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Hurricane Hazel

Friday, October 15, 1954 

"Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel:
Hazel maintained hurricane force winds up the East Coast and produced a number of record wind gusts. In Hampton, winds gusted to 130 mph; Norfolk, 100 mph. Blackstone, Va., 92 mph; Richmond, 79 mph; and Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., 98 mph. Damages in Norfolk alone reached $3.5 million with 1,800 homes and businesses damaged. Hundreds of thousands of trees were destroyed, taking with them half of the phone and electric lines in the state, causing $2 million in damage. A 150-foot microwave telephone tower was toppled near Warsaw, Va.; 200 plate glass storefronts in Richmond broke; in the Shenandoah Valley, turkey growers lost between 150,000 and 250,000 turkeys when poultry sheds were wrecked.

"Small crafts were driven ashore or sank. Four people died when a tug capsized on the James River about 25 miles from Richmond. Piers were demolished and private docks swept away in the Tidewater rivers. Lynchburg, Roanoke and Danville recorded five to six inches of rain, which caused flooding in small streams. Virginia lost 13 people and damages were conservatively estimated in from Connie and Diane brought record total rainfall for the month of August. Severe flooding followed on the Rappahannock River with some flooding also on the James, Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Norfolk winds gusted to 53 mph from the east, Cape Henry had 43 mph winds with gusts to 49 mph. Roanoke saw winds gusts to 62 mph and Lynchburg 56 mph out of the north. While only minor tides occurred, Atlantic Beach, Oceana, again had another $200,000 in damages that included sewer and water lines. Statewide damages equaled $1.5 million."


    From Norm Covert ('61) of MD - 09/03/09:

... I used to tag along with Brother
      Harry (’57, Va./Md.) for games at the Rec Center. “Orrsville” was always one of the teams, whether football,
basketball or baseball. Joe was probably there with Harry at the football field that day in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel blew in – but that’s another story...

Thanks, Norm!

     From Me ('65) of IL - 09/05/09 - "Hurricane Hazel":

On Thursday, October 14, 1954 when Hurricane Hazel's arrival was imminent, my mama              the late Maxine Frix Buckley (John Marshall HS - '25) picked me up from Magruder School (I was in Miss Charlotte Winstead's second grade) and brought me home to our apartment at 1309-A 16th Street in the    Stuart Homes where our family occupied the top floor.  As you can see in    this map, this is directly across the street from the Hampton Roads, so it was a bit windy, to completely understate the case.  She dropped me off at the front door and told me to run for it while she gathered up her things from the car. 

But - what happened was, as soon as I reached the front steps, the hurricane winds picked me up a foot off the ground and carried me around to the back door (while I frantically
and futilely tried to grasp the delicate branches of the large crepe myrtles growing in that narrow corridor), where it deposited me right by the back door, shaken but unharmed.

   I quickly scrambled upstairs.  Unfortunately for me, there were no witnesses to my little misadventure.

   I was relating this story to a group of friends a couple of years ago in the presence of       my sister, Eleanor Buckley Nowitzky ('59) of NC.  I explained
that no one ever believed my account of this until I was grown.

   Eleanor quipped, "What makes you think we believe you now?!?

   SHEESH! Thanks, Lady!


    From Linda May Bond Crayton ('66) of VA - 09/06/09 - "Hazel":

Hi, Carol

... I remember "Witch" Hazel so well that even to this day when my house is messy, I say, "My house looks like Hurricane Hazel hit it !"
We lived in Copeland Park at that time, I was six. Mother had herded us in a back room and put mattresses all around us but I peeked out the window
in time to see a shingle fly off the roof of another house and slice though the calf muscle of a man trying to board up his windows.
I got in between two sisters and didn't look out again until my mama said I could!

Thanks, Linda May!

