- HISTORY OF THE UPPER KEYS -
Post 1935 Hurricane Sworn Statements
- By Jerry Wilkinson -
Compilation date = June 12, 2010
The below is a transcription of a sworn statement made by Dr. Lassiter Alexander to the Veteran's Administration investigator H.W. Farmer after the 1935 Hurricane. Dr. Alexander was the assistant of Dr. Main who perished in the hurricane. Note: A Dr. W. B. Keating of Flower Hospital, New York City was the fist Camp physician. The hospital was a converted Windley Key hotel. On April 13, 1935 Dr. D.C. Main, a neuologist, was a Spanish-American War veteran retiring as a major in 1928 and transferred from the Welaka, Florida FERA Transient Camp to Camp 1. I have added a stamped page number of each page I typed from. I am not certain if the National Archive added them or if these were original page numbers. Q = Question and A = Answer. My inserted comments are in [ ]'s.
Transcribed by Mary Lou Wilkinson:
September 18,1935"Lassiter Alexander made the following responses under oath to questions propounded by H.W. Farmer, Investigator, in the investigation entitled “ Re-Hurricane Florida.”
1. Q. Please state your full name, occupation and address.
A. Lassiter Alexander, Medical Officer, Veteran’s Work Camp. Present address –301 Huntington Building, Miami, Florida.
2. Q. Are you a Veteran?
3. Q. How long have you been a physician at the Veteran’s Camp?
A. Since the middle of April.
4. Q. At which camp were you located?
A. I was staying at Snake Creek Hospital and taking care of Camps #3 and #5.
5. Q. What were your duties?
A. I did most of the emergency work at the hospital; made daily sick calls to Camp #3 and #5.
6. Q. Under whose supervision did you work?
A. Dr. Main. He was Acting Medical Director.
7. Q. Were you at the Camp during the hurricane?
A. Yes, I was at Snake Creek Hospital until it blew down.
8. Q. Were you injured?
A. Yes, I received multiple bruises, lacerations and contusions all over my entire body.
Stamped page number 379. Q. How were you injured?
A. I was injured mainly by flying timer and attempting to get over to the railroad track. I had on a bathing suit and swam part of the way, floating timbers passing by me, also crawling over the coral rocks to railroad track.
10. Q. Where were you at the time the hurricane began?
A. I was at Snake Creek Hospital.
11. Q. When did you first sense there was danger of a hurricane?
A. About 2P.M. Capt. Hardacker stated Mr. Shelton issued orders to evacuate immediately or get ready to evacuate on the train.
12. Q. Did you have any knowledge a hurricane was expected?
A. Yes, in Sunday’s paper it stated a hurricane was brewing and it was advisable that fishing parties not be on the Keys. On Sunday morning a Veteran from Camp #3 came and asked me when I was making sick calls, and asked about the hurricane and when it would strike. I stated I did not know anything about it, and told him about reading Sunday’s paper. He stated the men had been gotten up at 4 A.M. to move major equipment at the Ferry Slip in to a cut for emergency purposes. After Hardacker stated we had to evacuated camp, I went to see Shelton about 2:30P.M. and he told me they were all going to have to evacuate-there was a hurricane coming, the barometer was dropping and Patterson showed me on a map where they had checked the course of the hurricane by thumb tacks, and he showed me where he had placed them on the map showing the hurricane going due west and then turning due North, heading towards the Camp area.
13. Q. At what time did he indicate the hurricane changed its course to the Keys?
[Stamped page number 372]A. He did not state.
14. Q. Could you tell from the map he had plotted?
A. No, only by thumb tacks. Then I heard Mr. Shelton call the F.E.C. Railroad. He stated to them he wanted a train to evacuated the men right away. That time was about 2:30PM Monday afternoon. They said something to him and he state” Well, you all advertise 60 Miles an hour--- lets see you do it.” Then they said something to him and he stated “Between 5:30 and 6:00, alright, but not later.” Then he hung up. He turned around to me and stated the train would be there between 5:30 and 6:00PM. They got that message at 2:30 and I do not see why they could not have gotten the train by 4:30.
15. Q. What were the weather conditions at the time Mr. Shelton called the F.E.C?
A. The wind was blowing about 25 to 30 miles an hour and rainy.
16. Q. How soon after that did the hurricane strike?
A. I would say it was blowing good about 6PM, possible earlier.
17. Q. Was it raining all the time?
A. Yes, at times, and then not a great deal.
18. Q. As you observed the weather conditions at 2:30, were there reasons why Mr. Shelton should have called the train before he did?
A. I am a stranger in Florida and not familiar with weather conditions as it did not mean anything to me.
[Stamped page number 373]
19. Q. Had you received any weather reports or barometer reading before Mr. Shelton called the train?
A. I paid no attention to this as I stayed at the hospital to take care of emergency cases and daily routine duties. We did not have a barometer at the hospital and I did not pay any attention to the other things.
20. Q. Any opinion you would have formed before you heard Mr. Shelton call for the train would have been based on your observation of the weather at that point?
A. Yes, but you see I know nothing of weather conditions in this part of the country.
21. Q. Do you feel there was or was not neglect in the failure to provide for the evacuation of the Veterans before it was done?
A. No, I do not think there was any neglect because the officials were relying fully on the F.E.C. Railroad as they figured they could have evacuated in plenty of time, and the assurance to Mr. Shelton that the train would be there between 5:30 and 6PM. There was no reason why the train could not have been down there in two hours time.
22. Q. Do you know why the train did not arrive there earlier?
A. No, just by hearsay. I heard comments of who was going to pay for it and a conversation of who was going to make it up.
23. Q. Did you yourself hear any discussion regarding payment for the train before the hurricane?
A. No I did not.
[Stamped page number 374]24. Q. Did Mr. Sheldon have full authority to order a train?
