The Year Was 1926

The year was 1926 and in Europe, it was a soggy one. In January, an early thaw and storms caused floods from England to the Rhineland. The warm weather and rains began Christmas night of 1925 and by early January, rivers were overflowing with melted snows. In the British Isles, communications via telegraph and telephone were interrupted because of flooding and cyclones and London suburbs were hit hard with flooding from the Thames. The flooding extended to the European continent including rivers and lowlands in France, Germany, Romania, Hungary, Belgium, and the Netherlands. For more information read this Time magazine article from 11 January 1926 covering the floods.

In the Soviet Union an estimated 10,000 cases of ergotism were reported in 1926. Ergot is a fungus that infects rye and when ingested, can cause convulsions, trembling, delusions, and hallucinations. In gangrenous ergotism, the poison can constrict blood vessels, causing infection and burning pain, eventually leading to gangrene. Although the cause of ergotism wasn’t identified until the mid-nineteenth century, it has since been linked to the spread of the bubonic plague and the Salem witch trials.

In northern England, Scotland, and Wales, coal miners went on strike in protest of a pay-cut. The miners fight led to a general strike when the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C.) joined them in an effort to shut down London and force the government to intervene on behalf of the miners. The government didn’t agree and brought in forces to keep the city running. The strike was over quickly in London, although the miners held out for four months, but they too eventually returned to work with their demands unmet. 
 
In 1926, Henry Ford created the eight-hour workday and five-day workweek for his employees and it soon became the norm. His motives weren’t altogether altruistic though. He wrote in the company newsletter,

“Just as the 8-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the 5-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity . . . It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege . . . People who have more leisure must have more clothes. They eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation in vehicles.”

In Florida, a land boom was turning to bust. As the Florida population was growing land speculators were buying land in the hopes of turning a quick profit when they sold it. Some were buying the land without having the money to pay for it and hoped to have the land sold before they paid for the property, using the profits to make the final purchase payment. When the land boom finally turned to bust, many speculators were stuck with overpriced land and no buyers.

While over-speculation nudged Florida into a tailspin, Mother Nature gave it an even bigger push–in the form of a hurricane that struck Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Hollywood, and Hallandale. Most of the residents were new to Florida and despite dire weather predictions from the U.S. Weather Bureau, they had no idea how severe the impending storm would be and most did nothing to prepare. When the eye of the hurricane came ashore, the now terrified residents left their homes, not realizing that the storm was not yet over. Most of the 100 people who died in Miami were those caught outside after the eye of the storm had passed.
 

6 thoughts on “The Year Was 1926

  1. My father & his family arrived in Miami, Fla., early in January, 1926. He was 10 years old. They slept in a tent in the back yard of the house where some cousins lived, who had moved there several years before, because there was no other room for them in the house. Later they moved into a rented house nearby.

    The 1926 hurricane came ashore in Miami on September 17, 1926, which was my great-grandmother’s birthday. They had thought about taking shelter in a storage building some 50 feet from the house, but by the time they decided they should do so, it was too late to leave the house. So they ended up crowding under a small round study desk (3 feet in diameter) with a mattress on top. There were 3 adults & 2 small children (my father included) who huddled together & prayed that the storm would go away.

    After several hours, the winds stopped & the rains subsided, & they gingerly stepped outside to survey the damage. It’s a good thing that they did not take shelter in the storage building because it had been destroyed. They started to assess the damage & clean up the debris when the winds & rain started back up again from the other direction & they again took shelter in the house under the table with the mattress on top.

    When the winds subsided again & the rains had slowed down, they again went outside & discovered that their house had been moved off its foundation by the force of the winds. Within a few days they had moved to another house because their house was no longer safe to live in.

    Another casualty of that storm was the severe flooding that occurred when Lake Okeechobee overflowed its banks. I believe it was that event which led to the formation of the South Florida Water Management District & the thousands of miles of canals built to permit controlled release of waters from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades. As communities were built on land reclaimed from the Everglades, canals were added to aid in controlling & preventing floods.

  2. Yes, Kevin, LSD was first extracted from the ergot fungus before it was synthetically produced in 1938.

  3. You didn’t mention that Ergot causes Abortions and is still used by Physicians to treat certain Uterine problems.

  4. Hurricane of 1928 ———–
    In the year of 1928, my father, Harold Gifford was living in Florida
    with his brother Howard and his father Frank Gifford. They had
    moved there in 1925 after the divorce of Frank and his wife Clara Arn
    Gifford. The two younger boys went with their father and the two younger
    girls remained with their mother in Blue Island, Illinois. The two older
    children were already married. After living in Florida a couple of years,
    Harold joined the National Guard. When this horendous Hurricane hit Florida in 1928,
    he was one amongst his company,(18 and 1/2 years old) that had orders to pick up the dead and to
    clean up the aftermath. He said it took two weeks just to pick up the deceased. He had told me this story, but until the last few years, could never find any documentation relating to it.
    . He had told of the enormous amount of people killed
    and the way they were piled up for burial and also unidentified.
    I remember him saying it blew all of the
    water out of Lake Okeechobee, flooding the land for miles and miles.
    Below is a story that I was finally able to locate and thought it of interest,
    especially since it related to the same story my father had told me as a child.

