Marjory Stoneman Douglas

By Jerry Wilkinson

       Marjory Stoneman Douglas was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 7, 1890 and brought up with her mother's people in Massachusetts, went to the public school of Taunton, and graduated from Wellesley College, Massachusetts in 1912. Her father's people were Quakers and pioneers. He, Frank Bryant Stoneman attorney and judge, and went to Florida (circa 1909) before she did. He was founder-editor of The Miami Herald following an earlier paper he had started. When  Marjory decided to go south circa 1912, as a result of an unworkable marriage, it was wonderful to find a new country with all the excitement of the tropics, a beginning city and a job on a newspaper. She lived with her father and stepmother, Lilla B. (Shine), who was her first and best friend.
      She went overseas in the WW1, doing Red Cross publicity out of Paris and came back after a year to be an associate editor for her father. She marched for suffrage in the 1920s while writing books, magazine articles, drama, fiction and poetry.
      She always wanted to write fiction. Another new life began when she started selling stories to the Saturday Evening Post, in 1924 and for other national magazines. She built  a little house of her own in Coconut Grove for a work shop where she lived the rest of her live.
     Her acclaim to fame was The Everglades, River of Grass first published in 1947. She received many honors, awards, commendations, orders of merit, honorary positions,  not to mention nine honorary degrees.
     Her book HURRICANE from which the below (Hurricane number 3) is quoted was published by Rinehart & Company in 1958 is the best account that the author has read. Another, but a fictional story of the 1935 Hurricane was published in the Saturday Evening Post on December 7, 1935. It is a story of a WW1 veteran who made friends with a Matecumbe "Conch" family with whom he endured the hurricane.       J.W.

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 "The Florida Keys, 1935
    " It was hot white and mosquito-y all that summer of 1935 on the Florida Keys. There was always the threat of hurricanes like the one in August that whirled up the Atlantic and destroyed the fishing fleets of Newfoundland. But it was not the weather that was making the summer strange to the brown-faced, quiet people of the Keys, whose ancestors from over in the Bahamas or up from Key West had known more about hurricanes than any people on the American coast.
     They knew exactly what was meant when a Bahaman said of the clouds before a hurricane, 'See how they do send, low, low, low.' They had known what the old Key West fisherman described when he said of a hurricane center, 'And then there come a glistening calm.'
     Their seagoing ancestors had built the first stout small frame houses among lime and guava trees, under coco palms, near their boats pulled up in coves among the mangroves or along the shelly infrequent sands. They still lived as they always had, the people of the villages, Rock Harbor, Tavernier, Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key; and Matecumbe on Lower Matecumbe Key [Matecumbe was the lower portion of Upper Matecumbe Key], and all the others, independent and close-mouthed. It was nobody's business whose people had been wreckers in the great days of wrecking or rumrunners in prohibition. Mr. Flager's railroad had brought construction jobs. Now fish guiding and charter boats, bait shacks, boat docks, stores, juke joints, fish-and-lime-pie restaurants were making good profit. They never liked the high rock embankment down the middle of everything, where the railroad ran, that blocked up all the old channels between the Keys so that a man had to take his boat all the way down to No. Five trestle to get into the sheltered waters of Florida Bay. But now they were more bitter at the invasion of 716 very strange men.
     There were, after all, only about four hundred Key people, closely related and clannish, like Captain John Russell, postmaster at Islamorada, and his seventy-nine kinfolks. By the beach lived Captain Edney Parker; his wife, who was one of the big family of Pinders; his ten children; his son-in-law Jack Ryder and their relatives. At Tavernier, Judge Lowe, the justice of the peace, was the head of the smaller Lowe family. He was called Doe in Miami, where he had been a deputy sheriff. There were Becoms on Windley Key, Sweetings on Lignum Vitae, and Alburys everywhere. They were keen-minded, intelligent, often well-read people, with a great deal of pride and much respectability.
     The 716 strangers on the Keys were broken-down army veterans, forlorn stragglers from the bonus army that had marched on Washington. Some were drunks. Some were shell-shocked and half-crazy. Some were hard, useless characters. All of them, one way and another, were misfits.
