While it has been 50 years since Brigantine suffered the March 1962 storm, residents who were on the island at the time have clear and distinct memories of the devastation.
Former Councilwoman Sue Schilling was in the eighth grade at Central School, where the library is now, and lived at 200 13th Street South.
“There was three days of high winds, but I had no clue about the devastation. After the storm my strongest memories were south on the beach. A large home at 29th and Ocean had the whole side of the house gone. There was an upstairs bathroom with a bathtub, and there was still clothing hanging from the shower rod.”
Linda Davoli was living in the second house in from Ocean Avenue on 35th Street. She remembers the waves crashing on the dunes the first day of the storm.
“My father, brother and I ran to the beach to check it out," she said. "One-third of the dunes were already gone, and giant waves were crashing into the dunes. All of a sudden the 34th Street lifeguard hut fell into the ocean and was swept up by a large wave and crushed against the dunes.”
That evening the water reached Ocean Avenue.
“The next morning we woke up to find our house completely surrounded by water. There were 2-foot white waves running down 35th Street. The next two days we watched the waves slam into the oceanfront houses, breaking them apart piece by piece. On the third morning we woke up to discover that two houses were completely gone. Someone’s oil tank had washed across Ocean Avenue into our neighbor’s yard.”
Stephanie Stahler remembered “being so scared with the water all around the house” that she stayed upstairs all through the night.
“The houses on the ocean were all over the place," she remembers. "We found all these liquor bottles from the Brigantine Hotel all over the beach.”
Retired Brigantine Police Chief XXX, responding from Florida, said he was 11 years old and living in a house in the middle of the island at 179 Ninth Street South.
“When the storm came it was relentless for three days. The ocean and the bay seemed to meet in our front yard. It was up to the flood joists under our house, and you could hear the water lapping under the floor. We had some Coleman lanterns and a Coleman stove in our home because in those days the loss of electric power was a common occurrence.”
He said supplies bread and milk were brought to them by two men in a duck boat.
“The damage was really bad to the homes along the 400 block of Ocean Avenue with some having been washed from their foundation and relocated a few lots away. The most severe damage was from about Fifth South to 14th Street North,” he said.
“I remember looking down Brigantine Avenue from Roosevelt Boulevard and it looked like a bomb went off. Houses and tourists cabins had been ripped from their foundations by the raging ocean and sat in the middle of Brigantine Avenue.”
Verna Seimes Adkisson has a story about Mrs. Brown's store around Revere Boulevard.
“Mrs. Brown was a widow who operated a small food store on the first floor of her two-story home. The house was on the beach (no bulkheads). After the storm I went for a walk to see the damage along Brigantine Avenue. Mrs. Brown was standing outside her home surveying the damage. I called hello to her, and as she responded, her whole house collapsed in ruins in front of us. The house was never rebuilt, and I never saw her again.
“We also found two huge turtles in our front yard that eventually returned to the ocean.”
Patricia Wells said she moved to Brigantine the week before the storm.
“We lived on the beach block at 34th Street. My sister and I sat at the window watching sofas, refrigerators, beds, etc. floating down the street. We knew nothing about the ocean and as it came up onto the porch, we were advised that we would probably be evacuated. Luckily, the water stopped at our door.
“The next day we rode around looking at the houses that now appeared like doll houses – the beach side gone, and rooms with furniture faced the water.”
Jack Behr said he remembers delivering his newspapers in a rowboat.
“But as a writer, I’m not sure if it’s a real memory or one I made up and came to believe over the many years. I do know every one of those newspapers somehow got delivered. And when it came time to collect payment for them, there were less houses on my route than before the storm.”
“My dad tied my mother’s Volkswagen to the house, and when the waters covered the island, that car was airtight and bobbing around in the front yard,” Pat Pooley reminisced.
“I slept though most of the storm and when I got up, someone was rowing a boat down our street. When the power went out we sat around the living room with candlelight and told spooky stories.” Kareen King remembers looking out the top floor of her family’s house on the 200 block of 26th Street and watching a canoe going down Revere Boulevard.
