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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some never-before-published photographs taken in Green Turtle Cay in the days following the 1932 hurricane.
South shore of the Gillam Bay point, Green Turtle Cay.
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.
Tahiti Beach in Hope Town, Abaco.
Since writing about the Stede Bonnet breakfast, I’ve learned a bit more about the vessel itself.
Built by Symonette Shipyard in Nassau, Bahamas, the 105-ft M/V Stede Bonnet was one of two trawlers commissioned by the Royal Navy to serve as mine sweepers in Singapore.
Before the vessels were completed however, Singapore was captured by the Japanese and they were no longer needed.
One trawler became the M/V Church Bay.
The other was christened the M/V Stede Bonnet — presumably a nod to the 18th century Barbadian pirate with the same name — and assigned to service the mail run between Nassau and Abaco. Though known as “the mail boat,” the Stede Bonnet also ferried fuel, fresh produce and grocery items, dry goods, housewares, livestock and passengers.
On the day the mail boat was due, there would be excitement in the air. New Plymouth residents would finish their chores early, and gather to watch the vessel being unloaded and its cargo distributed.
In towns with shallower harbours, the Stede Bonnet anchored offshore. Tenders were sculled out to transport passengers and freight to shore.
The Stede Bonnet served as a vital link between Nassau and the Abaco mainland and cays for 27 years, before being replaced in 1970 by the M/V Deborah K.
In researching the Stede Bonnet, I uncovered two family connections to the vessel.
My cousin, Jack Albury, tells me that his father, Ancil (“Spotty”) Albury, brother of my grandfather, Lionel Albury, captained the Stede Bonnet in the early 1950s. Jack made many trips with his dad on the mail boat during school holidays.
Another cousin, Gail Lowe, tells me that her grandfather, Ludd Lowe (husband of Ma May’s sister, Sarah), was once the cook on the Stede Bonnet. And yes, Gail confirms, he did indeed cook Fire Engine many mornings to feed the crew and passengers.
Sunrise over Gillam Bay, Green Turtle Cay.
My husband, Tom Walters, fly fishing with Capt. Rick Sawyer of Abaco Fly Fish.
If you’re at all interested in Abaco or Bahamian history, you should check out my cousin Evan Lowe’s blog, Out Island Boy. Evan is the grandson of Bessie Curry Lowe, sister to my great-grandfather, Herman Curry. We connected online several years back and since then, we’ve shared the fun (and, occasionally, the frustration…) of tracing our common island roots.
In his latest blog post, School Days, Evan writes about Green Turtle Cay’s tiny Amy Roberts Primary School (originally known as the All Age School.) He draws on accounts from his late father’s journals, as well as interviews with Bahamians who either attended the school or who knew its earliest teachers and schoolmasters.
My own grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury (1919-2010), attended the All Age School from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. That’s her, second from left in the back row of the above photo. Her teacher, Amy Roberts, for whom the school would later be renamed, is at the far right of the picture.
“Before 1932,” my grandmother told me, “we had a big school. There was an upstairs and it had porches. We did regular school work and singing and prayers. And Amy Roberts would teach crochet work and sewing to the older girls.”
Bahamian artist and historian (and my cousin) Alton Lowe, says the original All Age School was in fact very large, able to accommodate up to 400 students. Plays were often staged at the school, he says, for the enjoyment of the entire settlement.
But on September 5, 1932 — what was to be the first day of school after summer vacation — a category 5 hurricane took direct aim at Green Turtle Cay. During the storm, which battered the cay for three long days, people with houses on low-lying land took refuge on the school steps when their homes flooded.
“They said they could feel those steps shaking,” my grandmother told me. “Later on, people whose houses had been destroyed tried to get up to the schoolhouse for shelter,” she said. “But the school was gone.”
Sadly, when the hurricane moved on, all that remained of the big, beautiful All Age School was its Abaco pine floor.
With lumber and building materials difficult to come by, and with the local population dwindling as families moved away in search of work, the people of New Plymouth built a smaller, more modest school — the building we see today.
To learn more about the early years of the Amy Roberts Primary School, see Evan’s terrific blog post.
Following yesterday’s post about changes to the procedures for importing/exporting dogs to/from the Bahamas, I received several emails from readers who had further questions. Since I, too, wanted more information, I contacted Dr. Godfrey Springer, Head Veterinarian for the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Springer was extremely helpful in providing context for, and further details about, the new measures.
First, the good news is that these new procedures are temporary, and will be in effect only until the current distemper outbreak in Nassau has been controlled. Dr. Springer says these sorts of outbreaks happen every so often and though it’s impossible to predict how long the current one will last, I get the sense that we’re looking at months, as opposed to years.
According to Dr. Springer, the new measures are intended to prevent further spread of the deadly disease and to protect dog owners returning home from the Bahamas.
Foreign officials are aware of the current distemper outbreak in the country, he says, as well as the fact that several dogs recently transported from the Bahamas to the U.S. and Canada later developed — and died from — distemper.
Although officially, the distemper outbreak is confined to Nassau, the fact that you are arriving from anywhere in the Bahamas is a huge red flag for foreign customs and immigration officials. Without a current health certificate, your dog may be denied entry at your final destination.
Dr. Springer says he’s willing to work with travelers visiting Bahamian islands on which there is no veterinarian to ensure they can obtain the necessary documentation. Dog owners may want to get together and split the cost of flying him in from Nassau for the day to examine their pets and provide health certificates. (For your reference, round-trip tickets from Nassau to the out islands cost roughly $100-$140.)
Or, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to send Dr. Springer a video of your dog, along with your original health certificate from your home vet. Based on this information, plus a discussion with you about the dog’s activities while in the Bahamas, he may, at his discretion, provide a health certificate without a face-to-face meeting.
Ultimately, it sounds like obtaining a Bahamian health certificate for your dog before leaving the Bahamas is voluntary. Dr. Springer says you can certainly leave the country without one, but he stresses that he has no control or influence over the actions of foreign officials, and that there’s a chance your dog will not be granted entry into your destination country.
Also, knowing the Bahamas as I do, it’s entirely possible that, upon departure, you’ll encounter local airline or airport employees who believe that having a Bahamian health certificate is mandatory and may refuse you boarding without one. (I don’t know about you, but I think travel is plenty stressful enough without all this added worry.)
According to Dr. Springer, these measures will be in effect for at least the next few months. If you’re not scheduled to travel to the Bahamas until the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015, it may be worth checking with him closer to your travel date to find out whether the new procedures are still in place.
For more information, contact Dr. Springer’s office at (242) 397-7450.