New England Gale, Sept 1869

The Gale of September 8, 1869.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 8, 1869, occurred the last violent gale that New England has experienced. In the early part of the afternoon the weather was warm and pleasant, but at about half-past three the wind began to breeze up from the southeast and rain commenced to fall. The wind increased in force until five o'clock, when it blew a hurricane and continued raging until between eight and nine o'clock in the evening. It was accompanied by a heavy fall of rain, which came down in sheets, flooding the streets and greatly refreshing the earth after a long drought. A warm still atmosphere succeeded the wind, and the next day the weather was fine.

The storm was a very narrow one, being less than fifty miles wide. It passed over Narragansett and Buzzard bays in a northerly direction, and when it reached the coast, at Boston, its course changed to the northeast, following the shore a far as Cape Ann. It then swept across the ocean to the coast of Maine, and was felt but a short distance below Portland. The city of Fall River, Mass., was in the middle of the storm belt, but the extremity of Cape Cod escaped the ranging elements, and it was an ordinary storm at Lowell, Mass, and at Nashua, N. H.

Great damage was done on both land and water. Telegraph wires, trees fences and chimneys were blown down in every direction, and a great amount of fruit was destroyed. Many roads were blocked with fallen trees, and several tall factory chimneys were blown to the ground. In Boston, the famous Coliseum building was wrecked, and with it its great organ and big drum. A fatal accident happened at the time it was blown over to Granville M. Clark, who lived near the building. He was just entering his residence when he heard that a person had been injured in the fall of the Coliseum, and he started to go there, but a furious gust of wind tore up the wooden sidewalk on which he was walking, and the timber was hurled against him so violently that his skull was badly fractured, his lips severely cut, and one arm broken. He fell bleeding and insensible, and died shortly after seven o'clock. The beautiful spire of the Hanover street Methodist church was blown down and several fine church edifices in the city were severely injured. In Chelsea, Mass., a tenement block was entirely blown down, and another house was lifted from its foundations. The spire of the First Baptist church, in Lynn, one hundred and sixty feet in height, also fell, nearly crushing the western wing of the church. A house on Marblehead Neck was blown down, injuring two men, one of whom died the next morning. At Salem, John Grover was carried some distance by the wind, and had one of his shoulders broken. In Peabody, Thomas E. Proctor's large building, two hundred feet long, was blown over, a two-story house was moved from its foundation, and two or three other houses were blown down. At Beverly, two houses and several other buildings were blown over. In Hamilton, the wind blew down Francis Dane's great barn, which was one hundred feet long.

The gale was also disastrous on the ocean, vessels dragged their anchors in the harbors and elsewhere, several being driven ashore at Marblehead, Mass., and at Kennebunk, Boothbay, Portland, and Orr's island in Maine. At Gloucester, the scene on the beach was most exciting, wrecks being strewn along the shore. Fortunately there were but a few craft in port at the time, else there would have been greater loss. The crews of several vessels were saved by means of the lifeboat after repeated attempts had failed on account of the fearful power of the sea. A brave crew of seven men volunteered for the hazardous service, and another man risked his life to carry a rope to one of the vessels, by means of which the men were saved. Several other heroic acts were performed at this port during the gale.

The schooner Helen Elisa, belonging in Rockport, Mass., with a crew of twelve men, Edward J. Millet, master, was near Portland, Maine, when the storm came on, and the captain decided to take refuge in that harbor. They had sailed within sight of Ram island when a thick fog settled over the coast, followed by the rain and wind. Cables broke and sails blew away. The men saw Portland light, and concluded to run to it, but could not make the channel. With anchors gone, in the terrible sea, the hurricane drove them on. Captain Millet stood at the helm till he was killed, it is supposed, by a blow from the main boom. The schooner struck on Peak's island, smashing in the bow, and instantly killing five of the crew. Having divested himself of all his clothing but his trousers and shirt, Charles Jordan, one of the survivors, ran into the hold, but scarcely reached it when a tremendous sea tore off the deck, and he was swept into the raging waters. He regained the wreck, and clung to it while he got his breath and rested. An empty barrel was floating near the vessel, and he swam to it, using it as support. The wave ran fearfully high, and as he was driven toward the shore he passed two of his shipmates who were clinging to a plank. He was carried in the direction of a rocky bluff, and was almost exhausted in trying to keep the barrel in position, the undertow becoming very powerful as he approached the shore. The waves would heave him toward the ledges, and then bury him in their treacherous waters, but at length he grasped the rocks, and in their crevices he put his fingers, holding on until he could regain strength to drag himself up their steep and jagged sides. He finally reached the top, becoming completely exhausted. He heard one of the men calling, but they were seen no more. Mr. Jordan discovered that he was a ledge, at some distance from the shore, and after a short time he again plunged into the raging waves to make another struggle in the surf. His strength was fast leaving him, and he apparently made no headway; moments seemed hours; but he finally reached the shore, and drew himself beyond the breakers. It was about nine o'clock in the evening, and after awhile he found a house, whose inmates furnished him with clothing, nourishment and care. He was the only one of the crew that was saved. Four bodies were found, and their funeral was held in the First Congregational church at Rockport on Saturday of the same week.

Historic Storms of New England, its Gales, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Showers with Thunder and Lightning, Great Snow Storms, Rains, Freshets, Floods, Droughts, Cold Winters, Hot Summers, Avalanches, Earthquakes, Dark Days, etc..., by Sidney Perley, 1891, pages 329-331