1935 Labor Day hurricane

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Hurricane Three
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Labor Day hurricane 1935-09-04 weather map.gif
Weather Bureau surface weather map of the hurricane moving up the west coast of Florida
FormedAugust 29, 1935 (1935-08-29)
DissipatedSeptember 10, 1935 (1935-09-10)
(Extratropical after September 6, 1935 (1935-09-06))
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 185 mph (295 km/h)
Lowest pressure892 mbar (hPa); 26.34 inHg
(Lowest recorded in the United States, Third-lowest recorded in the Atlantic)
Damage$100 million (1935 USD)
Areas affectedThe Bahamas, Florida Keys, Southwest and North Florida (Big Bend), Georgia, The Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, New England
Part of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season

The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (formally known as Hurricane Three) was the most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record in terms of pressure,[1] and tied with Hurricane Dorian in 2019 for the strongest landfalling Atlantic hurricane by maximum sustained winds, with winds of 185 mph (295 km/h). It was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record until Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The fourth tropical cyclone, third tropical storm, second hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, the Labor Day hurricane was one of four Category 5 hurricanes on record to strike the contiguous United States, along with Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Michael in 2018. In addition, it was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of barometric pressure, behind Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

The hurricane intensified rapidly, passing near Long Key on the evening of Monday, September 2. The region was swept by a massive storm surge as the eye passed over the area. The waters quickly receded after carving new channels connecting the bay with the ocean; however, gale-force winds and high seas persisted into Tuesday, preventing rescue efforts. The storm continued northwestward along the Florida west coast, weakening before its second landfall near Cedar Key, Florida, on September 4.

The compact and intense hurricane caused catastrophic damage in the upper Florida Keys, as a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet (5.5 to 6.1 m) swept over the low-lying islands. The hurricane's strong winds and the surge destroyed nearly all the structures between Tavernier and Marathon. The town of Islamorada was obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway were severely damaged or destroyed. In addition, many veterans died in work camps created for the construction of the Overseas Highway, in part due to poor working conditions. The hurricane also caused additional damage in northwest Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the storm's track and intensity, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale
Map key
  Tropical depression (≤38 mph, ≤62 km/h)
  Tropical storm (39–73 mph, 63–118 km/h)
  Category 1 (74–95 mph, 119–153 km/h)
  Category 2 (96–110 mph, 154–177 km/h)
  Category 3 (111–129 mph, 178–208 km/h)
  Category 4 (130–156 mph, 209–251 km/h)
  Category 5 (≥157 mph, ≥252 km/h)
Storm type
▲ Extratropical cyclone / Remnant low / Tropical disturbance / Monsoon depression

An area of disturbed weather developed northeast of the Turks Islands toward the end of August. By August 31, a definite tropical depression appeared near Long Island in the southeastern Bahamas and quickly intensified. It reached hurricane intensity near the south end of Andros Island on September 1.[2] The storm then explosively intensified and turned toward the Florida Keys at a speed of 10 mph. The storm had an eye 9–10 miles (14–16 km) across. The storm made landfall late on September 2 near Long Key, at peak intensity, with an intensity of 892 millibars (26.3 inHg) and 1-minute sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h). After leaving the Keys, the storm weakened as it skirted the Florida gulf coast, making a second landfall at Cedar Keys. The storm sped up and rapidly weakened over the Mid-Atlantic states, causing heavy rainfall, with the highest total being 16.7 inches (420 mm) in Easton, Maryland. The storm finally emerged over the open Atlantic near Cape Henry.[3][4] The storm continued into the North Atlantic Ocean, where it merged with an extratropical cyclone on September 10.[2]

Most intense Atlantic hurricanes
Rank Hurricane Season Pressure
hPa inHg
1 Wilma 2005 882 26.05
2 Gilbert 1988 888 26.23
3 "Labor Day" 1935 892 26.34
4 Rita 2005 895 26.43
5 Allen 1980 899 26.55
6 Camille 1969 900 26.58
7 Katrina 2005 902 26.64
8 Mitch 1998 905 26.73
Dean 2007
10 Maria 2017 908 26.81
Source: HURDAT[5]

The first recorded instance of an aircraft flown for the specific purpose of locating a hurricane occurred on the afternoon of September 2, 1935. The Weather Bureau's 1:30 PM advisory[6] placed the center of the hurricane at north latitude 23° 20', west longitude 80° 15', moving slowly westward. This was about 27 miles (43 km) north of Isabela de Sagua, Villa Clara, Cuba, and 145 miles (233 km) east of Havana. Captain Leonard Povey of the Aviation Corps of the Cuban Army (Cuerpo de Aviación del Ejército de Cuba) volunteered to investigate the threat to the capital. Flying a Curtis Hawk II, Captain Povey, an American expatriate, who was the Aviation Corps' chief training officer, observed the storm north of its reported position. Because he was flying an open-cockpit biplane, he opted not to fly into the storm.[7][8][9] He later proposed an aerial hurricane patrol.[10] Nothing further came of this idea until June 1943, when Colonel Joe Duckworth and Lieutenant Ralph O'Hair flew into a hurricane near Galveston, Texas.[11]


The Labor Day hurricane was the most intense tropical cyclone known to make landfall in the Western Hemisphere, having the lowest sea level pressure ever officially recorded on land—a central pressure of 892 mbar (26.35 inHg)—suggesting an intensity of between 162 and 164 knots (186 and 189 mph). The somewhat compensating effects of a slow (7 knots, 8.1 mph) translational velocity along with an extremely tiny radius of maximum wind (5 nmi, 5.8 mi) led to an analyzed intensity at landfall of 160 knots (184 mph; 296 km/h). The 1935 Labor Day hurricane is tied with 2019's Hurricane Dorian for the highest intensity for a landfalling Atlantic hurricane in HURDAT2, as 1969's Hurricane Camille has been reanalyzed in 2014 to have the third highest landfalling intensity with 150 knots (173 mph; 278 km/h).[12]


