September 1932: Images of the Aftermath

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, new plymouth, history

View of New Plymouth prior to the 1932 hurricane, taken from the hill east of town. The cemetery is on the left. On the right, the dark, two-story building is the government building/jail and the larger, light-coloured building behind it is the Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Though there exist a number of first-hand accounts of the destruction wrought by the 1932 hurricane, there truly is nothing like a photograph to convey the full magnitude of the devastation. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to receive a group of never-before-published photos, taken on Green Turtle Cay in the days following the storm.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, new plymouth, hurricane, 1932

View of New Plymouth after the 1932 hurricane. The Methodist Church has been destroyed, and the top floor of the government building is gone.

The images are from the collection of Jack Mertland Malone from Hope Town and later, Nassau. I’ve included his original notes in quotation marks beneath each image.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“The Jail” Behind these men is the lower floor of the government building, which housed the jail. It was the only part of the building left after the storm, and it remains standing today.

Many thanks to Mr. Malone’s granddaughter, Marysa Malone, and Wayne Neely, Bahamian meteorologist and author of The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, for sharing these rare photographs.

Marysa’s grandfather, Jack Mertland Malone, is pictured in a few of these images, but I’d love to be able to identify the other people shown. If you know who they are, or recognize any of the houses or locations, please let me know.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Stone Church – 100 Years Old” I believe these may be the remains of the Methodist Church. Does anyone know for sure?

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“The Quarry – Where Hundreds Took Shelter.  A Horse Crashed Down from Top.”

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Homes Gone – They Live Outside” This was common in the settlement after the storm. My grandmother and her family propped up the roof from their kitchen building – it was all that remained of their house — and lived beneath it until their new home was constructed.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Looking for Bodies”

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Where is Home?”

“Her Home” A local woman, surrounded by what’s left of her house.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Hotel and Library” Prior to 1932, a hotel stood immediately west of what is now the New Plymouth Inn. The hotel was completely destroyed in the storm, killing Mrs. Alice Lowe, mother-in-law of my great-uncle, Charles Gates.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“She Relates Her Misfortunes to Me” Jack Mertland Malone talks to a local woman about her experiences during the hurricane.

Though all these images are amazing, I think the two below are perhaps the most touching. The first, because it reflects the helplessness I imagine all New Plymouth residents must have felt. These girls know that their father lies beneath the rubble of their home, but there’s little they can do to help him.

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, hurricane, 1932

“Their Father is Buried Under This Wreckage”

Unlike many of the other images, there’s a hint of hope in the photo below. These children, though no doubt traumatized, survived the storm. Their home appears to be relatively intact. They’re clean and neatly dressed, and perhaps on the way to regaining some degree of normality.

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, hurricane, 1932

“All Together”

Related Stories:

September 3, 1932 – The Calm Before the Storm

September 5, 1932 – Destruction and Devastation

September 7, 1932 – What Misery Lay Ahead

Sept. 5, 1932 – One Family’s Heartbreak


Sept. 5, 1932: One Family’s Heartbreak

Green Turtle Cay’s history can be divided into two distinct periods – before the hurricane of 1932 and after.

Eighty-two years ago today, on what was to be the start of the new school year, the first category five hurricane on record descended upon Green Turtle Cay. With only barometers by which to gauge the weather, local residents had little warning of the storm and no indication whatsoever of its ferocity.

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, hurricane

Homes and boats damaged by the 1932 hurricane. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Before long, however, there would be no doubt. For three days, the stalled storm pummeled the cay, trapping residents inside their disintegrating homes where they cowered, praying, in the dark. By the time the storm moved on, much of the town of New Plymouth had been leveled. Six local residents were dead.

Bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, hurricane

An aerial view of New Plymouth following the 1932 hurricane. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Especially hard hit was the family of Mr. Basil Lowe. Not only did the family lose their home, but two of their children — their oldest and youngest sons — were killed by debris.

Perhaps because of their tender ages, or the unimaginable heartbreak visited upon their family by the loss of two children, the tale of these boys, Dewees and Bert Lowe, appears in many first-hand accounts of the storm.

In his book, A Man of Many Firsts, Mr. Floyd Lowe wrote:Floyd Lowe

“I was twelve when the most destructive hurricane in living memory hit Green Turtle Cay. Three of my brothers had gone fishing at Carters Cay, about 40 miles north of Green Turtle, and should have been back in three days. The only sign of an approaching hurricane we had then was a drop in the barometer. When this happened, we were worried for my brothers.