    “VERNIE BOOTS”

    On the day hell came to Lake Okeechobee, Vernie Boots built himself a
    windmill. He found a boat propeller, impaled it on a fat nail and pointed
    the toy at the rising wind. He was 14.
    “A kid,” he says, “don’t have a lick of sense. I was having fun.” The
    propeller whirled fast enough to burn a groove in the nail. The big blow
    was coming. One of the biggest blows of all time was on its way.
    On Sept. 16, 1928, the only thing between the wood frame Boots home and
    the massive lake was 300 feet and a 4-foot dike constructed of mud. When
    dawn broke, and the hurricane had passed, his father and mother and
    brother were gone, dead by drowning. So were more than 1,800 other people.
    He and two brothers survived the storm by clinging to debris and floating
    two miles into the Everglades.
    “I can remember everything,” the 78-year-old Belle Glade resident says
    now. “Just ask me.”

    Within the borders of the United States, only Lake Michigan is larger than
    Okeechobee, the Seminole word for “Big Water.” It covers almost 700 square
    miles of South Central Florida. You could float two counties the size of
    Pinellas on the lake and still have room to fish.

    “The Everglades ain’t what they used to be ,” says Boots, when I call him
    at the Belle Glade hydraulics firm where he builds machinery though he is
    long past retirement age.
    His parents, William Henry and Mattie Mae Boots, moved to Lake Okeechobee
    in 1916, tried Arizona for a while and returned to the lake for good in
    1925. The Boots family grew beans, potatoes and cabbages outside of Belle
    Glade in a community known as Sebring Farms. Roads, few and crude, were
    built from mud and sand. Some folks found it easier to get around by boat.

    For many free-spirited people, though, life on the lake represented a kind
    of heaven. Only incompetent fools went hungry. Practically anything grew
    in the rich black muck surrounding the lake. Adjacent woods and swamps
    were blessed with deer and turkey. In the winter, ducks by the millions
    landed in lake marshes. A good man with a shotgun could fill a sack in an
    hour. A good man with a net or cane pole could cover the bottom of a skiff
    with largemouth bass, bream and channel catfish before high noon.
    Today, the lake is polluted by storm runoff from farms and cities dotting
    the lake. A good angler can still catch bass, but it’s work. The marshes
    no longer produce such impressive numbers of ducks. Fertilizers, rushing
    into the lake, have encouraged an abnormal growth of cattails, which crowd
    out duck-friendly vegetation.

    In 1928, evacuation was difficult
    if not impossible.
    Like many September storms, the ’28 hurricane was born in the Atlantic
    Ocean. Winds were howling more than 100 mph when it slammed Puerto Rico,
    killed hundreds of people, and took aim at South Florida.
    Mass communications were unsophisticated, and many Lake Okeechobee
    residents were unaware of the coming danger. There were no space
    satellites to pinpoint storm locations, and no hurricane hunter airplanes
    to actually fly into the black clouds and collect data. Most information
    was gathered by ships at sea. Information frequently was wrong or obsolete
    within hours.
    On Friday, Sept. 14, word reached Okeechobee about a possible hurricane.
    Some people made preparations. Some even moved to higher ground. The Boots
    clan did. They traveled to South Bay, where a big seaworthy barge was
    moored in a canal. The barge was thought to be the best place to ride out
    a hurricane even if the dike burst.
    When the hurricane failed to arrive as the experts predicted, people
    headed home. They went home and looked at the lake and whistled. Heavy
    rains in August had swelled the lake.
    What if a big storm hit?
    “There was a little dike, maybe about 4 feet tall, by our house,” Vernie
    Boots says, sitting in his office. “You could stand on it and look down
    into the lake. The water was only a few feet from the top.”
    On Sunday afternoon the hurricane savaged Palm Beach with 140 mph winds.
    Fifty miles inland, at Lake Okeechobee, breezes grew into gales and gales
    grew into hurricane winds. At nightfall, gauges at Belle Glade broke apart
    at 96 knots. Nobody knows for sure the actual strength of the winds, but
    barometers dropped to 27.43 millibars, making the hurricane the fifth most
    intense Atlantic storm ever.
    The Boots family — mother and father and four sons — decided to spend
    the storm in a neighbor’s sturdier house next door. Some 60 people in the
    community had the same idea. They fought through the wind, entered the
    two-bedroom home and prayed.
    “There was a lot of weight in that house,” Vernie Boots says now. “We
    figured all that weight might keep the house from floating off the
    foundations.”
    The storm advanced.
    Its counterclockwise winds drove the lake at, and over, the 4-foot dike.
    As historian Lawrence E. Will later wrote:
    The wind was howling with that hollow roar only a hurricane can make. The
    windows of the heavens were wide open like a lot gate, and rain almost
    horizontal, stinging like sleet, drove down in endless torrents in the
    pitch-black night. Then came the water. . . .
    The dike had given away.