Northeast storm warnings[13] were ordered displayed from Fort Pierce to Fort Myers in the September 1, 9:30 AM Weather Bureau advisory.[14] Upon receipt of this advisory the U.S. Coast Guard Station, Miami, FL, sent a plane along the coast to advise boaters and campers of the impending danger by dropping message blocks. A second flight was made on Sunday afternoon. All planes were placed in the hangar and its door closed at 10:00 AM Monday.[15][16] The 3:30 AM advisory, September 2 (Labor Day), predicted the disturbance "will probably pass through the Florida Straits Monday" and cautioned "against high tides and gales Florida Keys and ships in path."[17] The 1:30 PM advisory ordered hurricane warnings[13] for the Key West district[14] which extended north to Key Largo.[18] At around 2:00 PM, Fred Ghent, Assistant Administrator, Florida Emergency Relief Administration, requested a special train to evacuate the veterans work camps located in the upper keys.[19] It departed Miami at 4:25 PM; delayed by a draw bridge opening, obstructions across the track, poor visibility and the necessity to back the locomotive below Homestead (so it could head out on the return trip[20]) the train finally arrived at the Islamorada station on Upper Matecumbe Key at about 8:20 PM. This coincided with an abrupt wind shift from the northeast (Florida Bay) to southeast (Atlantic Ocean) and the arrival on the coast of the storm surge.[2]


Strongest landfalling Atlantic hurricanesdagger
Rank Hurricane Season Wind speed
mph km/h
1 "Labor Day" 1935 185 295
Dorian 2019
3 Irma 2017 180 285
4 Janet 1955 175 280
Camille 1969
Anita 1977
David 1979
Dean 2007
9 "Cuba" 1924 165 270
Andrew 1992
Maria 2017
Source: HURDAT,[5] AOML/HRD[21]
daggerStrength refers to maximum sustained wind speed
upon striking land.

Three ships were reported to have run afoul during the storm. The Danish motorship Leise Maersk was carried over and grounded nearly 4 miles away near Upper Matecumbe Key, although there was no loss of life. The engine room was flooded and the ship was disabled.[22] The American tanker Pueblo lost control near 24°40′N 80°25′W / 24.667°N 80.417°W / 24.667; -80.417 around 2 pm on September 2 and was pushed around the storm's center, ending up in Molasses Reef nearly eight hours later.[22] The passenger steamship Dixie ran aground on French Reef. She was re-floated and towed to New York on September 19. No fatalities resulted from the incident.[2][23]

Florida East Coast Railway Overseas Railroad relief train derailed near Islamorada, Florida during the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

On Upper Matecumbe Key, near Islamorada, an eleven-car evacuation train encountered a powerful storm surge topped by cresting waves. Eleven cars[24] were swept from the tracks, leaving only the locomotive and tender upright and still on the rails. Remarkably, everyone on the train survived.[25] The locomotive and tender were both barged back to Miami several months later.

The hurricane left a path of near-total destruction in the Upper Keys, centered on what is today the village of Islamorada. The eye of the storm passed a few miles to the southwest creating a calm of about 40 minutes duration over Lower Matecumbe and 55 minutes (9:20–10:15 PM) over Long Key. At Camp #3 on Lower Matecumbe the surge arrived near the end of the calm with the wind close behind.[26] Nearly every structure was demolished, and some bridges and railway embankments were washed away. The links—rail, road, and ferry boats—that chained the islands together were broken. The main transportation route linking the Keys to mainland Florida had been a single railroad line, the Florida Overseas Railroad portion of the Florida East Coast Railway. The Islamorada area was devastated, although the hurricane's destructive path was narrower than most tropical cyclones. Its eye was eight miles (13 km.) across and the fiercest winds extended 15 miles (24 km.) off the center, less than 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which was also a relatively small and catastrophic Category 5 hurricane. Craig Key, Long Key, and Upper Matecumbe and Lower Matecumbe Keys suffered the worst. The storm caused wind and flood damage along the Florida panhandle and into Georgia, and significant damage to the Tampa Bay Area.[27] After the third day of the storm corpses swelled and split open in the subtropical heat, according to rescue workers. Public health officials ordered plain wood coffins holding the dead to be stacked and burned in several locations. The National Weather Service estimated 408 deaths from the hurricane. Bodies were recovered as far away as Flamingo and Cape Sable on the southwest tip of the Florida mainland.[citation needed]

The storm brought over 5 in (130 mm) of rain to parts of Georgia when it passed over the state between September 4–5. The heavy rainfall in southern Georgian counties led to the spoilage of cotton. Attendant winds also ruined crops and inflicted minor damage to property.[28]

The United States Coast Guard and other federal and state agencies organized evacuation and relief efforts. Boats and airplanes carried injured survivors to Miami. The railroad was never rebuilt, but temporary bridges and ferry landings were under construction as soon as materials arrived. On March 29, 1938, the last gap in the Overseas Highway linking Key West to the mainland was completed. The new highway incorporated the roadbed and surviving bridges of the railway.