     They had been rounded up for the government by the FERA and sent down the Keys to get their misery and uselessness out of sight. They were quartered in three shack-and-barrack camps in the sun-blasted scrub between Snake Creek and the south end of Lower Matecumbe. They were supposed to be building a road but in nearly a year only two hundred feet were done. They worked only if they wanted to, got thirty dollars a month and all the food they could eat. They went fishing. Saturday nights after payday the saloons of Key West roared with the drunkenness of the alcoholics. There were fights in the camps. Many of the Key people, especially the women, were scandalized.
     Yet some Key people (like Captain [Edney] Parker, who worked at Camp Five), who had found many veterans to be lonely and friendless, were glad to befriend them. All that summer, there was talk about the veterans.
      The Key people did not have to talk about hurricanes. Every man knew just where he would run his boat to shelter it, or even sink it with the engine out. All the frame houses had shutters, extra kerosene, extra food, were reinforced. Grandfather Becom, on Windley Key had built a house on quarried stone, that had stood through twenty years of storms. Some men had built special hurricane shelters, like Doc Lowe's, a small poured-concrete house set on a solid poured-concrete foundation, and over the whole thing two great chain cables flung and bolted into the concrete.
     The State Veterans' Administration had set up a plan for evacuating them in case of hurricane, at the urgent request of Grady Norton, the head of the U.S. hurricane warning service; then in Jacksonville. The chief of the Key camps was ordered by his boss, the commander of the state veterans' corps in Jacksonville, to keep in constant touch with the Weather Bureau in Miami, and when it was necessary, order an F.E.C. train down from Homestead, the last mainland town, to take the men to an emergency camp north of Miami.
     A hurricane, first recorded on August 31 northeast of Turks Island, had an unusually small center. It reached Andros Island with winds of phenomenal violence. But there was no one who could send proper reports of its progress. For a while the the hurricane was not even heard of. On the first of September northeast storm warnings were posted from Fort Pierce to Fort Myers, across the state. Caution was advised for the Florida Keys.
     Everybody in Miami now gave the presence of a hurricane in the area a startled respect. By the holiday of Labor Day, the second of September, Miami streets resounded with hammering, as people boarded up. By nightfall, the sky was overcast, the rain came in blasts, and the gusty wind increased. Yet in another hour the rain had stopped and there was hardly wind enough to scuffle the bushes. People opened up doors and looked out of rooms lighted by lamps and candles and said, 'I guess we're not going to get the hurricane after all.'
     About 350 veterans from the Keys camps, who had been brought up to Miami to see a Labor Day ball game, ranged the streets happily. But down the Keys people were already dying.
      All that day Ray Sheldon, chief of the FERA veterans' camps at Upper Matecumbe had been calling the Miami Weather Bureau  from Captain Ed Butters' hotel [Matecumbe Hotel]. Everybody on the line listened  anxiously. The barometer was dropping and they knew the hurricane must be coming nearer. 
    The Miami Weather Bureau told Sheldon it might hit the Keys.
At 12:15 Sheldon told Captain Edney Parker to telephone the Florida East Coast Railroad to send down the train that they had been told would be ready and waiting at Homestead. The train was not there. Orders were relayed to Miami. A train was made up and left Miami at 4:25 p.m. arriving in Homestead after five.
     By that time down the Keys, the light was cold and gray with wind hurling whitecaps among the mangroves from a gray sea and whipping the sand until it stung the faces of men boarding up their own houses and the neighbors. Boats were moved up coves. Men and boys ran barefooted through the smarting rain to buy candles and kerosene and canned goods at the little stores. Women peered out fearfully from shuttered houses at the streaming palms and the few cars driving the wet road, rain and spray scattering from their wheels. Children and chickens were inside.
     The barometers were still going down. The narrow land shook a little with the waves' heavier pounding. At the veterans' barracks the men packed up and moved out to huddle along the railway embankment, waiting for the train. They had to cover their faces because the stinging sand began to draw blood. Every once in a while one would say, 'It's coming. I hear it.' It was the wind coming in faster and faster over the bent trees with the high shaking hurricane rumble that sounds exactly like the never-ending passing of a freight train.
     Captain Parker had started to drive his truck home from Camp No. Five, after he had boarded it up. The men hung around disconsolately. He and his son-in-law, a man of 240 pounds, a fifty gallon drum of insecticide and the truck, crossing the exposed Whale Harbor fill, were picked up by a blast of wind arid hurled down toward the water. Struggling with the wheel, he got home in time to board up and sit down to supper by lamplight, with all his children around him. Like everybody else, he stopped constantly to listen to the wind.
