The Great New England Hurricane of 1938

Back in 1938 when hurricanes were unnamed and forecasting of storm tracks was primitive at best, one hurricane stands out for the speed and intensity of the storm and the far northern track that it took. Now called The Great New England Hurricane of 1938, it struck the southern coast of New England on the afternoon of September 21st. The day had dawned sunny and bright, by all accounts a beautiful Indian summer day. By mid-afternoon the storm roared ashore off new Long Island Sound ravaging everything in its path. By 4:00 the storm had moved inland leaving in its wake beaches scoured of all standing structures, a death toll in the hundreds and untold havoc to the life and commerce of the region. The loss of life, mostly by drowning, was tragic enough in itself, but I was also personally moved by the fact that the very face of New England was changed forever with the loss of thousands of stately elm trees that had long dominated residential streets and village greens.

The storm was not well covered by the national news outlets of the day. The International News Service did publish postcards detailing the damage and destruction. The postcards are black and white views printed by the Tichnor Corporation in Boston whose printing plant had survived the storm. There were three sets printed.

The first is a random set of storm related scenes from both coastal and inland communities. Each postcard had a thin white border with black text identifying subject matter and location – the sole exception being an unidentified location without caption where survivors are viewed hand picking storm debris. My earliest known use of postcards from this set is October 3, 1938, less than two weeks following the storm. Postcards are listed alphabetically by state and locality. Unknown state locations are identified as US (Unknown State). Each postcard in this set includes the following imprint at the top of the message half of the card:


September 21, 1938 will long be remembered as the date of the Big Hurricane which swept New England—in all history something never before known in this part of the country. The loss of lives was appalling, property damage mounted to hundreds of millions of dollars and the homeless counted to hundreds of thousands. The tremendous fury of the wind left behind destruction, destitution and utter ruin.

CTShattered Boats And Wreckage, New London
MABusiness Section Under Water, Athol
MARuins of Ancient Trees on Boston Common, Boston
MASmall Craft become Kindling At City Point, Boston
MAThis Roof Was Blown Off At Boston, Mass.
MACottage Blown Into The Canal Under Sagamore Bridge, Cape Cod
MAAutomobiles Hurled Thru Air land On Waterfront, Falmouth, Cape Cod
MAHomeless Salvaging Their Belongings, Falmouth, Cape Cod
MAA Freak Of The Hurricane At New Bedford
MAMass of Ruins At Onset, Cape Cod
MASection of Onset in Complete Ruins at Cape Cod
MAHuge Oil Tanker Left High And Dry After The Tiodal Wave At Somerset Near Fall River
MAParked Cars Crushed By Huge Trees On State Street, Springfield
MAReinforcing Levee Against Flood Waters At Springfield
MAFishing Boats Thrown Ashore At Wood's Hole, Cape Cod
MAAuto Wrecked By Falling Roof, Worcester
MAUnitarian Church In Ruins At Woecester
MAWreck Of Kane's Furniture Store, Worcester
NHFallen Trees And Flood, Concord
RINothing Was Left But Wreckage, Misquamicut
RIExclusive Bailey's Beach Entirely Wiped Out, Newport
RIExchange Place, Providence
RIFreak Of Wind Lands Boat on Railroad Tracks, Providence
RISteamer Sunk At Pier, Providence
RIUnusual Sight On Dorrance Street, Centre of Business Section, Providence
USMen Picking Through Strewn Wreckage (No Lettering In White Frame)
USAncient Victim of the Storm's Fury
USCommon Scene On A New England Highway
USHouse Being Crushed By Fallen Trees
USMass Of Wreckage Of The Montreal Express
USPassage Cut Thru Highway Gives Suggestion of Lumbercamp Scene
USTrees Fell Like Tenpins Along The Highway
USTwisted Mass Of Huige Oaks And Maples
USVictim Of A Fallen Tree On The Highway
USWreck Of The Montreal Express


The second set followed closely on the heels of the first set with my earliest known use being October 7, 1938. Four days doesn’t provide conclusive proof as to the order of the two sets but the imprint on this set varies from the first and appears more complete and polished. Additionally a handful of the views are credited to both the Boston Post and Boston Herald newspapers, perhaps an effort to include additional coverage of the storm’s aftermath particularly in Boston itself. The postcards are also numbered with the highest seen to date being No. 33. An odd number seems unlikely for ending a set so perhaps there are more yet to be found. Perhaps readers can provide additional numbers.