Veterans' work camps[edit]

Three veterans' work camps existed in the Florida Keys before the hurricane: #1 on Windley Key, #3 and #5 on Lower Matecumbe Key.[29] The camp payrolls for August 30 listed 695 veterans.[30] They were employed in a project to complete the Overseas Highway connecting the mainland with Key West. The camps, including seven in Florida and four in South Carolina, were established by Harry L. Hopkins, director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). In the autumn of 1934 the problem of transient veterans in Washington, D.C. "threatened ... to become acute and did become acute in January."[31] Facilities in the capital were inadequate to handle the large numbers of veterans seeking jobs.[32][33] President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Mr. Hopkins and Robert Fechner, director of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to discuss solutions. He "suggested the Southern camp plan and approved the program worked out by Mr. Hopkins for their establishment and maintenance."[31] The VA identified eligible veterans.[34] FERA offered grants to the states for their construction projects if they would accept the veterans as laborers. The state Emergency Relief Administrations were responsible for the daily management of the camps.[35] In practice the state ERAs were very much the creatures of FERA, to the extent of handpicking the administrators.[36][37] That only two states participated was perhaps attributable to the then popular impression that the transient veterans were "diseased" bums and hoboes.[38] It was a characterization enthusiastically fed by the media. In August 1935 both Time Magazine[39] and The New York Times published sensational articles.[40][41] On August 15, 1935, Hopkins announced the termination of the veterans work program and closure of all the camps.[42]

On August 26 and 27, 1935, one of the veterans, Albert C. Keith, wrote letters to both the President and Eleanor Roosevelt urging that the camps not be closed. Keith was editor of the weekly camp paper, the Key Veteran News. He was emphatic that the veterans were being defamed and that their work program was a success story, rehabilitating many veterans for return to civilian life. The News published occasional reports from Camp #2, Mullet Key, St. Petersburg, Florida, at the entrance to Tampa Bay. This was the "colored" veterans camp; the Keys camps were white only. In early August the colored veterans were transferred to the new Camp #8 in Gainesville, Florida.[27]


Improved weather conditions on Wednesday, September 4, permitted the evacuation of survivors to begin. Participation of the rescue included American Red Cross, Florida National Guard, Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), United States Coast Guard, American Legion,[43] Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dade County Undertakers Association, Dade County Medical Society, city and county officials, and numerous individuals, including Ernest Hemingway. Headquarters of the operation was the near shore of Snake Creek on Plantation Key. With the bridge over the creek washed out, this was the farthest point south on the highway. On September 5 at a meeting of all public and private agencies involved Governor David Sholtz placed the sheriffs of Monroe and Dade Counties in overall control.[44]

On the evening of September 4, 1935, Brigadier General Frank T. Hines, VA Administrator, received a phone call from Hyde Park, New York. It was Stephen Early, the President's press secretary. He had orders from the President who was very distressed by the news from Florida. The VA was to: 1. Cooperate with FERA in seeing that everything possible be done for those injured in the hurricane; 2. See that the bodies were properly cared for shipment home to relatives, and that those bodies for which shipment home was not requested be sent to Arlington National Cemetery; and, 3. Conduct a very careful joint investigation with Mr. Hopkins' organization, to determine whether there was any fault that would lie against anyone in the Administration. Hines's representative in Florida was to take full charge of the situation and all other organizations and agencies were ordered to cooperate.[45]

The President's first order was straightforward and promptly executed. 124 injured veterans were treated in Miami area hospitals; 9 of these died and 56 were later transferred to VA medical facilities.[46] Uninjured veterans were removed to Camp Foster in Jacksonville and evaluated for transfer to the CCC; those declining transfer or deemed unemployable were paid off and given tickets home.[47] All of the FERA transient camps were closed in November 1935.[48] In December 1935 FERA itself was absorbed within the new WPA, also directed by Hopkins.[49]


The second and third orders, however, were almost immediately compromised. At a news conference on September 5, Hopkins asserted that there was no negligence traceable to FERA in the failed evacuation of the camps as the Weather Bureau advisories had given insufficient warning. He also dispatched his assistant, Aubrey Willis Williams, to Florida to coordinate FERA efforts and to investigate the deaths.[50] Williams and Hines' assistant, Colonel George E. Ijams, both arrived in Miami on September 6. Ijams concentrated on the dead, their collection, identification and proper disposition.[51] This was to prove exceptionally difficult. Bodies were scattered throughout the Keys and their rapid decomposition created ghastly conditions. State and local health officials demanded a ban on all movement of bodies and their immediate burial or cremation in place; the next day Governor Sholtz so ordered.[52] This was reluctantly agreed to by Hines with the understanding that those buried would be later disinterred and shipped home or to Arlington when permitted by the State health authorities.[53]

The cremations began on Saturday, September 7; 38 bodies were burned together at the collection point beside Snake Creek. Over the next week 136 bodies were cremated on Upper Matecumbe Key at 12 different locations. On Lower Matecumbe Key 82 were burned at 20 sites. On numerous small keys in Florida Bay bodies were either burned or buried where found. This effort continued into November. 123 bodies had been transported to Miami before the embargo. These were processed at a temporary morgue staffed by fingerprint experts and 8 volunteer undertakers under tents at Woodlawn Park Cemetery (3260 SW 8th St, Miami). The intention was to identify the remains and prepare them for burial or further shipment. With the embargo in force, immediate burial of all the bodies at Woodlawn was mandatory. FERA purchased a plot in Section 2A. The VA coordinated the ceremony with full military honors on September 8.[54] 109 bodies were buried in the FERA plot: 81 veterans, 9 civilians and 19 unidentified bodies.[55] Some records claim 259 veterans were victims of the Hurricane:

  • 47 civilians and 34 veterans cremated
  • 61 civilians and 128 veterans {unknown} cremated

Total: 108 civilians and 162 veterans {cremated}

Of the rest:

  • 42 civilians and 81 veterans known/buried
  • 6 civilians and 9 veterans sent to relatives
  • 7 civilians and 7 veterans unknown/buried

Total: 55 civilians and 97 veterans buried Total: 163 civilians and 259 veterans =422

Although the Congressional Record [56] gives a report of 485 victims of the hurricane {257 veterans and 259 civilians}[57] the Record also breaks down 694 World War I veterans by name and their status as:


  • 443 number {437 living + 6 living, identification tentative}


  • 251 broken down as:
    • 2 listed as dead—dispositions of remains not listed
    • 6 reburied in Hometowns
    • 26 cremated
    • 44 tentatively identified as dead
    • 84 reburied in Woodlawn Cemetery, Miami
    • 89 missing—believed dead [58]
Veterans Storm Relief Map
Collection of hurricane victims
Sept. 7, 1935, Cremation of hurricane victims, Snake Creek
Sep. 8, 1935, Mass burial at Woodlawn Park Cemetery

The Florida Emergency Relief Administration reported that as of November 19, 1935, the total of dead stood at 423: 259 veterans and 164 civilians. These numbers are reflected on the Veterans Storm Relief Map (which see). By March 1, 1936, 62 additional bodies had been recovered bringing the total to 485: 257 veterans and 228 civilians.[59] The discrepancy in veterans' deaths resulted from the difficulty in identifying bodies, particularly those found months after the hurricane, and a question of definition; whether to count just those on the camp payrolls or to include others, not enrolled, who happened to be veterans.

The Veterans' Affairs Administration (VA) compiled its own list of veterans' deaths: 121 Dead-positive identification, 90 missing, and 45 dead-identification tentative - totaling 256. Five others are named in a footnote. One proved to be a misidentification of a previously listed veteran; two were state employees working at the camps; and two were unaffiliated veterans caught in the storm. This gives a total for all veterans of 260.[60] Adding this to the Florida Emergency Relief Administration number for civilians gives a total of 488 for all deaths, 12 of the dead were listed as "colored".[61]

Ernest Hemingway visited the veteran's camp by boat after weathering the hurricane at his home in Key West; he wrote about the devastation in a critical article titled "Who Killed the Vets?" for The New Masses magazine. Hemingway implied that the FERA workers and families, who were unfamiliar with the risks of Florida hurricane season, were unwitting victims of a system that appeared to lack concern for their welfare. From Ernest Hemingway's statement on the tragedy:[62]

... wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and President Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months ... There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings; unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives. They are doing coolie labor for a top wage of $45 a month and they have been put down on the Florida Keys where they can't make trouble. It is hurricane months, sure, but if anything comes up, you can always evacuate them, can't you? ... It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; they made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months?

In the same issue of The New Masses appeared an editorial charging criminal negligence and a cartoon by Russell T. Limbach, captioned An Act of God, depicting burning corpses.[63]

A The Washington Post editorial on Sept. 5, titled Ruin in the Veterans' Camps, stated the widely held opinion that the

camps were havens of rest designed to keep Bonus Marchers away from Washington ... Most of these veterans are drifters, psychopathic cases or habitual troublemakers ... Those who are nor physically or mentally handicapped have no claim whatsoever to special rewards in return for bonus agitation.[64]

"An Act of God", by Russell T. Limbach


Meanwhile, Williams rushed to complete the investigation. He finished on Sunday, September 8, the day an elaborate memorial service and mass burial of hurricane victims (both coordinated by Ijams) were held in Miami.[65] Ijams, who had been too busy to participate in the investigation and had not questioned any of the 12 witnesses interrogated by Williams, nonetheless signed the 15-page report to the President.[66] That night Williams released it to the Miami press in a radio broadcast immediately following the memorial ceremony. Ijams considered the timing unfortunate after receiving several critical telephone messages.[67] The report exonerated everyone involved and concluded: "To our mind the catastrophe must be characterized as an act of God and was by its very nature beyond the power of man or instruments at his disposal to foresee sufficiently far enough in advance to permit the taking of adequate precautions capable of preventing the death and desolation which occurred."[68] Early also found the publicity around the report "unfortunate". In a telegram to his colleague, assistant Presidential secretary Marvin H. McIntyre, Early wrote that he had authorized Hines to proceed with a "complete and exhaustive" joint investigation with Hopkins. Significantly Hines was to "instruct his investigator that under no circumstances will any statement be made to the Press until final report has been submitted to the President."[69] Hopkins gave similar instructions to his investigator. McIntyre also was involved in damage control. On Sept. 10, 1935, the Greater Miami Ministerial Association wrote the President an angry letter labeling the report a "whitewash". McIntyre forwarded it to FERA for a response. Williams returned a draft for the President's signature on Sept. 25th insisting the report was only preliminary and that the "final and detailed report ... will be both thorough and searching".[70]

Williams assigned John Abt, assistant general counsel for FERA, to complete the investigation. On Sept. 11, 1935, Hines directed the skeptical and meticulous David W. Kennamer to investigate the disaster. There was immediate friction between them; Kennamer believed Abt did not have an open mind and Abt felt further investigation was unnecessary.[71] Working with Harry W. Farmer, another VA investigator, Kennamer completed his 2 volume report on October 30, 1935. Farmer added a third volume concerning the identification of the veterans. Kennamer's report included 2,168 pages of exhibits,[72] 118 pages of findings,[73] and a 19-page general comment.[74] His findings differed substantially from those of Williams, citing three officials of the Florida Emergency Relief Administration as negligent (Administrator Conrad Van Hyning, Asst. Administrator Fred Ghent and Camp Superintendent Ray Sheldon). In a response to Abt's draft report to the President,[75] Ijams sided with Kennamer.[76] Hines and Hopkins never agreed on a final report, and Kennamer's findings were suppressed. They remained so for decades.[77]

One might speculate that Hines wished to avoid a public quarrel with Hopkins, who had enjoyed Roosevelt's patronage since his term as New York Governor. Hines was a holdover from the Hoover administration. Such an internal dispute would embarrass the Roosevelt administration at the time a vote on the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act ("Bonus Bill") was upcoming (it passed on Jan. 27, 1936, over the President's veto).[78] Also, 1936 was a presidential election year. Kennamer did appear at the House hearings in April 1936, along with Hines, Ijams, Williams and the 3 officials he pilloried in his report. He was not questioned about his controversial findings nor did he volunteer his opinions.[79]

On November 1, 1935, the American Legion completed its own report on the hurricane. The Legion's National Commander, Ray Murphy, mailed a copy to President Roosevelt. It concluded that:

... the blame for the loss of life can be placed on "Inefficiency, Indifference, and Ignorance." Inefficiency in the setup of the camps. Indifference of someone in charge as to the safety of the men. Ignorance of the real danger from a tropical hurricane. And these "I's" can be added together and they spell "Murder at Matacombe" [sic].