    Water 11 feet deep swept over the land.
    “As it came into the house, everybody moved to the attic,” Vernie Boots
    says now. He pauses and takes a deep breath. Sixty-four years have passed,
    and he still fights his grief when he tells the story. He continues only
    when he has regained his composure.
    “I was one of the last into the attic. . . . The house kept shifting, and
    a window broke, and the glass cut a piece out of my hand. . . . The house
    became buoyant. . . . Floated off the foundations.”
    In the attic, terrified people wailed and prayed and wailed more. Outside,
    hell worked to enter the humble wood house.
    “We floated over to where the government had been building a road. The
    wind smashed the house against the road bed. We rocked badly and smashed
    into the road bed again. The third time we hit the road the house fell
    apart.
    “The last thing my mother said was “Whatever happens, stay together.’ ”
    Vernie Boots grabbed a piece of ceiling as the house crumbled. It became
    his life raft. The hurricane, like the whale that swallowed Jonah, wanted
    to devour him.
    “The wind liked to have turned me over. The big thing I tried to do is
    keep my head pointing at the wind. That and keeping my balance. I kept
    rotating on that thing, keeping my balance, all night.
    “It was dark, real dark, except for lightning. I mean, you couldn’t see
    nothing. The wind was a constant screech.”
    For hours it continued.
    “Finally, about daylight, the wind started to die. I yelled for help. Two
    of my brothers answered. We’d been real close during the night but we
    hadn’t seen or heard each other. They’d been hanging to other pieces of
    wood, too.”
    The Boots boys were about two miles out in the Everglades.
    They waded toward civilization.

    Devastation was complete. Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay were
    virtually destroyed. Bodies, livestock and lumber floated everywhere. Some
    survivors used bloated cows as rafts and splintered lumber as paddles.
    “Nothing was left of the community where I lived except for four palm
    trees. . . . Whatever you was wearing is what you had. . . . They found
    the bodies of my father and brother — they’re buried in a cemetery near
    the Caloosahatchee River — but my mother was never found.
    “I never saw my mother again.”
    Again he has to pause for breath.
    Bodies were stacked in makeshift coffins and wagons and carted to
    cemeteries. As days passed, and other decomposing bodies were discovered,
    a new strategy was developed to counter the possibility of disease. Bodies
    were quickly buried in mass, unmarked graves or burned on the spot.
    Vultures floated above the stench.
    The official number of dead was set at 1,838. But many dead probably were
    never counted. Many storm victims were vegetable pickers from foreign
    lands who had no loved ones to ask about them or search for them. Most
    people who have studied the storm believe the official death toll is low.
    Even so, in the annals of natural disasters, only the 1900 Galveston
    hurricane and the 1889 Johnstown Flood took more American lives.
    Vernie Boots and his surviving brothers were raised by an older
    stepbrother in South Bay. When Vernie was old enough to support himself,
    he did. He farmed and built roads and helped construct the Hoover Dike,
    among the mightiest public works projects of its kind in America.
    “I feel pretty good about that dike,” he says. “I’m proud of it. I think
    it’ll hold up. But I wouldn’t blame anybody for leaving because a
    hurricane is coming.
    “The big thing is the water. If you have wind and water you have trouble.
    Lot of people in Florida now, they don’t understand what a hurricane can
    do.”
    In memoriam
    I find the cemetery at Port Mayaca after lunch. It’s five miles east of
    the Hoover Dike and Lake Okeechobee, on State Road 76, among slash pines
    and sabal palms and ranches and groves of mangoes. It’s Father’s Day and
    many of the hundreds of marked graves are graced with fresh flowers.
    Elderly ladies in church clothes wander among the tombstones to pay
    respects.
    I park and stroll through the graveyard and search. It takes awhile to
    find what I’m looking for, but I find it near a storage building and an
    American flag and a pair of cedar trees.
    The tombstone on the earthen mound reads:
    In Memoriam.
    To the 1,600 pioneers in this mass burial who gave their lives in the 1928
    hurricane so that the glades might be as we know it today.
    I pray a silent prayer and return to my car and drive toward the lake. The
    clouds, black and gray and puffy, are building high in the west, over the
    Big Water, over the Everglades.
    It looks like rain.

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