The Matecumbe Ferry Slip in Key West after the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. Approximately 250 Great War veterans were killed in the category five storm.

I was teaching a bibliographic instruction class yesterday during which the students and I got into a discussion about Ernest Hemingway and the fortunate fate of his house in Key West this past week. Sadly the rest of the Keys, including the area around Hemingway’s home, have not fared as well. The devastation has been just about total. I emailed a local historian down there on Monday but have not yet heard from him. I discovered his writing, research, and curatorial work last week when following the coverage of Irma. I soon began reading about previous hurricanes that have struck the Sunshine State over the past century. I am still waiting to hear back from the historian, whom I do not know but emailed out of concern. Hopefully he and his family have made out alright.

There is also the matter of his work over the past several decades. In that great spirit for which local historians are renowned, he and his colleagues have been gathering images, documents, and various ephemera relating to the Florida Keys for years now. Several years ago I wrote an encyclopedia article about the 1926 Miami hurricane for a reference book about natural disasters. I was also familiar with the one that followed two years later and destroyed much of the region around Lake Okeechobee. I did not know until last week that hundreds of WW1 veterans were killed in the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that struck the Keys. About 250 Great War veterans, many of them marchers in the Bonus Army, were killed when the New Deal camps in which they were housed when building a bridge were destroyed in the category five hurricane. I am going to write more about this next week. In addition to my concern for the personal safety of the individuals involved, I am worried about the fate of the valuable trove of local material they have preserved and if it is still intact. One would have to think that the historians and librarians involved would realize that another storm could take place any given year and made precautions. Still, a storm like Irma is a once-in-a-century thing. I’m really hoping to learn the fate of the people involved.

(image/Florida Keys–Public Libraries)