I Remember an Ocean City Storm of 75 Years ago
The Storm of 1889
Mrs. Covington at 15 years old
Three-quarters of a century ago there were two hotels in Ocean City – the Atlantic Hotel and Congress Hall – 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 a whole summer when they got to the resort.
In 1889 my father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. George M. Upshur, my brother Franklin, cousin Emma Hamilton and I occupied the Goldsborough cottage on First Street near the boardwalk. It is now, I think, the oldest cottage still standing in Ocean City. Senator and Mrs. Ephriam Wilson and other friends shared our cottage.
(These following recollections are refreshed by a letter, dated September 18, 1889, and written by my mother from our home in Snow Hill to her sister, Mrs. George Pope in Baltimore.)
On a Friday morning, September 5, we noticed that the tide was quite high, and that the waves were angry. That morning two fishermen had gone out, their boat had capsized, and they had drowned before aid could get to them. That tragedy was the first excitement of the storm. It sent a stir of apprehension through the town. The beach was patrolled all day by lifeguards and others, 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.
My father was napping upstairs and my mother was in the parlor when an immense wave swept over the front porch, through the parlor, and into every other room on the lower floor. We stayed, although the water kept rising, and by 10 o’clock that night our house was surrounded. Some men, including the lifeguards, cut a trench back of our house and let some of the water drain away.
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 in a cottage on higher ground 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.
Mrs. Covington in 1964 at the age of 90
Soon 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 both train and trestle. Men who had come up from Berlin crept across the bridge on foot. Everybody evacuated Ocean City then, even the lifeguards. 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.
Illustration of Congress Hall Hotel before the terrific storm of 1889
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 more terribly beautiful than the one which came in September of 1889.
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