[The] committee early in its investigation noticed a tendency on the part of some to reflect on the character of the men who were veterans in the camps. Several parties referred to them as "bums," "drunkards," "crazy men," "riff-raff" and the like. They seem to think that "they got what was coming to them."

How anyone could arrive at such a conclusion is impossible for us to determine.

If these men were "bums," "drunkards," "crazy men" etc. then it was all the more necessary that every precaution be taken to protect them. If they fell into this category they were subnormal men and should have been treated as such. If they were incapable of caring for themselves then the government should have placed them in hospitals and not have sent them to a wilderness in the high-seas on a so called "rehabilitation program."

Others testified that the men were well-behaved and that a great majority of them would have preferred to have been placed under military discipline in the camps. But these observations are of no real value except to show that some people are trying to "cover up" the real guilt of responsible parties.[80]

Williams prepared a response for the President stating: "A final report, based upon the facts obtained in this investigation [by the VA and FERA], will be submitted to me shortly. At that time I shall transmit a copy of the report to you for your information and consideration."[81]



Standing just east of U.S. 1 at mile marker 82 in Islamorada, near where Islamorada's post office stood, is a monument[82] designed by the Florida Division of the Federal Art Project and constructed using Keys limestone ("keystone") by the Works Progress Administration. It was unveiled on November 14, 1937, with several hundred people attending.[83] President Roosevelt sent a telegram to the dedication in which he expressed "heartfelt sympathy" and said, "the disaster which made desolate the hearts of so many of our people brought a personal sorrow to me because some years ago I knew many residents of the keys."[83] The welcoming committee included Key West Mayor Willard M. Albury, and other local officials.[84] Hines had been invited to speak but he declined.[85] His attitude to the project was unenthusiastic. In a letter to Williams on June 24, 1937, regarding what to do with the many skeletons of veterans recently discovered in the Keys, he wrote: ″It occurs to me that if a large memorial is erected adjacent to this highway at the place of the disaster it will be observed by all persons using the highway and will serve as a constant reminder of the unfortunate catastrophe which occurred.″[86] Hines recommended the remains be buried at Woodlawn. A frieze depicts palm trees amid curling waves, fronds bent in the wind. In front of the sculpture a ceramic-tile mural of the Keys covers a stone crypt, which holds victims' ashes from the makeshift funeral pyres, commingled with the skeletons.[83]

Although this is a gravesite, not a single name appears anywhere on the monument. This is not a requirement for the estimated 228 civilian dead, 55 of whom were buried where found or in various cemeteries.[61] A memorial with identifying information is a statutory entitlement for the veterans.[87] 170 were cremated or never identified. The VA has chosen not to memorialize them, despite current Federal law and President Roosevelt's order that Hines provides a burial with full military honors for every veteran not claimed by his family.

Dedication of Florida Keys Memorial, Nov. 14, 1937
Relief and dedication
Hurricane Monument, Woodlawn Park North Cemetery, Miami, FL, on site of mass grave

The memorial was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1995.[88] A Heritage Monument Trail plaque mounted on a coral boulder before the memorial reads:

The Florida Keys Memorial, known locally as the "Hurricane Monument," was built to honor hundreds of American veterans and local citizens who perished in the "Great Hurricane" on Labor Day, September 2, 1935. Islamorada sustained winds of 200 miles per hour and a barometer reading of 26.35 inches for many hours on that fateful holiday; most local buildings and the Florida East Coast Railway were destroyed by what remains the most savage hurricane on record. Hundreds of World War I veterans who had been camped in the Matecumbe area while working on the construction of U.S. Highway One for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) were killed. In 1937 the cremated remains of approximately 300 people were placed within the tiled crypt in front of the monument. The monument is composed of native keystone, and its striking frieze depicts coconut palm trees bending before the force of hurricane winds while the waters from an angry sea lap at the bottom of their trunks. Monument construction was funded by the WPA and regional veterans' associations. Over the years the Hurricane Monument has been cared for by local veterans, hurricane survivors, and descendants of the victims.[89]

Local residents hold ceremonies at the monument every year on Labor Day (on the Monday holiday) and on Memorial Day to honor the veterans and the civilians who died in the hurricane.[90]

Woodlawn Park Cemetery[edit]

On January 31, 1936, Harvey W. Seeds Post No. 29, American Legion, Miami, Florida, petitioned FERA for the deed to the Woodlawn plot.[91] The Legion would use the empty grave sites for the burial of indigent veterans and accept responsibility for care of the plot. After some initial confusion as to the actual owner,[92] the State of Florida approved the title transfer. A monument was placed on the plot, inscribed: Erected by Harvey W. Seeds Post No. 29, The American Legion, in Memory of Our Comrades Who Lost Their Lives on the Florida Keys during the 1935 Hurricane, Lest We Forget.[93]

As with the Islamorada memorial, no names are listed, nor are the individual grave sites marked. The VA again chose not to obey the President's order, this time to rebury the unclaimed bodies at Arlington. Two bodies were, however, exhumed from Woodlawn cemetery by the families: Brady C. Lewis (on November 12, 1936), and Thomas K. Moore (on January 20, 1937), the latter of whom was reburied at Arlington. Five more received grave markers at Woodlawn, leaving 74 unmarked graves of identified veterans. Efforts are ongoing to mark all these graves.[94][unreliable source?]

