Historic Markers Across Florida



Hurricane Monument/The 1935 Hurricane



Marker ID:  
Location: behind the Hurricane Memorial on US 1 in Islamorada, FL
County: Monroe
Coordinates: N 24° 55.031    W 080° 38.156
  24.91718333    -80.63593333
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: WMPYRT
 



Text:

HURRICANE MONUMENT
The veterans of World War I, under the Florida Emergency Relief Administration, were building piers in channel 2, just below Lower Matecumbe, when the greatest storm ever hit this part of the Keys. The 200-plus mile per hour winds with a barometer reading of 26.35 and 18-foot tidal waves destroyed everything on the Matecumbes and Windley Key.

Many of the bodies were cremated where they were found, and later their ashes were placed in a crypt. There are approximately 300 remains here. Thirty-eight were cremated at Snake Creek, 136 on Upper Marecumbe, and 82 on Lower Matecumbe. Many other bodies were found on the islands in Florida Bay and on the mainland from east of Flamingo to Cape Sable.

The first bodies were taken to Woodlawn cemetery on Miami, but after the fourth day, Dade County refused to let the dead enter and the rest were cremated.
On November 14, 1937, this monument was dedicated to those who lost their lives in the devastating hurricane. This monument is a memorial to the veterans who were building bridges, the people who lived in the area, the visitors, and the railway employees who lost their lives on that fateful day.

The monument is built of Keys coral limestone and is 65 feet long by 20 feet wide. The crypt is dug into the bedrock and extends above the floor of the monument. The crypt is covered by a 22-foot ceramic map of the Keys with Matecumbe in the center. This is where the destruction was the greatest. In the back you see a coral stone shaft 12 feet high, with a carved sculpture and a bronze plaque reading, "dedicated to the memory of the civilians and the war veterans whose lives were lost in the hurricane of September 2, 1935."

This monument was built by the Florida Works Progress Administration (WPA) at a cost of $12,000, using 40 workmen. It was sponsored by the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners, and the School Board furnished the property.
People came from all over Florida for the dedication. About 4,000 people were in attendance. The ceremonies included speeches and tributes from government, military, and local organizations. The dedication began at 12:30 pm with the masting of the colors as 4,000 people looked on. The WPA symphony orchestra played Verdi's Aida, and the invocation was given by Rev. J. Yancy of the Matecumbe Methodist Church. This was followed by the audience singing "America," led by Mrs. Charles Moon of Coral Gables, accompanied by the Federal Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Sandquist, District Director of the WPA, introduced Col. PJ O'Shaughnessy, chairman of the program committee, who explained the purpose of the monument and those whom it memorializes. He pointed out that of the 270 people living in the hurricane area, 167 were missing. Lt. Thomas J. Kelly, commander of the Harvey Seeds Post American Legion of Miami, was very vocal in his address. He vehemently protested the building of more sepulchers for the dead and demanded protection from the elements for those who are living. He also pointed out the contrast of the sunny dedication day in 1937 to that day on September 2, 1935, saying there have been some dark days on these islands.

Dr. John Tigert, president of the University of Florida at Gainesville, read a telegram from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It read, "I join in the dedication of the monument to those who met death in the awful visitation that swept the Florida Keys on Labor Day 1935. The disaster which made desolate the hearts of so many of our people brought a personal sorrow to me because some years ago I knew many residents of the Keys. I tender to all whose hearts were torn by loss of loved ones an assurance of heartfelt sympathy."

Dr. Tigert claimed this site in the public's eye belongs with the green hills of Gettysburg, the quiet hills of Shiloh, or maybe more appropriately with historic Jamestown or Galveston.

Dr. Tigert then introduced Fay Marie Parker, only 9 years old, who pulled the cord unveiling the monument, revealing the storm structure.
Then Mr. Simonds, chairman of the patriotic observance committee, presented the many veterans and patriotic groups. As each name was read, a representative placed a wreath at the base of the crypt.

The Russell family survivors also presented a wreath in memory of the 50 family members they lost.

After the benediction, the audience, led by Mrs. Moon, sang the "Star Spangled Banner" accompanied by the symphony orchestra and the drum bugle corps.
May those who lost their lives forever rest in peace.



