A Whale of a Storm

“In North Carolina, the toll: 19 people killed; 15,000 homes or other buildings completely destroyed or with major damages; 39,000 homes or other buildings with minor damage. Total property losses: $125 million.”

This quotation comes from page 15 of the book Making a Difference in North Carolina, co-written by Hugh Morton and Edward L. Rankin. Though most of the pages are filled with intimate portraits of politicians and other influential individuals who operated on the state as well as national level, one chapter is devoted to Hurricane Hazel (arguably just as influential a figure as the others in the book).
Hazel visited the Coastal Carolinas as a Category 4 hurricane in the middle of October of 1954 after striking Haiti with deadly results. As we in the Carolinas are just coming out of the zone of influence of another H-named storm and, as a nation, are about to be assaulted by an actual hurricane, it seems appropriate to post some pictures that Hugh Morton took during the 1954 hurricane season. All of these pictures are from Carolina Beach, NC.
Let’s begin with an award-winning photo:

Julian Scheer wading through debris after Hurricane Hazel (1954), Carolina Beach, NC

This picture of Julian Scheer, a Charlotte reporter (and later NASA Public affairs Chief during the Moon race), won Morton the “first prize for spot news in the NC Press Photographers Association,” in 1954  (Morton, Rankin 15). The houses in the background are disappearing into the ocean, and the house in the mid-ground is on fire. Aside from these details, I don’t think it needs much of a caption, as it speaks, dramatically and clearly, for itself.

Some more pictures that were really interesting and are in need of identification are ones that appear to be the wrecked remnants of a boardwalk.

Hurricane damage at Carolina Beach, NC, 1954

I was able to identify one of the stores, the Ocean Plaza Bathhouse (that appears in the background of the picture, but gets more prominence in other ones in the series), a somewhat well-known institution of the time at Carolina Beach. Does this place still exist? Or did a hurricane and/or a decline in interest towards bath houses contribute to its closing? And how about the rest of the Carolina Beach boardwalk?

Woman walking next to Carolina Beach (NC) whale during/after Hurricane Hazel, 1954

This whale, probably a familiar symbol to those who visited and lived in Carolina Beach, seems to be faring better than some of the other structures. The woman standing to the left seems to be weathering the storm in her own right, but I wonder what she was doing out in the storm? Perhaps she was a local politician, a member of the chamber of commerce, or a friend of Hugh Morton.  I suppose everyone has their reasons for facing a storm; I suppose it still happens today.
If you are one of those individuals, until the hurricane season is over, be safe!

11 thoughts on “A Whale of a Storm”

  1. We’ve seen in earlier posts many of Hugh’s scenic vistas from North Carolina’s western mountains. We’ve seen expert nature and wildlife photos. We’ve seen portraits and we’ve seen sports. Now, these Hugh Morton images are great examples of Hugh’s amazing ability as a “breaking news” photographer.
    The award-winning Hurricane Hazel/Julian Scheer image has appeared in several publications over the years. Among them:
    1988 “Making A Difference in North Carolina” Pages 14-15
    1996 “Sixty Years with a Camera” Page 16
    2003 “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina” Page 144
    October 1, 1968 “The State” magazine Page 11 (Hugh Morton’s Favorite Ten by Jane Cobey)
    October, 1982 “The State” magazine Page 24 (I Remember Hazel by Marvin N. Hunter)
    This photograph is not the only collaboration for Hugh Morton and Julian Scheer. In 1958, Scheer was co-author, along with Bob Quincy, of a book titled “Choo Choo: The Charlie Justice Story.” Hugh did the photography for that book. There is a picture in “Making a Difference…” on page 260.
    The “Whale of a Beach” image is featured in Hugh’s 2006 book, “Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer,” on page 112. While the young woman is not identified, the caption reads as follows:
    “Carolina Beach had an attractive float in April 1954 for the Azalea Festival Parade in Wilmington, and it was so popular that it was stored in front of the chamber of commerce. When the center of hurricane Hazel came ashore at Carolina Beach at full moon high tide in October, the float nearly floated in the rising tide of the greatest hurricane ever to hit southeastern North Carolina.”

  2. Thanks, Jack, for doing this great research. I look forward to coming across some more examples of Morton’s “breaking news” photography in the course of my scanning, and perhaps finding some other styles of photography as well that have yet to be profiled on the blog.
    That caption describing the nearly-floating whale float was a wonderful find, but I wonder what happened to the whale afterwards?

  3. David:
    If I may, I’d like to add a couple of additional comments about Hugh’s Hurricane Hazel photography. But first, you’ve most likely seen the “Carolina Beach Today” web site that picked up your 9/12 post. In case you haven’t seen it, here is the link:
    In 1995, author Jay Barnes, director of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, did an award-winning book titled, “North Carolina’s Hurricane History.” The front cover and title page of that first edition contains Hugh’s award-winning Julian Sheer/ Hurricane Hazel photograph. (I think later editions of the book used a different cover photo). Then on page 98 of that book, there is the “Whale of a Beach” photo as well. However, this time it’s a slightly different angle and I believe the man in the foreground is Julian Scheer. And there are additional Morton/Hurricane Hazel images on pages 89, 97, 99 and 100.
    By the way, Julian Scheer, in addition to his NASA career, wrote several books on subjects like the US space program, Tweetsie Railroad and a couple of kids’ books.

  4. David:
    I have done a bit more research to try to find out the fate of the Carolina Beach whale float. Amiee Zimmerman with the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce suggested checking with author Daniel Norris. He has two current books on Carolina Beach history. Here’s what he said:
    “I was informed by sources that it was just dismantled eventually. Nothing spectacular.
    You could ask Albert Jewell for more info. He helped me with the image in my book”.
    So far I haven’t gotten a reply from Mr. Jewell.

  5. david,
    outstanding reporting. I see a bright future ahead.
    I was wondering if you would be reporting on hurricane bandstra in the future. As I believe that storm hit Chesepeake pretty hard some years back.
    keep up the good work!

  6. I was in Jacksonville NC when Hugo hit Charleston. I just recently weathered the Ike storm near Houston. Lots of damaged homes and repair work to do.

  7. Hi,
    This is Ginny Scheer…
    I’am Julian Scheer’s Granddaughter and I was searching for this picture on google.com
    and I found it but for all the people who did not know Julian Scheer he was a great person and worte many books: http://www.amazon.com/Rain-Makes-Applesauce-Julian-Scheer/dp/0823400913 and many more
    here is the link to the appollo 13 mission book where he and his family is featured:
    Thank you so much!!
    ,Ginny Scheer
    (11 years old)

  8. Thanks I’ll be sure to check into that….
    And it’s almost time to go back to Grandfather Mt. soon!!! Happy Spring!!

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