     In the veterans' camps most of the men, with their bundles, still sat by the railroad tracks, waiting. Some had gone back into shelter. Some lay on their bunks and got drunk. Some tried to play poker.
     The train had left Homestead after five o'clock, backing down slowly. Sometimes the train crew had to stop and clear the tracks of broken trees. A few Key people with their children, on signal, boarded the train and went south with it into the storm darkness.
     After eight o'clock, J. A. Duncan, the keeper at Alligator Reef Light, who had been clutching the rail of the lower platform to steady himself, caught the gleam of light on a black mass of water looming over. He jumped for the ladder and held on as tons of salt water crashed over him. 'Ninety feet high,' he said afterward. It was the nearly twenty-foot hurricane wave. The lighthouse men clung all night halfway up to the light itself, the cold iron jarring in their scalded fists. Wind or spray or both shattered the 3/8-inch glass around the light, and the lenses themselves. One of the sections of the lens was carried six or eight miles away arid picked up on the beach unbroken.
     The mounded wave reared across The Hawk Channel. The hurricane smashed down on a narrow ten miles of Keys from Tavernier to Key Vaca. The wind was flung like knives, 150 to 200 miles an hour with unbelievable gusts at nearly 250 miles that took everything. The people in the small houses saw black water bubble up over floor boards as roofs were sliced off and chaos crashed down on them. People hung on as they could, clutching children, heaping pillows over children in floating beds as houses tilted and spun off their foundations. Captain Parker's house with his wife and ten children, roofless, was swept south by the northeast wind into the welter of sea.
     Doc Lowe, in his well-built house, buttoned his daughter's baby in his coat, tightened his belt, and got his family started out by lantern light for his hurricane shelter. The water rose up behind them. They stayed huddled in the small strong place that could not shut out the howling of the wind or the water. Something was lifting the whole place, the cables, the poured concrete. It trembled, tilted, cracked, tipped.
     They got out into the wind and water, hanging on to each other, holding the children out of the smashing waves that pulled terribly at their legs, so that they staggered, bent over. Doc Lowe, ahead, groped for something, anything to hang on to. He found something that he could get his fists around. It was a little tree, its top bent almost level but its roots deep in rock. They huddled and held on while he took his belt and fastened it around him and the tree, too. The men, his son and his nephew, held the children's heads above the water and held on to him and the women clutched them. In the pitch blackness they had to fend off boxes, boards, floating things the wind and water hurled at them, every wave nearly drowned them. 
     A timber smashed down on Doc Lowe's head, knocking him insensible and into the water. They held him up, held each other up, held up the children. The tree stood.
     There was a lull in that narrow ten-mile-wide hurricane. The Parkers found their wrecked house grounded on a beach a mile south. On Windley Key seven of the Becom family huddled in their car after their house had gone, kept the headlights shining through the rain over the waves that piled the debris high up the car's windward side. Five refugees saw the light and crowded in with the Becoms.
     At 8:30 the ten cars of the train had been shoved backward as far as the Islamorada water tank. When the great wave struck, they were flung on their sides by the uprooted track. Only the engine was left standing. The thirteen people in the cars held themselves and their children out of water all night long.
     All the buildings at Camp Five were smashed up and washed away.
     The hurricane's narrow calm center lasted at Lower Matecumbe Key for about forty minutes and at the ruins of Long Key Fishing Camp, from 9:20 to 10:15, before the winds started up with even greater violence, up to 250 miles per hour. The barometer reading, corrected to 26.35 inches, was the lowest yet recorded in the histories of West Indian and Atlantic hurricanes [over land].
     By daylight, in that ten miles, there were only a very few people left alive. Everything was gone - roads, buildings, docks, viaducts, trees, the railroad and the bridges.
     Of the innumerable dead, many were washed away and never seen again. Bodies were found hanging among overthrown and stripped mangroves, buried in sand and debris, rolling in sunken wrecks of boats. One hundred and twenty-one veterans were killed, 100 seriously injured and ninety were missing. One hundred and sixty-five Key people were killed and hardly any survivors were without injury. Out of seventy-nine Russells only eleven, and old man Russell himself, were left alive. The total, death list mounted, in weeks of dreadful search, to 400.
