Gertrude Rogers, a resident of South Dennis, was 22, and living in Brockton when the storm struck. “They let us out of work early,” recalls Gertrude, 96. “Then, transportation got tied up, and trees got blown over. We didn’t know what was happening really. In Brockton it was plenty bad, but not like the Cape.”
A few days after the storm, Gertrude drove by car with her parents and fiancé, Kenneth Rogers, to Dennis—her parents’ hometown—to check on relatives. When they arrived, the weather was nice and her family members were okay, but the damage all around them was stunning. “Everything was just messed,” she says. “I recall silverware on the beach.” Gertrude says the water had come up over the road and houses had been washed away. “Everything was just sort of wiped clean.” The group also visited West Dennis Beach, and they were happy to find the lighthouse still standing (the spot is now home to The Lighthouse Inn).
A few miles to the west, Dan Knott was 14 and living with his family in Barnstable—near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “Hundreds of lives were lost along the Connecticut coast,” Dan says. “It wasn’t near as bad on the Cape, though it was bad enough.”
Now 89, Dan says one of the details he remembers most about the storm was his family’s monitoring of the Zelkova serrata tree in the front yard, wondering whether it would survive. According to Dan, the tree had been brought from Japan during the nineteenth century, following Commodore Matthew Perry’s trade-opening visits. The sapling was one of the specimens brought back from the journey and during the 1930s, Dan says it was the only one—or one of just a handful—in the United States.
The unique tree features serrated leaves and the Japanese use the wood, which is both durable and flexible, for boatbuilding. Dan says the tree in his yard had several trunks extending out of it—all of them swaying in the storm—but in the end, not a limb was lost. “The house shook plenty,” he recalls, “but the tree didn’t fall down.” As a result of sewer issues, Dan says the tree eventually died years later. Today, vines cover its resting place.
Dennis resident Phyllis Horton, 86, was a student at the Dennis Consolidated School (site of today’s Ezra Baker School) and 11 years old back in 1938. She recalls that the towns of the Mid and Outer Cape did not face the storm’s full wrath, as did Falmouth and Bourne.
A few days after the storm, Phyllis drove with her father to see how the Onset community had fared. They made it over the bridge, Phyllis says, but a heavy National Guard presence in Bourne prevented them from driving any further west; the soldiers had blocked Route 28 to all but residents of the hard-hit region.
“That was some storm, some storm,” adds John Myers, 82. A resident of Brewster today, John was 7 back in 1938 and living with his family in Mansfield. “I was probably in the third grade. I was walking home from school and I remember getting knocked down. I can remember practically the exact spot.”