seen a storm wilder and terribly beautiful than the one which came in September of 1889.
Baltimore Sun Paper
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