     The ruined ten miles of Keys lay like a leprous scar on the silky blue and green sea. The damage was done by the extraordinary winds and the hurricane wave. But the losses were increased by the rock embankment of the railroad that had dammed up the natural channels into Florida Bay. No one can say today whether the greatest damage was done by the piling up of the hurricane water, by the 30-foot rock fills, or by the undertows created by the irresistible force of its going out, that sucked everything away with it: men, wreckage, and the very sand under toppling  concrete walls and foundations.
     It was a strange and lonely tragedy. The Keys were completely cut off from the mainland. The bridge was out over the swirling current at Snake Creek. In Miami, nobody knew what had happened, as in the Keys the injured, hung up in trees, died of thirst, without help. It rained hard all Tuesday so that the living people, crawling about dazed, could collect rain water in buckets. The cisterns were choked with debris and fouling salt water.
     Men in boats got to the mainland, walking up the roads to Homestead with the news. Homestead people hurriedly organized to go down and help. By Wednesday, with the white hot sun bringing stenches out of the ruins and the rot, the Key people had begun to organize their own relief. They groped in the ruins of stores for canned goods. The women cooked coffee and food for everybody over open fires. Others bandaged and gave first aid. Men under Captain Parker already were searching out the dying and bringing them to shelters. Drying clothing hung on the slivered bushes.
     The boats from Homestead came down and the injured were moved to the hospital there, crowding the beds and corridors. Gangs of Negroes were brought down to work.
     The first doctor to get down in a boat to ravaged Camp Five was Dr. G. C. Franklin of Coconut Grove. He found the bodies of thirty-nine-men in a windrow, just as the last waves had left them.  A man sat calmly against a broken wall with a piece of two-by-four run completely through him, under his ribs, out over the kidneys. He refused the shot of morphine the doctor offered him, before he pulled it out. The man said that when it was pulled out he would die. He asked for two beers, drank them and said, 'Now pull.'
      Dr. Franklin pulled, and he died.
     There was no organized relief yet from Miami, except for a steady drift of volunteers, who went to work under Captain Parker discovering bodies. The Coast Guard sent supplies by five amphibian planes and a number of cutters. The National Guard was called out and regulations were imposed. There was friction between the officers and the haggard men of the Keys, going on steadily about their work of finding the dead. Boys, much too young, were sent down from the Miami CCC camp. Miami police helped identify veterans for burial in a Miami cemetery.
     Then orders came down that the dead were all to be cremated. Captain Parker pulled a pistol on the National Guard officer who tried to stop him and Ed Albury from putting the bodies of Ed's wife and child in caskets. They were let alone as the smoke of pyres lifted into the mild air.
     By the end of the week, the Red Cross arrived to set up an office in Tavernier, complete with trained workers and forms to be filled out. People who had been left with nothing were told now that to get help they must submit 'plans for rehabilitation.' There was a rising storm of complaints and bitterness, even more than there had been in Miami after the 26. But slowly, with Florida help as well, the people of the Keys who survived made something of their lives again. The veterans' group was broken up and those who had survived were quietly sent somewhere else.
     Indignation for the veterans led the national WPA to open an investigation to settle the blame for the tragedy, especially for the fact that the train did not arrive until too late. But when it was realized that a state organization would be brought to question, the inquiry was dropped.
     The hurricane had worked one good thing. The Overseas Railroad was abandoned. The channels were open into Florida Bay at last, and stayed that way, when a new roadway was built with bridges in place of solid rock causeways. 
     But while the Keys were still enveloped in the pall of their greatest tragedy, in little more than a month the fourth hurricane of that year of 1935 had made a strange hairpin turn up from its origin in the Sea of Colombia toward Haiti and Jamaica and down again to be dissipated against the mountains behind Honduras. It caused great land damage and 150 deaths. Florida paid little attention, however, until an a even more, freakish hurricane, October 30 to November 1, started up east of Bermuda where no hurricanes have ever, been known to begin. Perhaps it was a storm that grew into a hurricane as it came crazily south past the Carolinas to the Bahamas, and then on a straight line to Florida where it scared the wits out of Miami before crossing the state and, out in the Gulf, looping back to Tampa. Its damage was not great but Florida people took toll for the wear and tear on their nerves, so soon after the Keys disaster, by calling it 'the Yankee hurricane.'"
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