“Our house was surrounded by water and the tide came in three times – each time it came up higher.
“Water was in the house and left a layer of mud. I remember walking to the beach with Pat Bewley and seeing the houses along the beach with their walls ripped away and being able to see the furniture and even clothes in the closet. There was a house on 29th Street on the beach that was built on pilings with a ramp leading to it. There was not a piece of wood to be found after the storm. I will never forget those three days.”
Philip Riley said he had a neighbor who was a duck hunter, and they took his duck boat out and rowed up and down the street.
“I also remember digging in the beach sand after the storm and finding a ton of nickels and dimes from the vending machines at Hunter’s Restaurant which was destroyed. I think I was honest enough to turn the money over to Mr. and Mrs. Hunter – or I’d like to think so.”
Retired Mayor Ed Kline was 14 years old.
“We didn’t think it would be as bad as it was. We were at 31st Street and Brigantine Avenue and it didn’t flood due to the elevation. Everyone on the island brought their cars to the triangle in front of Jack’s Pharmacy. My father was in construction, and we used his dump trucks and bulldozers to clean up after the storm.
“I rode around with John Stone, the father to the current police chief, and picked up debris all over the island. I do remember that Brad’s Luncheonette at Roosevelt and Brigantine avenues blew across the street. Roosevelt Boulevard flooded out because there was a valley in the road. After the storm we filled that valley with 5 feet of dirt and raised up the road.”
Laura Bauder had only been in Brigantine for about a year when the storm hit.
“I had a 3-year-old as we were living on Roosevelt Boulevard. We took in a family from down the street. After the storm we walked down to the beach. The realty office that was there was cut in half. My memory is that Brad’s Luncheonette washed out to sea. I remember the National Guard would not allow anyone to go north of Roosevelt Avenue because of all the flooding.”
Linda Sayers was 10.
“The Marines were stationed in Brigantine. My father, Col. Sayers, spearheaded the effort in Margate. He stayed there and did not come home because the damage was so great that travel was impossible. The Schaible Building was at the end of Roosevelt Boulevard (Brigantine Avenue). The repeated high tides sent waves crashing into the structure, causing one half of the building to slide into the sea. The building with its three apartments inside looked just like a dollhouse with the furniture that still remained in place.”
The owners of the Log Cabins at Eighth Street North had their residence float down the street. After the storm they got a flatbed, put their house on it, and plopped it back down where it belonged.
“We lived on 10th Street South, and when the tide came in, the ocean ran down the street towards the bay, and when the tide went out, the water ran back to the ocean. We had no power. My friends, the Smedleys, had boats crashing against their house in the bay block.
“We had sea grass everywhere, and there were glass ampules everywhere that contained a white powder. Our father told my sister and me not to touch them.”
Her cousin, retired Atlantic City Police Capt. James Andros, remembered that the 12- to 15-foot sand dunes were completely flattened.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, who owned a small restaurant awakened to the ocean crashing through their restaurant. They escaped in the middle of the night carrying their parrot in his cage.
“They never found their safe. It is still buried there in the sand. A huge oil tank that fed the boilers at the Brigantine Hotel just completely washed away, and the waves crashed through the windows where there was a piano bar. It was also reported that an Army ‘deuce and a half’ – a 2.5-ton transport truck – was lost … never to be found after Brigantine Avenue collapsed and the truck went down in a hole.”
Bill Smith remembers sitting up in his room at 213 27th Street watching the ocean and the bay meet in front of his house.
“We had some water in our first floor, but not that much compared to other houses. The thing that made the flooding so bad was that the moon was at its perigee (closest point to the Earth) and it was also a full moon. We had our boat up on cinder blocks in the backyard, and my dad and I had to chase it after it floated off the blocks.”
Smith has an 8 mm film of the storm shot by his father, Raymond Smith. A slide show of images from the film is posted on YouTube. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4dtBA1GLxM&feature=youtu.be (above).
The Beachcomber News would like to thank all the present and former residents of Brigantine who shared their memories for this article.
Sue Shilling contributed to this story.
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