As we enter Hurricane Season in Providence we count ourselves lucky to have seen Hurricane  IRENE pass by without causing much more damage other than trees down and power outages.  A look back in time to September 21, 1938 and we can begin to understand better what few people remember—the destruction and human suffering that came with the Hurricane on that date.

Front Page Providence Journal Sept. 21, 1938
Front page of the Providence Journal Sept. 22, 1938
Our Library Newspaper Collection helps us understand the story of the Great Hurricane of 1938.  The Library is the repository for the Rhode Island Newspaper Project and houses a microfilm collection of almost every Rhode Island newspaper ever published.  To find out what newspaper titles exist for a particular time and place for Rhode Island and beyond search  Library of Congress Chronicling America  Historic American Newspapers.
A glance at the headlines in the Providence Journal  of Tuesday September 20, 1938, the day before the tragedy, shows how unprepared Rhode Island was for the approach of  the storm that was making its way towards Florida before heading up the East Coast.

 “FLORIDA CLEARS DECKS TO FACE HURRICANE WHICH MAY NOT COME, Weather Bureau Reports Severe Storm Sweeping Toward Coast with 75 Mile-an-Hour Winds Has Changed Its Course” –Providence Journal 20 Sept 1938

The next day, September 21, 1938, the front page of the Providence Journal announced what all the readers in the area already knew – nature can be overpowering and human life fragile in the path of a hurricane.
This extra edition of the Providence Journal was printed on the presses of a rival paper, The Woonsocket Call, because of the flooding and power outage in the City of Providence.
To research other monster storms in Rhode Island’s history, The Great Hurricane of 1815,  CAROL 31 August 1954 and BOB 19 August 1991, visit the RIHS Library to find newspapers, photographs, books, oral histories and film on your topic.  The image below is from a book in the Library’s Print Collection titled  The Complete Historical Record of New England’s Stricken Area September 21, 1938  published by The Woonsocket Call (Providence, RI, 1938).

East Providence and Warren RI shipwrecks after the storm of 1938
Images from The Woonsocket Call photo essay of 1938
The 1938 photo caption reads as follows: [left] “EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. The storm took heavy toll of shipping as it piled up scores of ships like the Standard Oil Tanker shown here which lies battered and broken on the rocky Rhode Island shores – Providence Journal”  [right] “WARREN, RI. The ship “G. H. Church” snuggled between a gas tank and a telegraph poll. Note warning to boil water before using. –Providence Journal.”
NEXT WEEK  the Collections Blog will have details on Hannah Farber’s upcoming talk about Rhode Island’s maritime insurance industry—  COMMERCE, THE NATION AND THE ATLANTIC: American Marine Insurers in the Napoleonic  Era —  at 6:30 pm on 21 Sept 2011 at the RIHS Library, 121 Hope Street., Providence, RI.


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