        From Sydney Dearing ('56) of TN - 09/07/09 - "The Paramount Theater and Hurricane Hazel":


I was going to submit this next month on the anniversary of Hurricane Hazel but after seeing Norm Covert's entry on the hurricane and your follow-up I thought maybe now would be as good a time as any. This is an excerpt from my short book titled Childhood Memories that I wrote last year at the request of my oldest daughter. It is a little long so I am going to split this into three segments and if you think it is worthy of inclusion in the newsletter you can decide whether to run it over several issues or all at once. Please feel free to edit this as you see fit.

Part I
In the summer of 1954 I was hired as an usher at the Paramount Theater, downtown Newport News. This was before the days of the multiplex cinema; every theater had one screen and played one movie at a time. The Paramount and Palace Theaters in the heart of downtown showed first run, new release pictures only, except for occasional blockbuster re-releases like Gone With the Wind. The movie playing would run continuously with about a fifteen minute break in between each showing when they played the previews, a cartoon and a newsreel. You could buy a ticket - fifty cents for an adult and twenty-five cents for a child - and walk in the movie at any time during the film. People did it all the time; they would come in right in the middle of the movie and stay through the start of the next showing until the part where they came in. Part of my job was to stand in the auditorium during the movie and keep a mental note of empty seats, so I could then show people to a seat without them having to wander around looking for one, and disturbing the other patrons. I saw most movies numerous times. One of the first movies that played at the Paramount when I worked there was Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. I must have seen that picture fifteen or twenty times, but it is still one of my favorites. I was paid seventy-five cents an hour and cleared about twenty to twenty-five dollars a week. That wasn't bad in 1954

  When this photograph of the Paramount was taken, the movie playing was Battle Cry starring Van Heflin, Aldo Ray and Ann Francis. It opened in February 1955; I was working at the Paramount at that time and probably set up the marquis that's shown in the picture. That was another part of my job. In addition to ushering and marquis prep, my duties included pasting up posters outside the theater advertising upcoming films and sweeping out the auditorium after the last movie of the evening. I also had to guard against kids sneaking in through the exit doors. Sometimes one kid would buy a ticket and come in and sit down at the front, close to one of the exits. When he thought we weren't looking, he would slip behind the curtain leading to the door and quietly open it. Waiting outside would be two or three of his buddies who would then slip into the theater. There were four ushers when I worked there and we rotated closing the theater. Normally it only took one of us to close, but on the nights when the feature film was changing it took two. Planning and changing the marquis took two people.

The job definitely had its perks; I got in the movies free along with anyone I brought with me and also got free popcorn, which made a movie date very cheap. Another perk was being able to play the theater organ.

The Paramount Theater was built in 1930. It was a stately, nine hundred seat auditorium whose design was ahead of its time. The seats were set in a slightly sloping design that allowed you to see over the heads of people in front of you. There were two balconies that rose up to the back of the theater with a level area between the two with rest rooms and refreshment machines, so you didn't have to walk all the way out to the lobby. In the front of the auditorium, just in front of the stage and set slightly left of center, was    a magnificent theater organ that would rise up out of the orchestra pit with the touch of a button. Many people mistakenly think it was a Wurlitzer (it was sometimes advertised as such) but it was made by the Barton Organ Co. About once a week, an organist (I remember Gladys Lysle) would play between features while the lyrics of some popular songs would go by on the screen with a bouncing ball to set the tempo, and audiences would enthusiastically sing along. I liked to close the theater, because after closing up and cleaning the theater, I could play the organ. I would sit at the console, turn on the spotlights, crank up the volume and play that beautiful organ as it rose up out of the orchestra pit.

Part II
  In the early days of October 1954, the worst hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season, and one of the worst hurricanes of the 20th century was forming off the northeast coast of Venezuela. It tracked westward toward Central America but suddenly turned north and crossed Haiti, where it killed hundreds of people and barreled across the Bahamas, heading directly for the east coast of the United States at an incredible forward speed of 30 mph.

