It’s October 31st, and A Fine Collection is spoiled for choice, topic-wise.  Halloween! Elections! Superstorm!  As you’ve guessed from today’s title, I decided to go with the weather theme.  But first: here’s a photo of election day in Barnesville, 1944, to remind you to vote on or before November 6.

On to hurricanes.  This photo in our collections was donated by Albert Bouic, and is thought to show damage to the Bouic house in downtown Rockville after “the 1896 storm.”  Thanks to weather fans, who have detailed the 1896 hurricane season on sites like Weather Underground and Wikipedia, we can guess that this refers to Hurricane Number 4 (the National Hurricane Center didn’t start assigning official names until 1953), which hit the DC area at the end of September.

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It’s kind of a cute picture, with the boys perched in the toppled tree and probably enjoying the excitement.  The hurricane was no joke, however.  The Montgomery County Sentinel reported on the storm on October 2nd, under the headline “A Tremendous Hurricane Does Great Damage in the County”:

“The great storm, which visited this locality on Tuesday night last, was the most destructive in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, and did damage that will take thousands of dollars to repair.” 

Several people around the county were killed by falling trees; one gentleman suffered heart failure “brought on by the excitement of the storm;” and others suffered near misses, like the young son of Mary Cook of Lincoln Park who, after the family’s house was crushed by a tree, was “found in the woods in a state of hysterical fright.”

Property damage was considerable, and communications were cut thanks to fallen telephone and telegraph wires and streets “blockaded” with “debris of trees, tin roofs, telephone poles and wires.”  Roofs were blown off, barns and windmills were blown down, harvested crops were scattered and lost, and trees fell on houses and businesses.  “The waiting shed at the Baltimore & Ohio [Railroad] depot was lifted up bodily and deposited upside down in the adjoining field.”  The Sentinel offices themselves were “unroofed,” and I was somewhat startled to learn that “the residence of Miss Margaret Beall [i.e., our museum] was much damaged, leaving the brick walls in a rather unsafe condition.”  (So much for my belief that the House has weathered nearly 200 years without major damage.)

Several churches in the county were severely damaged, including two in Rockville: the “African M.E. Church [which] was fully wrecked” (probably refering to Jerusalem-Mt. Pleasant UMC, which lost its steeple in 1896), and Christ Episcopal Church, shown below shortly after the storm, in a photo from Charles Brewer.

Again from the Sentinel: “The spire of Christ Episcopal Church, which was subjected to the full force of the gale, was blown down, and the heavy brick base broke through the roof of the edifice.  The stained glass window in front was shattered.  It will require about $2,000 to repair the damage.  The interior was uninjured.”  The building was repaired and today looks much the same as it did before the storm.

A survey of the Washington Post headlines from late September-early October 1896 shows that the entire DC area was affected by the storm.  In some ways the newspaper coverage is reminiscent of this past week’s during Hurricane Sandy: details of damage, fatalities, injuries, lost communication, and anticipated costs.  On the other hand, the 1896 storm hit on September 29th, but the Sentinel was a weekly paper; residents had to wait until Friday for their local news.

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