A. I do not know, but I imaging he did, being Assistant Director.
25. Q. Might he have been restricted in any way in ordering a train after he felt the conditions made it necessary.
A. I do not know.
26. Q. Then you place the entire responsibility of the failure to evacuate the Veterans before the hurricane on the train after it had been ordered.
A. Yes, I do.
27. Q. Do you know of any reason for the delay?
A. No, in an emergency when human life is at stake, there is no reason for unreasonable delays.
28. Q. When were you rescued?
A. About dark Tuesday night I was ferried across from Snake Creek in a rowboat and placed in a car driven by Buck Wright and taken to Victoria Hospital.
29. Q. Were you ambulant Tuesday?
A. I walked twice. I walked up the railroad track 100 feet to my automobile and crawled in the rear deck. I stayed there until about noon then I crawled out of the car and staggered over to the bonfire by the tank car where some men layed me down in a blanket and I stayed there almost until dark. They put me on a cot spring and was carried to Snake Creek where I was ferried across.
[Stamped page number 375]30. Q. How many Veterans were patients in the hospital before the hurricane?
A. We had about six or eight, but they were moved out at 2:30PM by orders of Dr. Main.
31. Q. Do you know their names?
A. I think Darty was one patient. Some of the employees left with Dr. Main’s car. Cash drove the car with Roy Hurley and a fellow by the name of Smith. I do not know any of the other names.
32. Q. Do you know the name of any other Veteran who left Camp before the blow?
A. I cannot think of any.
33. Q. Did you identify any of the dead?
A. No, I was unable to walk and I was before the fire and in my car the next day.
34. Q. I will show you a list we have recorded of the men missing and will ask that you look it over carefully and tell me whether or not you know the destiny of any men shown on it.
A. Isn’t F. Griset the one who got killed by a train two or three weeks before the hurricane? There may have been two or three Grisets. John Clarkson was another patient sent out before the hurricane and is at Bay Pines. Frank J. Karcher was sent to Veteran’ Hospital, Bay Pines or Oteen for T.B. prior to the hurricane. Irving L. Cash drove Dr. Main’s car out before the hurricane. Those are the only ones I can tell you anything about on the list.
35. Q. Did you observe any unusual amount of drinking or drunkedness at any time while the Camp was in operation?
[Stamped page number 376]A. There was the usual amount of drinking, quite a bit on pay days and “Baby Bond” days. Every other night they all got a dollar issued to them, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and these were called “Baby Bonds” out of respect to President Roosevelt.
36. Q. Was there any drinking among the officials of the Camp?
A. No there was no drinking by officials on the Keys. That is one thing Ghent did do good and that was his insistence that there be no drinking on the part of officials on the Keys.
37. Q. How many hours a day were the Veterans required to work?
A. They worked from 8AM to 11AM and from 1PM to 4PM.
38. Q. Did those hours apply to all members of the Camp?
A. No. It did not apply to the kitchen force, the medical corps or the drivers for the officials. The medical corps had to work on shifts, 3 men on duty at each camp infirmary. They had to have two men on duty at all times although the greater portion of the time, three men were on duty.
39. Q. Was the medical personnel required to do any extra duty on pay days or holidays?
A. Yes, we always had boom days then--- suturing their wounds.
40. Q. Were there more injuries at the time than any similar period?
A. Yes, due to the men being paid off, inebriety and fighting among each other.
[Stamped page number 377]41. Q. How were the Veterans uniformed in Camp?
A. They were mainly dungarees and blue shirts.
42. Q. Did anyone wear army uniforms?
A. No. One of the main things wrong with the Veteran’s Program was the fact that we were unable to discipline the men, and I had heard repeatedly from the better class of men in the Camp that what they needed was discipline as we had no authority out of Washington to discipline the men. Things were better the last couple of months. When I came down in April, nothing was done to make a man work---they would loaf all day and would not go to work, and when pay day came around, the man who had worked hard received the same pay as those who had not worked. That was remedied several months ago by timekeepers checking more thoroughly and each day they did not work they were not paid. What should have been done was to have Reserve Officers in command, or regular Army men.
43. Q. Do you think the men improved physically on the Keys?
A. From statements made to me by the men, they were improved physically, gained weight, felt better and were generally in a better conditions due to the fact that they received regular meals. Numerous ones have told me they had lived in box cars previous to the time they came into Camp and had been on the bum. They received regular meals, comfortable living quarters and were not worked more than their ability.
44. Q. Have you made a statement of this nature to any other Government officials?
[Stamped page number 378]45. Q. Has any official of any other person guarded you against any statement you make?
46. Q. In order that you may express yourself as freely as you desire, I will ask if there is any other statement you wish to make and request that you make the statement with the full understanding that it will not reflect on you in any way.
A. It looks to me like the City of Miami or someone should have gotten down Tuesday morning to rescue us. It was due to heroic efforts of Buck Wright who tried to swim across Snake Creek several times and could not make it. He finally got across in a rowboat. It seems to me they should have been able to commander boats here Tuesday morning.
47. Q. Was it known outside that people were injured?
A. I cannot say as I was on the other side of Snake Creek Bridge. I know they could have gotten boats across Snake Creek with a heavy outboard motor because we sculled across in a rowboat about 6PM Tuesday evening.
48. Q. Is there any other statement you wish to make?
A. That is about all I can think of.
I, Lassiter Alexander, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR that the statement made herein in response to questions propounded by H. W. Farmer, Investigator, have been read by me and they are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief, so help me GOD.
SUBSCRIBED AND SWORN TO before me an Investigator of the Veteran’s Administration this _____ of September , 1935"
- End of Dr. Lassiter Alexander's Statement -
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