When it was learned that Hurricane Hazel - which was a category 3 hurricane at this time - was predicted to make landfall somewhere between South Carolina and Virginia in the late evening of October 14th or early morning of the 15th, people along the east coast of the Carolinas and Virginia began making hurricane preparations. Many business owners were arranging for people to spend the night on their premises to help protect their property in the event of glass breakage or high water, and protect against the possibility of looters. I was asked that if I could have a friend stay with me, would I be willing to spend the night in the theater. It sounded like an adventure to me, so I asked my best friend, Doc Scoggin if he wanted to spend the night in the Paramount. He jumped at the chance because I had told him about the organ and he wanted to play it too. Mom had her reservations about the whole thing but she finally agreed. None of us realized how bad a storm it was going to be.

Thursday afternoon, on the fourteenth, we took a couple of sleeping bags and caught a bus to the Paramount. The wind was already picking up when we walked to the bus stop but the busses were still running. When we got to downtown Newport News, it was starting to look like a ghost town. Nobody was on the streets and windows were taped and boarded. The Paramount had stopped showing films after the final show Wednesday and when we got there I unlocked the front door and we went inside, locking it behind us. The windows and glass doors were already taped with masking tape so we didn't have anything to do but check all the exit doors and wait out the storm.

Doc had never been in the theater when it was closed and empty so I took him on a tour. On each side of the stage was a black velvet curtain below an exit sign. Behind the curtain on the right were two doors. One was the exit door and the other led to a small room where posters and letters for the marquis were kept. Behind the curtain, on the other side of the stage, there was another exit door and a staircase that led up to a room about twelve feet square, with a table and a few chairs that served as a break room. We climbed the stairs with Doc in front, and when we got to the top of the stairs and stepped into the break room, which was dimly lit with night lights, Doc kind of gasped and yelled "HOLY CRAP!!!"

  I need to interject here that in a couple of weeks, the Paramount was scheduled to show a re-release of the 1931 film Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, and for advertising purposes had obtained a seven foot tall wax figure of the monster. For the time being, they had put it up in our break room for safe keeping. I had neglected to mention this to Doc, and when we stepped into that semi-dark room and he saw it standing there he almost peed his pants. I fell down on the floor laughing so hard, I almost peed mine.

Right off of the break room was our dressing room and some lockers, and next to that was the popcorn machine and stacks of five gallon metal cans. All the popcorn was popped ahead of time and stored in those cans to keep it fresh. Each day we carried enough down to the refreshment stand for that night's movies. Our original plan was to roll out our sleeping bags and spend the night in the break room but we both agreed that maybe it would be better if we stayed downstairs. Old Frankie was a little creepy even after you knew it was just a dummy. So, we grabbed our packs and a can of popcorn and headed back downstairs where we ate some sandwiches we had brought for supper. Then it was concert time.

Part III
I showed Doc how to turn on the organ and the spot lights and I climbed out to watch. The lights came on, the music started low and he came rising up out of the orchestra pit, the music rising with him. Doc Scoggin could play anything with a keyboard and he played that organ better than anybody I ever heard. There was also a piano in the front of the theater on the other side, and I joined him (when I could keep up with him).

After a while, we noticed that we could hear the wind starting to blow outside, so we went to the lobby and looked out. The hurricane hadn't even arrived yet and already debris was flying around, and the rain had started to come down pretty hard. We decided we should probably go back inside the theater. We took out flashlights and candles that we had brought with us in case we lost power, which we did but it was well after daylight the next morning.

Early Friday, October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel - now a category 4 hurricane, slammed into the coast near the South Carolina/North Carolina border. This put eastern North Carolina and Virginia in the dangerous right front quadrant of the storm. It was moving so quickly, reaching forward speeds of near 55 mph that it was still a hurricane when it reached southeastern Canada, only twelve hours after landfall. Sustained hurricane force winds reached nearly 80 mph, with gusts exceeding 100 mph, including an unofficial gust of 130 mph in Hampton, Virginia. Locations as far north as New York State recorded winds in excess of 90 mph. In New York City, wind gusts were so bad they forced the abandonment of the control towers at the Newark and La Guardia airports. The 113 mph gust recorded there, over two hundred miles from the storm's center, is still the highest wind speed recorded in the city's history. Hazel was the worst and most destructive storm in North Carolina history, and the deadliest in Canadian history. Hazel killed an estimated 600-1200 people on its trip through Haiti, the Bahamas, the United States and Canada. One hundred and twenty miles north of Toronto, after traveling eighteen hours over land, the storm finally weakened below hurricane strength.

