Sunday, August 28, 2011

From 1938: Panic Rules At Hospital For Insane

The most damaging hurricane to hit the Northeast was the "New England" storm of 1938, which hit on September 21.

The following is a reprint of an article appearing in the September 22, 1938 issue of the Hartford Courant. The first photo is from the Wesleyan Special Collections and Archives Blog, the second two are selections from a separate one-page spread in the September 22nd Courant.

In subsequent months, the Courant reported that Wesleyan had lost 315 trees, and was actively planting new ones to replace them (most of the large trees on campus today were planted in the fall of 1938).

Inmates Run Wildly in Wards While Storm Rages; Middletown Reports Ruin
More than 2000 inmates of the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane, driven into a panic when the hurricane ripped roofs off four hospital buildings, ran wildly through the wards of the hospital for several hours Wednesday afternoon, according to [illegible].

All available nurses, doctors, and attendants were called into service to quiet them. It was impossible to quiet the patients until the wind died down.

All employees of the hospital were put on 24-hour duty. Dr. Roy L. Leak, superintendent of the hospital, said the damage will run into thousands of dollars. Only a couple of trees remained upright on the hospital property. Roof made of large sheets of tin and in some cases whole blocks of the roof rafters, measuring 15 feet square, were blown a distance of 150 feet.

College Chapel Damaged.
The belfry of the Wesleyan College chapel was blown down and fell through, tearing off most of the roof. The building is almost wrecked. A number of students in chapel at the time were uninjured. The campus, one of the city's most beautiful spots, was in ruins, and all the trees were down.

American Legion workers assisted police in directing traffic. There was almost no phone service, the only exchange that could be reached being Hartford. All roads to and from the city were closed and hundreds of tourists and truckmen were marooned here. Hotels and boarding houses were taxed to capacity.

In the meantime the river continued to rise rapidly and during the heavy winds the fleet of boats off the Middletown Yacht Club were blown from their moorings, several, including T.M. Russell's sloop, "Felisi," being blown ashore at Portland.

Main Street was considerably damaged by falling trees and the road to the Middlesex Hospital was blocked by trees uprooted in the storm. Trees blocked the only entrance to the hospital and men worked throughout the night to clear the path in the event the ambulance was wanted. Several cars were struck by trees.

Dozen Autos Crushed.
More than a dozen automobiles were crushed by falling trees, but only one injury was reported. Mrs. Burton R. Camp was slightly cut when caught in her light car on High Street in front of the residence of President James L. McConaughy of Wesleyan. The roof of the Honors College at Wesleyan was also ripped away.

The sky-light at the Middlesex Hospital was blown off and the entire roof on the two-family brick dwelling of Mrs. Anna Donofrio, 616 High Street, was left hanging. Mrs. Donofrio and the family of N. Witenberg were in the house at the time the terrific gust lifted the roof from over their heads. No one was injured, however. Trees fell against numerous other houses on side streets west of Main Street. The roof of the old Sanseer Plant on the east side of Main Street Extension and the tar paper atop the Middletown Silk company were ripped away. Trees on all streets west of Main Street were uprooted or snapped off like toothpicks, falling in all directions. The entire length of High Street, Washington Street in the Washington Green section, and South Main Street were the hardest hit.

Axel Packard, manager of the Connecticut Power Company, said that energy is still reaching the Columbus Avenue and Water Street substations and that he hopes to have some service restored on local lines by Thursday noon. Service at the hospital will be restored first. Cromwell and Portland were also badly hit by the storm, hundreds of trees and poles being torn down.

Church Tower Ripped.
Creating the most concern was a huge rip in the tower of the First Congregational Church on Court Street and the swaying of the 200 foot spire in the wind. One policeman was stationed nearby to give the alarm if it should start to go. On Middletown's Main Street, plate glass in the windows of the Sears Roebuck and Company, the Hub Radio, Page and Warner, and the Parkview Pharmacy, were blown in by the force of the gale. Hands of the clock atop the Municipal Building were blown from one side out through the other. A large billboard over the Parkview Pharmacy and a similar sign on the Mason block were ripped away. The Middletown Fire Department's hook and ladder crew was called to the latter building to remove the debris. Several other signs on Main Street establishments were tor4n away or damaged badly.

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