The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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I Remember… Ocean City 20 Years Ago Today
Baltimore Sun Paper
by Charles W. Purnell
August 1953

image Charles W. Purnell
I didn't blame anyone for running away from Ocean City when that hurricane hit on August 23, 1933.

It looked terrible and the people were scared.

In fact, I wanted my wife and sons to go over to Berlin, but she said she wouldn't go unless I went. Of course I couldn't go. I?d built this new Atlantic Hotel a year after my old one burned down in 1925, and a captain can't leave his ship, you know.

As I said, though, I didn't blame the ones who did leave. It wasn't just an ordinary storm day. Things looked extra bad.

And by the time the storm was over, the railroad bridge was out, the causeway was damaged, a lot of the town was under three or four feet of sand, and we had gotten ourselves an inlet.

It was right in the heart of the season when the storm hit.

We?d been having good weather. I remember, and all the hotels had exceptionally big crowds.

On the day before, I?d gone to Cambridge with Mayor William W. McCabe to see about getting a ferry to land just west of there to make it easier to get to Ocean City from Baltimore and Washington.

By the time we got back, water was splashing people on the boardwalk and the storm was really a-brewin?.

The boardwalk, at that time went from the Commander Hotel at the north down to -- well, I?d say about two blocks farther than where the inlet is now. There were three streets down there then that eventually got washed away.

There was a man named Calhoun who?d built a barber shop right in front of my place, and at about 8 o'clock that night a wave washed right through it. That's when things began to look bad.

We all went to bed just like on any other night, though, but about 3 o'clock my wife woke me up and told me there was water in our court.

Waves have a way of breaking and forming again, you know, and I saw on break right out in my parking lot. I wouldn't have been surprised then if the whole place had washed away.

I was a little scared, but I didn't let my wife know it.

Not many of the guests got up during the night, although there were about 200 here at the time. But right after breakfast the next morning, all of them except about 30 paid their bills and lit out.

As it turned out, the people who stayed in town fared a great deal better than those who left, since up the road there were quite a few floods and washed-out bridges, and lots of folks had to sleep in their cars.

It had started raining during the night and the wind was blowing hard, almost from the east. When nor?easters come, they usually cut diagonally across us and take the sand away, but this one was dumping the sand right in on us.

The breakers were coming straight in, too, and they?d hit the beach and pile right over into town.

Of course the electricity got knocked out and a lot of hotels had to suspend meals, but we were lucky. One of my three sons William H. ? he was 27 then ? had taken the lead in boarding up our place when the storm began, and that kept damage down.

Many places had everything washed out of their basements, though. And some of them got 3 or 4 feet of sand piled up on their floors.

The storm was still raging in the middle of the afternoon but I could detect a little change of wind. I t6old my family and employees that there was a little shift and I could feel some wind coming from the west. The weather vane still showed an east wind, but I knew the storm was over.

By nighttime there wasn't much left of the storm and the old ocean was just like she hadn't done anything; she was very innocent.

In fact, we had an orchestra and we had a dance that night. There weren't many people, but we had it just the same.

Actually, as I remember, it wasn't until the next morning that we really learned all the damage that had been done.

The biggest thing, I guess, was the inlet. The water had piled up in the Sinepuxent Bay, behind town, and it didn't have anywhere to get out. Then, when the wind shifted around, the water cut from the bay into the ocean.

The old roller rink was completely washed away, and so were about a dozen housed in that area. And the water in that inlet was deep, too; way over the people's heads.

Besides that, the old railroad bridge had been washed away and all the fishing camps on the other side of the inlet were gone except for one.

The bay was quiet. And the ocean was quiet.

But lots of automobiles were covered with sand, and there were little boats sailing up and down Philadelphia Avenue.

We were lucky, though; nobody was hurt. And that very same day, people started returning form Berlin and Salisbury and other places to take back their rooms.

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