One other veteran killed in the storm rests at Arlington, Daniel C. Main.[95] His was a special case, the only veteran who died in the camps who was neither cremated in the Keys nor buried at Woodlawn. Main was the camp medical director and was killed in the collapse of the small hospital at Camp #1. His body was quickly recovered by survivors and shipped to his family before the embargo.[96][97]

Veterans Key[edit]

On February 27, 2006, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved a proposal by Jerry Wilkinson, President, Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys, to name a small island off the southern tip of Lower Matecumbe Key for the veterans who died in the hurricane. It is near where Camp #3 was located. Veterans Key[98] and several concrete pilings are all that remain of the 1935 bridge construction project.[99]

Department of Veterans Affairs Actions[edit]

Government furnished grave markers are provided for eligible veterans buried in National Cemeteries, State veterans cemeteries and private cemeteries. Under VA regulations the applicant for a marker may only be the veteran's next of kin; so, too, for memorials when the body is not available for burial.[100] Prior to a 2009 revision, not enforced until 2012, any person with knowledge of the veteran could apply. The revision prompted objections from groups and volunteers working to mark the many unmarked veterans' graves, mostly from the Civil War era. They argued that the next-of-kin (if any) was often impossible to locate and that the very existence of an unmarked grave was evidence of the family's indifference.[101] Two bills were introduced in Congress, H. R. 2018 and S. 2700 which would have again allowed unrelated applicants. Both bills died in committee. On October 1, 2014, the VA proposed a rule change which would include in the categories of applicants unrelated individuals.[102]

In popular culture[edit]

Films and video games[edit]

Novels and short stories[edit]

  • Harlow, Joan (2007). Blown Away!. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1416907817.
  • Lafaye, Vanessa (2015). Under a Dark Summer Sky. Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN 978-1492612513.
  • Robuck, Erika (2012). Hemingway's Girl. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101599365.
  • Cleeton, Chanel (2020), The Last Train to Key West. Berkley. ASIN: B07YRW5VKW

Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote the short story "September-Remember" soon after the hurricane. It appeared in the Saturday Evening Post; 12/7/1935, Vol. 208, Issue 23, p 12. It was anthologized in 1990:

[103] The Cypress House

See also[edit]

Other intense tropical cyclone landfalls
  • 1999 Odisha cyclone – the most intense recorded tropical cyclone in the North Indian Ocean
  • Cyclone Winston (2016) – the most intense modern tropical cyclone in the Southern Hemisphere on record, as well as the strongest to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere
  • Typhoon Yutu (2018) – the strongest typhoon ever recorded to impact the Mariana Islands
  • Hurricane Dorian (2019) – Another Category 5 hurricane of an almost identical intensity that made landfall in the Bahamas on Labor Day
  • Typhoon Goni – The strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall anywhere around the world with 195 mph winds.