September 21, 1938 will long be remembered as the date of the Disastrous Hurricane which swept New England, an upheaval of Nature seldom, if ever known to this part of the country. In its wake it left behind a horrible death toll of over 600, with another 100 persons still missing; nearly 6000 homes were completely destroyed and the total damage amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. The fury of the wind crippled power, light and telephone systems, uprooted hundreds of thousands of great trees and countless smaller trees, and wrecked an untold amount of boats and small craft.

1Ancient Victim Of The Storm's Fury In The Public Garden, Boston, Mass.
2300 Year Old Tree Down In Front Of State House, Boston, Mass.
3Beautiful Old Trees Uprooted By Hurricane, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
4A Mass Of Twisted Limbs And Roots In The Public Garden, Boston, Mass
5This Tree Like Thousands of Others Blocked Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Mass.
6Brattle Street's Beautiful Elms In Ruins, Cambridge, Mass.
7A Mass of Wreck And Ruin At City Point, Boston, Mass.
8All That Remains of Beautiful Pleasure Craft, City Point, Boston, Mass.
9Result Of The Hurricane At Franklin Square, Boston, Mass.
10Homes Damaged By Fallen Trees On Mt. Auburn Street, Cambridge, Mass.
11Pleasure Craft Becomes Kindling At City Point, Boston, Mass
12Taxi Trapped By Huge Fallen Tree, Beacon Near Charles St., Boston, Mass.
13Church Destroyed By Hurricane's Fury, Cambridge, Mass.
16Yacht Hurled Ashore Settles On Lawn, Watch Hill, R.I.
17Steeple Of First Congregational Church Crashed To Ground, Pawtucket, R.I.
18Wreckage Of Boats On Kings Beach, Lynn, Mass.
20A Scene on Main Street, Newport R.I.
22The Flood Wall Didn't Work, Haverhill, Mass.
23Boats Piled Up On Railroad Bridge, Tivorton, R.I.
24A Mass of Wreck and Ruins, Tivorton, R.I.
25Freak Of The Hurricane, Tivorton, R.I.
26Hugh Oil Tanker Left High And Dry After the Tidal Wave At Somerset, Near Fall River, Mass.
27Scene Where Most Casualties Occurred, Portsmouth, R.I.
28Wreckage On Main Road At Island Park, Portsmouth, R.I.
29House Blown From Shore To Main Road Bet. Stone Bridge And Newport Island Park, Portsmouth, R.I.
30Ruins At Cranston, R.I.
31Wreckage Looking Up Beach Street, Narragansett Pier, R.I.
32Militia Takes Control After Tidal Wave, Portsmouth, R.I.
33Roof Of Classical High School In Ruins, Worcester, Mass.


There is also a third and much smaller set that focuses on the damages and flooding to center city Providence. Just five postcards comprise the set which are numbered P1 – P5. The imprint is the same as the numbered set. No photo credit appears on any of the postcards. Again, my earliest known use is October 7, 1938.

P1Exchange Place, Providence
P2The Mall - Showing Union Station, Providence
P3Exchange Place - Showing City Hall And Biltmore Hotel, Providence
P4Eddy Street Looking Towards Westminster Street, Providence
P5The Mall - Showing Biltmore Hotel And Union Station, Providence


There is also another small set published by Sand’s Photo of Kingston, Rhode Island and focusing on beach damage and cleanup efforts in the coastal communities of Charlestown and Quonocontaug, Rhode Island. Postcards are press printed by the Collotype process and are unnumbered. All examples seen to date are unused without postal cancellations.