Hurricane Warning Flag
THE 
LAST FLING
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HURRICANE CAROL 1954
Stories from Westport, Massachusetts

Over 2,000 Copies of The Last Fling have been sold!
The Last Fling, book cover

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK

The Last Fling is a fascinating tale of a life-altering event of courage, terror and survival. There are first hand stories from more than 60 individuals and families and what they experienced as their homes and town were torn apart during Hurricane Carol in 1954. The book speaks of the spirit of the times and the people as wind and waves crashed without warning into a Massachusetts coastal town making Carol one of the most destructive natural disasters the area ever endured. The narrative is complemented by more than 40 illustrations. It is an absolutely vivid and charming depiction of life at another time, in a specific place. Most importantly, it is a story about a community, its people and the human spirit and how we all manage to survive in times of disaster as we experience these events together.

EXCERPTS

#1

It was 6:30 a.m. on August 31st before authorities in Massachusetts first used the word “hurricane,” and it was just after 7:30 a.m. before the first hurricane advisory bulletin was issued. That timing may have given some warning to the Boston area but it was almost too late for those in Westport, nearly 75 miles south on the south facing coast, situated on the right quadrant and about to get blasted. She had dead aim on the local bays - Narragansett and Buzzards. Sandwiched between the two bays was Westport.

When my Dad called long-time native Steve Howland on the phone around nine in the morning, Steve said we were safe in our house as long as the wind did not shift. But the wind did shift to the south - southeast and that is when all hell broke loose. The wind swept in off the ocean and the rain stampeded behind it. Battleship gray waves crashed onto shore, gutted and moved homes that had been built anew after the ‘38 hurricane and made matchsticks out of some of the structures. Vicious winds uprooted trees and snapped telephone poles as the rain came down horizontally. The white foam ocean jumped the barrier-beach roads and united with abutting ponds. Rivers exploded their banks and took boats, docks and boathouses with them.

 

#2

Off we went into the sheets of rain that were being driven sideway.“Hold on to each other!” Angela demanded.

It was approximately 9:30 a.m.

As we vacated our house, we spotted our neighbors to the north, Ray and Musette Smith, driving toward us in a southerly direction on Hillside Road. We were holding on to each other in the front yard heading to our black 1952 Chrysler New Yorker Coupe when my Dad flagged them down.

“Where are you going, Ray?” he screeched over the howling wind.

Smith said he was going back to his “winter house” in Fall River. My father, now showing the concern he attempted to mask while he was in the house, shouted, “You’ll never make it, too many trees and wires will be down. Let’s all go to high ground at the Acoaxet Club where we will be safe.” The Smiths agreed. We piled into the Smiths’ car and turned around to head back north on Hillside Road toward the Smiths’ house, which they had purchased less than four months earlier.

At that point the south-facing overhang roof on Smiths’ front porch ripped loose and became air-born, sailing like a Frisbee and heading directly for the Smiths’ automobile. Ray hit the brakes, not knowing where the roof would land. The roof overhang landed five feet in front of the car in the middle of the road. Just a second later and the five of us would have been killed, as the roof would certainly have crushed the car despite the fact that cars made at that time looked like and were built like tanks. Quickly, we did another about-face.   Mr. Smith made a three-point turn back south on Hillside Road to Howland Road and then headed north to the Acoaxet Club. 

 

#3

The water got deeper as the bus proceeded along Atlantic Avenue, and at about the halfway mark the engine stalled and would not restart. After waiting in the bus with the water and waves crashing on its south-facing side, the three musketeers abandoned ship, which now was being moved in a northerly direction by the storm. If they stayed in the bus they were in danger and if they left the bus there was peril certainly waiting. It was approaching high tide but those on board the bus were neither aware of that nor would they have cared.

They decided to evacuate. Mary and Dana removed their shoes and put them in their raincoat pockets. The driver took his coin changer, which held the proceeds from the day’s trip. The churning water was nearly hip deep when they disembarked from the bus. The water tore Mary’s socks off as soon as she touched it. They looked hurriedly for the nearest safe house. It was Bill and Flossie Snows’ next to the Elephant Rock Pavilion, but once they went past the shelter of the bus, they realized they could never make it back there. The waves were too strong. They headed north to the dock on the pond. It was getting close to 10:30 a.m. and shortly thereafter, the eye of the hurricane passed over, merely an hour before high tide. It had all come together to create the perfect storm on Atlantic Avenue, the three-quarter mile stretch that connects the two sides of Westport Harbor.

Boom!      The first wave hit.          

The blue and white painted bus slid sideways.   Then a series of left jabs and right hooks slapped the south facing side of the bus. 

Boom!                        

Boom! 

The bus tipped over on its side and was knocked right off the road. It eventually floated out into the pond where it remained upright for days until it was salvaged.

 

#4

It was shortly after then that Laura’s Restaurant broke away and began to float up river. Two employees, Natalie Silva, age 20, a waitress, and 64–year-old, Harry Macomber, a kitchen helper, were spotted in the lower level of the building screaming for help. That sight sent others into the water for a rescue. The employees, upon reaching the safety of shore, screamed,  “The bartender is still out there.” 

Sixty-four–year-old Jim Hickey was spotted hanging out of the second floor window of the bar section of the building. But no one was making a move to save Hickey. It was simple. The men did not like the crotchety, old bartender and he held the bar tab records. None of the local men wanted Hickey or the records back. More innocent youngsters, like 15-year-old Paul DeNadal, Sheila’s brother, and William White, jumped into a skiff to go save Jim. By the time they reached him on the south side of the building, salt spray and foam covered their faces and the water was up to Jim’s chin.  He was barely able to keep his head above water while rats were jumping out the windows all around him.   Even during the rescue, Hickey was trying to save a strong box presumably with the bar’s I.O.U’s.  Hickey was saved, sent to the hospital, but the bar tabs were never recovered despite the fact, that the building ended up on a mudflat and never did sink completely. The building sat there for a couple of years before one hot summer evening there was a tragic, unexpected bonfire out in the river and Laura’s Restaurant finally was no more. The fire department had been alerted in advance not to rush to put out the fire.