  1. ^ Hensen, Bob. "Remembering the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys". Weather Underground. Archived from the original on 29 August 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Monthly Weather Review, September 1935, p. 269. American Meteorological Society Archived 2015-04-18 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Tannehill (1938). Hurricanes, Their Nature and History. pp. 214–215.
  4. ^ United States Army Corps of Engineers (1945). Storm Total Rainfall In The United States. War Department. p. SA 1–26.
  5. ^ a b "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)" (Database). United States National Hurricane Center. May 25, 2020.
  6. ^ Hearings, p. 184, Hathi Digital Trust
  7. ^ "80th Anniversary of the Labor Day Hurricane and first hurricane reconnaissance". NOAA Hurricane Research Division. 2 September 2015. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  8. ^ Matthew Sitkowski (April 9, 2012). "Investigation and Prediction of Hurricane Eyewall Replacement Cycles" (PDF). University of Wisconsin–Madison. p. 49. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  9. ^ Drye. Storm of the Century. pp. 129–130.
  10. ^ Cuba May Use Planes to Scout for Hurricanes, AP, Schenectady Gazette, Sept. 23, 1935, p. 7
  11. ^ "The First Flight Into A Hurricane's Eye". NOAA History, Stories and Tales of the Weather Service. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-08-08.
  12. ^ Christopher W. Landsea; Andrew Hagen; William Bredemeyer; Cristina Carrasco; David A. Glenn; Adrian Santiago; Donna Strahan-sakoskie; Michael Dickinson (August 15, 2014). A Reanalysis of the 1931–43 Atlantic Hurricane Database (PDF). Journal of Climate (Report). 27 (August 2014 ed.). American Meteorological Society. pp. 6093–6118. doi:10.1175/jcli-d-13-00503.1.
  13. ^ a b The Hurricane Warning Service, p. 3, June 1, 1933 Flickr
  14. ^ a b Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 184. HathiTrust Digital Library
  15. ^ Memorandum of interview with Lt. Olson and Lt. Clemmer Kennamer
  16. ^ U. S. Coast Guard 1935 Hurricane Report Wilkinson
  17. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, testimony of Ivan R. Tannehill, p. 184. Hathitrust Digital Library
  18. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 199. HathiTrust Digital Library
  19. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 336, record of phone calls by Fred Ghent. HathiTrust Digital Library
  20. ^ There were no turntables on the Florida East Coast Railway below Miami. In routine operations locomotives were reversed using the "wye (rail)" junctions at Homestead, Marathon or Key West. In this case, it was decided to use the wye at Homestead and run the locomotive backward to Camp #3 on Lower Matecumbe, and then, using a siding, move it to the other end of the train facing forward for the return trip. Using the Marathon wye would have allowed running the engine forward on both legs, but would have added 45.6 miles to the route, much of which was over open water. As it happened the hurricane's eye passed directly over the Long Key crossings. Caught there the entire train would have been lost in the bay. Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, Statements by Loftin, p. 504, Beals, p. 509 and Branch, p. 514.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Landsea, Chris; Anderson, Craig; Bredemeyer, William; Carrasco, Cristina; Charles, Noel; Chenoweth, Michael; Clark, Gil; Delgado, Sandy; Dunion, Jason; Ellis, Ryan; Fernandez-Partagas, Jose; Feuer, Steve; Gamanche, John; Glenn, David; Hagen, Andrew; Hufstetler, Lyle; Mock, Cary; Neumann, Charlie; Perez Suarez, Ramon; Prieto, Ricardo; Sanchez-Sesma, Jorge; Santiago, Adrian; Sims, Jamese; Thomas, Donna; Lenworth, Woolcock; Zimmer, Mark (May 2015). "Documentation of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones Changes in HURDAT". Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (Metadata). Miami, Florida: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  22. ^ a b Monthly Weather Review, September 1935
  23. ^ Miami Daily News, September 3, 1935 Google News
  24. ^ 6 coaches, 2 baggage cars, and 3 box cars. The box cars were at the rear of the train; being empty and smaller than the other cars they blew off the tracks even before the storm surge arrived, stopping the train from continuing past Islamorada. A close examination of photographs of the wreck show one box car still coupled to the last baggage car. The other two broke off completely and were carried by the surge half-way across the key towards the bay. Two other boxcars were on a siding before the storm and ended up wedged against the sides of coaches 5 and 6, counting back from the locomotive. Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, Statements by Loftin, p. 504, Aitcheson, p. 506, and Branch, p. 515
  25. ^ Scott Loftin, FEC co-receiver, concluded on Sept 6, 1935, that the delays likely saved the crew and passengers; if the train had arrived an hour earlier it would have been on Lower Matecumbe or the narrow Indian Key fill when the surge struck and destroyed. "From what we now know it seems that the men could not have been extracted from the camps unless the train had left Miami about 10:00 am." Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 504. HathiTrust Digital Library
  26. ^ Testimonies of Davis (p. 538) and Sheeran (p. 931), VA Investigation, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
  27. ^ a b St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 5, 1935, p. 1. "Storm Danger Fades Here, Damage Heavy". Google News
  28. ^ Mindling, George W. (September 1935). "Georgia Section" (PDF). Climatological Data. Atlanta, Georgia: Weather Bureau. 39 (9). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2021. Retrieved February 1, 2021 – via National Centers for Environmental Information.
  29. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 3, Testimony of J. Hardin Peterson HathiTrust Digital Library
  30. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 390, Letter Hines to Rankin.HathiTrust Digital Library
  31. ^ a b "4,000 Veterans Placed in Southern Camps" (PDF). The New York Times. August 8, 1935. p. 11.
  32. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 364, Testimony of Frank Hines. HathiTrust Digital Library
  33. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 443, Testimony of Aubrey Williams. Hathitrust Digital Library
  34. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 365. HathiTrust Digital Library
  35. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 435. HathiTrust Digital Library
  36. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 49, Testimony of Julius Stone. Hathitrust Digital Library
  37. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 435, Testimony of Aubrey Williams. Hathitrust Digital Library
  38. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 445, Testimony of Aubrey Williams. Hathitrust Digital Library
  39. ^ "Relief: Playgrounds for Derelicts". Time. August 26, 1935.
  40. ^ "Veterans Find a 'Heaven' In Federal Camp in South". The New York Times. August 7, 1935. p. 1.
  41. ^ "Bonus Army Digs Old 'Swimmin' Hole' as Rehabilitation". The New York Times. August 14, 1935. p. 1.
  42. ^ "Veterans' Camps to be Abandoned". The New York Times. August 16, 1935. p. 9.