Doc and I slept a little in our sleeping bags in the front of the auditorium. We woke up early and could hear the wind blowing outside. We tried to call home and let our parents know we were okay and get the latest weather reports but the lines were down. We had been told that somebody would come to the theater after the storm as soon as the weather allowed but to stay inside the auditorium until the storm lifted. We did that but when the power went off we opened the door to the lobby so we could see. By then the wind was really howling, and pretty soon we heard glass breaking. We retreated back into the auditorium but there wasn't much to do except sit down and wait it out. It was probably about noon before things started to calm down. When we went out into the lobby, we saw that the tape on the glass didn't help at all; all of the glass doors had been broken out, and water was standing in puddles everywhere from the rain blowing in. Power was still out but in the early afternoon some people from the Paramount showed up to assess the damage. When we went outside it looked like a war zone. It seemed like every piece of glass that wasn't boarded over was broken out. We gathered up our stuff and someone gave us a ride home. Mom was really relieved that I was home. She said it got pretty bad that morning but fortunately the only damage to the house was a few shingles blown off and some trees down but everybody was okay. My Hurricane Hazel adventure was over.

I also included a photo of    Doc and me at my piano in 2008 when he came for a visit and another of    the two of us from about 1955.

WOWZERS! Thanks, Sydney!

    From Norm Covert ('61) of MD - 09/07/09 - "The '54 Typhoon":


I believe you even if others scoff about Hurricane Hazel whipping you around to the back door – what fun (Whooosh)!

Well, my brother       Harry (’57) MD/VA, tells me he recalled being at Saunders Stadium when the windy deluge struck, not at the Rec athletic field.

It did strike on Oct. 15, and it was a Friday and that means the football game was probably called off   (What ME, worry?).

Thanks so much, Norm!

  From Alice Fowler Edwards ('64) of VA - 09/07/09 - "Hurricane Hazel":

Hi, I remember Hurricane Hazel! My dad packed us all in the car and we rode down Chesapeake Avenue to watch the waves breaking over the road! Didn't stay long but what an adventure!

And the day after the hurricane my sister Eleanor ('59) and I went down to Stuart Gardens beach to search for treasures along with some bad boys who threw a dead rat at us! I remember my sister (always my protector... ) went tearing after them ... you didn't mess with her little sister!!

I have no problem at all believing the wind picked you up!!! That was quite a storm. My family sat in the hallway of our second floor with candles listening to limbs, shingles, etc. banging into the house.

Thanks, Alice!

    From Ruth Ann Reece Horace ('67) of FL - 09/09/09 - "Hazel":

We lived in Dare, VA in York County, right off the York River.  I had just started school. They were telling us on the radio that the eye of Hazel was over Elizabeth City, NC, when it got real calm.  When the wind came back, the power left.  It took us two days to get out because of downed trees and power lines.  We went to stay at my grandparent's apartment on Warwick Boulevard. It was above a cleaners and beside the old Colonial Grocery Store.  We didn't have power back and didn't go home for three weeks and I was upset that they wouldn't let me go to school. I kept asking why they didn't have schools in town.

Thanks, Ruthie! I see we had completely different outlooks on school.....

  From Al Simms ('60) of VA - 09/10/09:


And here is another Hurricane Hazel personal story.

I too remember it well.  I lived in North End on 64th Street at the time and we had no damage at all from it.  Our neighborhood was well above the river even though it was less than 100 yards away from us and so we got no flooding and water damage of that sort which is nearly impossible to protect ones property from.  And as for wind damage, our house like most in North End had a slate roof and those are largely unaffected by high winds - even our garage roof was slate.  You don't even want to pay for one of those today.  I priced it when re-roofing my own house 15 or so years ago and it would have cost over $40,000 just for the shingles - the installation fee would also have been a lot higher than regular roofing.  The house had real working shutters which we closed to protect the windows and we had winds often enough that the trees were kept pretty well pruned and so none of those went down in our neighborhood either.  Tree danger can be great in areas that get only occasional storms.