The hurricane struck on Monday, 5th of September 1932 and lasted for three days. The people of New Plymouth tried to ride the storm out in their houses but the water rose and flooded the town and forced them to evacuate to higher ground. The wind was so fierce it destroyed every church and most of the houses.

Five people lost their lives in the hurricane of 1932. My eldest brother Basil lost two sons, one sixteen and the other two. The sixteen year old died of a broken neck while carrying the two year old to a safer place after their house blew down. The doctor determined that the two year old died from exposure in the arms of his dead brother.

I can also remember a sixty-five year old man and a six year old child being killed in the storm. The good news was that my brothers had ridden out the hurricane in Carters Cay and returned home safely.”

In describing her experience during the 1932 hurricane, my grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury, remembered Dewees and Bert Lowe:

Uncle Charlie’s eldest brother’s children, the eldest son and the youngest son, they were like me and Belle. I was carrying Belle, and Dewees had his youngest brother on his hip, trying to get to Mr. Kendrick’s house. They think a piece of lumber must have come from Mr. Stanley Sawyer’s house when that broke up and it hit Dewees in his head. Him and the youngest brother were dead after the hurricane. They found them down on that road, dead.

An American, Terrence Keogh, arrived on Green Turtle Cay a few days before the storm, with no idea what lay ahead. Ultimately, he survived the hurricane. Upon returning to the U.S., he wrote a fascinating account of his experience for the May 1933 issue of Harper’s Magazine and gave an interview that was published in the New York Herald Tribune. Both are reprinted in The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932 by Wayne Neely.

Here are two brief excerpts from the Harper’s article:

Sunday, September 4th, I didn’t get up until very late. During the afternoon, I took a long walk along the sandy shore of the Cay with three boys of the town. One of them was Basil Lowe’s son, a fine, strapping young fellow of sixteen. Little did I think that the following day I should be picking up his dead body with the dead body of his baby brother clutched tightly in his arms.”

After the storm, Keogh emerged to survey the damage.

With the first signs of daylight, I started for Basil Lowe’s house to see how he and his family had come through. Nothing appeared to be left standing and the streets were piled so high with wreckage that it was impossible to follow them. Where Basil Lowe’s house had stood the day before was a litter of smashed timbers.

In the middle of the mess, I came across the body of his eldest son, a fine boy of sixteen, lying face downward on the ground, cold and stone dead. I rolled him over and found that his neck had been broken. With a death grip, he still held in his arms the body of his baby brother, also cold and dead. I carried them both out to an open space and laid them on the ground side by side, then covered them with loose boards, weighted down with stones, so that they would not blow away.

As I was doing this, Basil himself appeared. It was the most harrowing moment of my life and there was little that I could say to him at the time.”

Virtually every family on Green Turtle Cay suffered as a result of the 1932 hurricane. Most, like my grandmother’s family, were left homeless. Many lost their livelihoods. Some lost loved ones. It’s hard to imagine, though, that many endured more anguish and devastation than the family of Basil Lowe.

bahamas, abaco, green turtle cay, burial, hurricane

A man pours carbolic acid on the dead before burial to prevent the spread of disease. Photo courtesy of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some never-before-published photographs taken in Green Turtle Cay in the days following the 1932 hurricane.

Related stories:

September 3, 1932 – The Calm Before the Storm

September 5, 1932 – Destruction and Devastation

September 7, 1932 – What Misery Lay Ahead

GTC Festival of Lights Fundraiser Sept. 6

bahamas, green turtle cay, abaco, festival of lights

© 2014 Tom Walters

This Saturday, September 6, the Green Turtle Cay Festival of Lights Committee will hold a fundraiser at the basketball court in New Plymouth.

Starting at 5:00 p.m., a selection of delicious dishes including conch fritters, chicken wings, macaroni and cheese and a variety of sweets will be available for purchase. There will also be music, bingo and other games and activities for the young and young at heart.

The Green Turtle Cay Festival of Lights was created in 2009 to decorate the settlement of New Plymouth for the holidays and to generate additional tourism between Thanksgiving and New Years. During the six-week festival, local residents, second homeowners and vacationers enjoy a variety of activities, including turkey dinners, performances, games, boat and golf cart parades and more.

For more information about the Green Turtle Cay Festival of Lights, visit their website or Facebook page.

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