  43. ^ The American Legion Monthly, Volume 19, No. 5 (November 1935), p. 28, "Rendezvous with Death" by Fred C. Painton American Legion Digital Archive
  44. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 331. HathiTrust Digital Library
  45. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 371. HathiTrust Digital Library
  46. ^ Letter, Machlan to Hines, Sept. 16, 1935, VA Investigative Records, National Archives Building, Washington DC
  47. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 332. HathiTrust Digital Library
  48. ^ NYT, Oct. 10, 1936, "'Transients' Lose Federal Aid Soon", p. E11
  49. ^ NYT, Nov. 20, 1935, "WPA Speeds Work to 'Wartime Rush'", p. 2
  50. ^ Staff (September 5, 1935). "Defends Failure to Move Veterans; Hopkins Says Action Was Not Warranted by the Reports of Hurricane's Course". The New York Times. p. 9.
  51. ^ Leithiser, S. L. (September 19, 1935). "Hurricane of September 2, 1935". Letter to Veterans Administration. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  52. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 332.HathiTrust Digital Library
  53. ^ Hines to Col. McIntyre, Third Report on Evacuation of Veterans from Florida, Sept. 7, 1935, Hurricane Records, FDR Library
  54. ^ Miami Daily News, Sept. 9, 1935, p. 8. Google News
  55. ^ Plot Plan, Woodlawn Park Cemetery of Hurricane Victims of Keys September 2nd & 3rd 1935 with notes, VA Report of Investigation, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. Plot Plan
  56. ^ Congressional Inquiry H.R. 9486
  57. ^ Wilkinson, Jerry. "History Of The Florida Keys Memorial". Keys Historeum. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  58. ^ [Note: 1 man reported missing later identified as dead; 1 man not listed here among hurricane dead had died in an accident in August 1935]
  59. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 332, HathiTrust Digital Library
  60. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, ps. 390 - 400. HathiTrust Digital Library[permanent dead link]
  61. ^ a b Legion, Compiled by E. U. Woodard; Collaborators: Lt J. C. Mathison, U. S. C. G. & G. S.-- A. P. Bilsbrough, Am (May 13, 1936). "English: Cremations and burials on Florida Keys following hurricane of Sept. 2, 1935 (including civilians and veterans)" – via Wikimedia Commons.
  62. ^ "When Hemingway Took the Government to Task for a Hurricane Disaster that Cost Hundreds of Lives | History News Network". historynewsnetwork.org.
  63. ^ The New Masses, September 17, 1935, Pg 3
  64. ^ Washington Post, Sept. 5, 1935, Editorial, "Ruin in the Veterans' Camps"
  65. ^ Miami Daily News, Sept. 9, 1935, p. 1i, "Thousands Bow in Tribute Paid to Storm Dead." Google News
  66. ^ Report, Williams and Ijams to Roosevelt, Sept. 8, 1935, FDR Library. Flickr
  67. ^ Telegram, Ijams to Hines, Sept. 9, 1935. Flickr
  68. ^ Miami Daily News, September 9, 1935, p. 9, "Storm Deaths an Act of God, Says Williams". Google News
  69. ^ Telegram, Early to McIntyre, Sept. 10, 1935. Flickr
  70. ^ Correspondence regarding letter from the Greater Miami Ministerial Association, Sept. 10, 1935. Flickr
  71. ^ Letter, Kennamer to Jared, Sept. 12, 1935 Flickr
  72. ^ List of Exhibits from D. W. Kennamer's Investigation of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 Flickr
  73. ^ Administrative letters and findings from D. W. Kennamer's Investigation of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Flickr
  74. ^ Memo dated Oct. 5, 1935 and General Comments by D. W. Kennamer Flickr
  75. ^ Draft Report to the President regarding the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, ca. Dec. 1935. Flickr
  76. ^ Memo, Ijams to Hines, Jan. 10, 1936. Flickr
  77. ^ VA letter denying release of Kennamer's report, Mar. 26, 1968.Letter
  78. ^ Miami Daily News, Jan. 27, 1936, p.1. Google News
  79. ^ Florida Hurricane Disaster Hearings, p. 334. HathiTrust Digital Library
  80. ^ Report of Special Investigation Committee, Florida Hurricane Disaster to National Executive Committee, The American Legion, by Quimby Melton, Georgia, Chairman, November 1, 1935, p. 6. Flickr
  81. ^ Draft letter, Roosevelt to Murphy, November 14, 1935. Flickr
  82. ^ Florida Keys Memorial Flickr
  83. ^ a b c Matecumbe Monument Honors Victims of 1935 Hurricane, The Palm Beach Post. Page 10 - Nov 15, 1937 Flickr
  84. ^ Miami Daily News, February 16, 1939, p.1, Florida Awaits Train Bearing Roosevelt Here. Google News
  85. ^ Letter, Hines to Mills, Nov. 2, 1937 Flickr
  86. ^ Letter, Hines to Williams, June 24, 1937 Flickr
  87. ^ 38 U.S. Code § 2306 (b) Cornell Law
  88. ^ National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Reference No. 95000238
  89. ^ Islamorada Historical Heritage Monument Trail (2008). Florida Keys Memorial (Trail plaque). Islamorada, Florida.
  90. ^ Matecumbe Historical Trust, Calendar of Events for May and September
  91. ^ Resolution, Harvey W. Seeds Post No. 29, American Legion, Jan. 31, 1936 Resolution
  92. ^ Letter, Wickenden to Trammell, March 9, 1936 Letter
  93. ^ Harvey W. Seeds Post No. 29, American Legion (1936). Lest We Forget (Headstone). Miami, Florida.
  94. ^ Preservationist Jerry Wilkinson visits unmarked Miami graves of soldiers killed in the 1935 Labor Day hurricane You Tube
  95. ^ Main grave site Arlington NC
  96. ^ Injured Recount Camp Gale Horror, by the Associated Press, New York Times, September 5, 1935, Pg. 3: "Dr. Lassiter Alexander, medical officer at Camp No. 1, Snake Creek, who had injuries to his back, related: ... One of those killed in the collapse of the Snake Creek Hotel was Dr. E. [sic] C. Main, medical director of the camp, who lost his life before my eyes."
  97. ^ Sacco Report, Pg. 2, Body 6-A, Flickr
  98. ^ Veterans Key, U.S. Board on Geographic Names
  99. ^ Veterans Key Images Flickr
  100. ^ 38 CFR 38.632 Cornell Law
  101. ^ Hearing before the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, Oct. 30, 2013 House Archives Archived 2015-06-09 at the Wayback Machine
  102. ^ AO95 - Proposed Rule - Applicants for VA Memorialization Benefits regulations.gov
  103. ^ *The hurricane is a major plot point in Michael Koryta's The Cypress House.

Further reading[edit]


Government publications[edit]

  • United States. Congress. House. Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation. Florida Hurricane Disaster: Hearings Before the Committee On World War Veterans' Legislation, House of Representatives, Seventy-fourth Congress, Second Session, On H.R. 9486, a Bill for the Relief of Widows, Children And Dependent Parents of World War Veterans Who Died As the Result of the Florida Hurricane At Windley Island And Matecumbe Keys September 2, 1935 ... Washington DC: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1936. Full text viewability at HathiTrust Digital Library
  • United States. Department of Agriculture. Miscellaneous Publication No. 197: The Hurricane by Ivan R. Tannehill, Principal Meteorologist, Weather Bureau. Washington DC: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1939. Ebook available at Google Books


  • Seiler, Christine Kay (2003). The Veteran Killer: the Florida Emergency Relief Administration and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (Ph.D.). Florida State University. OCLC 79137317.

External links[edit]