Now to the story. As I am sure you know, twelve year old boys in those days were afraid of nothing - not enough sense to be afraid I think - And even if we were we would not admit it.  During the hurricane I told my mother that I would be at       Don Jett's (NNHS / Warwick HS - '60 - of FL) house, which was 2 blocks away and Don told his mother that he would be at my house.  Don and I met in the middle and went down to the adjacent James River beach (now a shipyard parking lot - Boo - Hiss!).

The narrow sand beach was completely awash with 5 to 6 foot tall waves rolling in all the way up to the trees on the riverbank.  In those days there were rock "breakwaters" about every 100 yards that extended a hundred yards or so out into the river.  There were a number of small boats washed up on those breakwaters.

Don and I got some long poles and walked out onto the breakwaters over which waves were breaking, got in some of those boats, bailed most of the water out of them and then pushed them off and poled them to the beach where we tied them to trees on the riverbank.  It is a wonder that we did not drown but we did collect several rewards for saving peoples boats from being bashed to pieces on the rocks.  My mother never knew anything about this until I told her a few years ago.  We were wet and cold when we got done but a few dollars richer in the next few days and I don't think that either of us realized the chances that we took with our very lives until we were much, much older. 

GASP! Thanks, Al!
I must say, though, that my trust in those gorgeous slate roofs isn't as great as yours. My other distinct memory of Hurricane Hazel is of sitting on the floor of my bedroom while it was at its height, watching slate tiles whirl through the air like a scene from The Wizard of Oz. It's a great wonder one didn't hurl through my window.

     From the Head Flagtwirler of 1965, Janice McCain Rose of VA - 09/10/09:

Hi Carol...want to add my memory of Hurricane Hazel.  My father showed up at my classroom door at Magruder School.....I knew something had to be HORRIBLY wrong...and there were still other kids in the classroom when we left.  We went on a quick ride down to Peterson's Yacht Basin....and then retreated back home on 23rd Street.  I remember all the trees down and debris everywhere....I don't remember the storm itself...just before and afterwards. 
Thanks, Janice!

 From Sarah Puckett Kressaty ('65) of VA - 09/11/09 - "Hurricane Hazel":

Regarding Hurricane Hazel - my memory is watching it from my bedroom window in the Shipyard Apartments at 6 am and my dad telling me to go back to bed.  Then him driving us through Huntington Park and seeing the pond (?) there that had risen so high it was over the little bridge.  Going back to school (Stonewall Jackson) we teased this little second grader who's name was "Hazel" about the hurricane!  I think  I was in Mrs. Roundtree's classroom - not my favorite teacher!!
Thanks, Sarah!



The Doors

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm
There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah
Girl, ya gotta love your man
Girl, ya gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm

(This page was created on 09/09/09 - just before the 55th Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel.)

"Riders on the Storm" midi courtesy of
at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 09/23/03.
Thanks, Dave!

"Riders on the Storm" lyrics courtesy of

First Hazel Map Image courtesy of - 09/09/09

Second Hazel Map Image courtesy of - 09//09/09

Army Seal clip art courtesy of Al Farber ('64) of GA - 05/24/06 (still missing...)
Thanks, Al!
Replaced by Norm Covert ('61) of MD - 02/09/09
Thanks, Norm!

John Marshall High School's Justice Scale clip art courtesy of Cheryl White Wilson (JMHS - '64) of VA - 10/13/05 (replaced 02/23/09)
Thanks, Cheryl!

Marine Corps Seal clip art courtesy of the late Herbert Hice of MI - one of my Famous Marines who served in the South Pacific during WWII.
Thanks again, Herbie!

Air Force Seal clip art courtesy of - 07/07/06

Return to NNHS Class of 1965