In a Tragedy of Nature, Coast Is Forever Changed
Growing up in New Jersey in the late 1920s and 1930s, and then Brooklyn, where I went to high school, 1940–1944, I became very familiar with much of the shoreline and the communities that have been so horribly devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Much later, in the 1970s, my wife and I lived in the Borough of Sea Bright. This is the northernmost town located directly on the open Atlantic Ocean along the Jersey coast. It is situated on the narrow sand bar that extends northward to form Sandy Hook at the entrance to New York Harbor. Our Sea Bright home was not 100 yards from the crashing waves of the North Atlantic.
That house, along with every other dwelling and business building in Sea Bright, was damaged to some degree, including many that were totally destroyed as Sea Bright was covered with four to six feet of sand. The huge beach and swim clubs located on the sea wall and beyond the high tide line were turned into kindling wood.
The 10-foot-high sea wall of gigantic boulders that runs the entire three-mile length of Sea Bright was no match for the force of the unprecedented high storm surge of ocean water that destroyed so much of the Jersey coast from Sandy Hook on the north to the tip of Cape May on the south.
Pictures on the Internet and on television show the complete destruction in Sea Bright and countless other Jersey coastal towns that now lie beneath mountains of sand and flooding waters.
As a youngster I swam and fished with my father off those beautiful New Jersey beaches.
During my Brooklyn high school years, my friends and I would take the Flatbush Avenue trolley to the end of the line at Marine Park and hop a bus to go over the Jamaica Bay Bridge to Jacob Riis Park, a beautiful beach on the Rockaway peninsula not two miles from Breezy Point, Queens. That is where some 111 homes were lost in a horrible fire resulting from Sandy’s attack on the Northeast coast.
I traveled out to Staten Island to fish and play golf on New York City’s best public course, LaTourette. I covered basketball games at Wagner College on Grymes Hill, Staten Island.
That island is one of the worst hit locations where people are in great need of help, particularly the low, eastern area of New Dorp.
Wreck of the Morro Castle
Knowing the entire coastal area so well over my lifetime, this tragedy of nature leads me to pray for people I do not know but whose misery and hurt I can almost feel.
One of my earliest experiences on the Jersey shore took place when I had just turned 8 years old, in September 1934. It was sort of a macabre episode, and I believe I was somewhat frightened by it.
The 4-year-old luxury liner, Morro Castle, plied the Atlantic from New York City to Havana, Cuba, carrying about 450 passengers and a crew of 250. It served as a seagoing gambling and drinking spa during Prohibition.
In the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 8, 1934, as the Morro Castle was sailing northward along the New Jersey coast on its approach to New York Harbor, a fire broke out aboard ship. The crew could not extinguish the fire, and the ship was totally destroyed with a loss of 137 lives.
The Morro Castle ran aground in a strong nor’easter just off Asbury Park, N.J., where the burned-out hulk of a once luxurious ship remained until the following April, when it was towed away for scrap.
Throughout the seven months it lay on its starboard side, close enough to shore that people could walk out at low tide and touch the hull, the Morro Castle became something of a morbid attraction that Asbury Park exploited for obvious reasons at the height of the Great Depression.
One Sunday afternoon, Dad got Mom, myself and my two sisters into our car and drove us to Asbury Park to see the dead Morro Castle. I did not like that sightseeing trip — although I eventually ended up in the Navy serving aboard a troop transport that was a converted luxury liner. I enjoyed that.
Four years after the Morro Castle disaster, the mighty 1938 hurricane hit our area without warning. I well remember that one. It killed thousands of people on Long Island and Southern New England shores. It scraped the Jersey coastline, doing considerable damage.
That was before hurricanes were given names. But that 1938 storm was the one that caused President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish the hurricane center in Miami when the only warning system was to radio ahead that a hurricane was going up the East Coast. Yet that was a lot better than no warning at all.
Many Memories Of the Region
Years later, when I was a sports reporter, I covered numerous events on or adjacent to the New Jersey shore. The coast became part of my working life.
I covered the Olympic Trials of the Star Class boats in the summer of 1956 on Sandy Hook Bay off Atlantic Highlands, N.J., prior to the Melbourne Olympic Games.
Many a time I covered the Thoroughbreds at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, N.J., which is just south of Sandy Hook Bay. Monmouth Park is one of the most beautiful racetracks in the country. You can sit in the stands and look out over the Atlantic Ocean on a nice summer day.
I was assigned to many golf tournaments conducted by the United States Golf Association or the New Jersey Golf Association at such Jersey Shore courses as Spring Lake, Deal, Hollywood, Navesink, Rumson, Hominy Hill and Atlantic City.
I even got to write about ice boat races on the frozen Navesink River off Red Bank, N.J., in the winter, and then in the summer cover powerboat racing on the same body of water that is just behind the Sea Bright sand bar.
Within splashing distance of the ocean’s spindrift, I covered the sixth Liberty Bowl game indoors at the Atlantic City Convention Hall in December 1964. The University of Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6, in a non-thriller.
I also covered a couple of the 13 Boardwalk Bowl games held in that old Atlantic City structure when Delaware beat C.W. Post, 72-22, for a dull day at the beach in 1971, and when Massachusetts beat California at Davis, 35-14, in 1972.
My professional life and my recreational life, along with years of my home life, were spent along the very lovely Jersey coast, which has what I believe to be the longest stretch of beautiful and safe beaches in the country on normal, calm summer days.
The tragic aftermath of Sandy may make it impossible to realize the beauty and wonder of those gorgeous beaches for years to come. Much more important is the necessary recovery and reconstruction of homes and businesses along the shore. This involves thousands of lives.
Hundreds of the charter boats that took fisherman out for the ever-voracious blues and all the other fish swarming under the Jersey ocean waters were broken to pieces and destroyed by Sandy. All sorts of boats were swept hundreds of yards inland and slammed against houses, cars and trees or otherwise broken into firewood.
Numerous other hurricanes and nor’easters have pounded the Jersey and Long Island coasts over the years. I lived through many of those storms. But nothing has done to New Jersey, New York City, and the south shores of Long Island and Connecticut what Sandy did two weeks ago.
My heart goes out to those millions of people living on or near those coastal regions that were so hard hit.
Because I lived, worked and played in the region for so many years, I have to think, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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