THE 1935 HURRICANE
The Florida Keys and South Florida residents are always aware of the danger and possibility of a tropical storm or hurricane striking the area from June through October of each year. They had been through hurricanes many times in the 50 years preceding the Labor Day Storm on September 2, 1935. This storm proved to be different. It was much more powerful, concentrated, and treacherous. The first advisory was given at 1:00 pm on Saturday, August 31, 1935, by the weather bureau, stating that a storm had formed near Long Island in the Bahamas.

'Tropical disturbance of small diameter but considerable intensity arranged by strong shifting winds probably gales near center caution advised southeastern Bahamas moving in a westerly direction 8 mph'

The next advisory was at 3:30 pm and read the same as the earlier one. At 9:30 pm that same day it read:
'Probable gale force near center storm warnings ordered Ft. Pierce to Miami'
The storm was now 450 miles from the Keys.

On Sunday at 9:30 am, September 1, the advisory read:
'Winds of hurricane force small area near center will pass through Florida straits tonight or Monday. Caution advised vessels in path storm warnings Ft. Pierce south to Ft. Myers. Moving west 8 mph'

On Sunday at 4:00 pm the advisory was about the same. The 9:30 pm advisory issued the same warning but noted the storm would pass through the Florida straits in the next 36 hours, probably south of Key West. It is now 26 degrees east of Havana moving west.

Monday, Labor Day, September 2, 1:30 pm.
'Hurricane warning ordered for Key West. Tropical disturbance about latitude 23.20 longitude 80.15 moving slowly westward will be attended by winds of hurricane force in FL straits'

At 4:30 pm on Monday, the hurricane was moving northwest towards the Keys, warning Key West and the town of Everglades City. The last advisory at 7pm:
'Hurricane warnings ordered north of Key Largo to Palm Beach. Tropical disturbance intensity approaching Matecumbe Keys'

The greatest hurricane ever at that time struck the Islamorada area at 8:30 pm, just 1 hour and 23 minutes after the last advisory.

The first report of hurricane damage came from the S.S. Dixie, a steamship of the Southern Pacific Lines. The Dixie was caught in the storm as it headed for port in Miami at 8:12 pm Monday. The ship hit French Reef off Key Largo Pennekamp Park, and an S.O.S. was sent at 8:16 pm. This was a harrowing experience for the 231 passengers and 122 members of the crew. Captain E.W. Sundstrom told of the waves breaking over the ship's bridge which was 55 feet above the waterline. On Tuesday the Coast Guard started taking the passengers to Miami; they had to be lowered by lines to the rescue boats. The last of the crew was not removed until Thursday.

September 2, 1935, was Labor Day. There were almost 600 veterans of World War I in the Matecumbe area working on government relief programs building bridges to replace ferries and a schoolhouse from stone quarries on Plantation Key. With the hurricane approaching, a train was ordered at 1:30 pm to take these veterans and others to the mainland. The train was held up by a bridge being opened up for boat traffic. At Homestead, the engine was moved to the other end of the train, which took time. But more trouble was yet to come. On Windley Key, the train became entangled in a loose cable which had torn free from a crane at the quarry, and tree limbs had to be removed. This took another hour and 10 minutes. By this time, the engineer and crew could only guess where they were because of the high winds and intense rains. The engine went just past the station and tried to back up, but the air brakes were jammed. The crew started to locate the trouble-two cars had blown off the track. They rushed back to the engine, but by then, the water was almost waist deep. The storm surge put out the fire in the engine and turned all cars over except the engine and tender, some several hundred feet from the track.

The emergency train arrived at the Islamorada station at 8:08 pm just 15 minutes before the hurricane hit at 8:23 pm, and with it came the 18-foot storm surge and 200-mph winds. The lowest barometer reading ever registered in this hemisphere was 26.35. Parts of a few buildings were all that was left in Islamorada. Almost 500 people died.

The hurricane monument at mile-marker 81.5 contains the remains of nearly 300 people who died in the storm. The piers in the bay at mile-marker 73 in channel 2 also serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

Some entire families were almost wiped out. The Russell family, with over 50 members, was reduced to 11. Many bodies were never found; some were in trees or even on the mainland at Cape Sable and on islands between there and the Matecumbes.

Those who survived went to the Rustic Inn or what was left of it, looking for other survivors. The Rustic Inn is today's Green Turtle Inn.

Written by Irving and Jeane Eyster