From the Publisher
A powerful late summer hurricane is tracked for several days before it makes landfall on a southern U.S. coastline. Inexplicably, government officials fail to set an evacuation plan in motion until it is too late. Those who are able escape, but the have-nots are left behind. Roaring ashore with 200 mph winds and a 22-foot storm surge, the storm overwhelms low-lying areas. Hundreds die.
You might think Im describing Hurricane Katrina, but Im not. Im talking about the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 that struck the Florida Keys seventy years to the week before Katrina. More than 250 of the 400-plus victims of that earlier storm were World War I veterans who had been sent to the Keys by the Roosevelt administration to build a highway to Key West. A relief train stood by in Miami to evacuate the men in the event of a hurricanes approach, but by the time government officials called for it, it was too late.
Outraged by the needless deaths, novelist and Key West resident Ernest Hemingway initiated a public outcry that led ultimately to Congressional hearings, which were widely condemned as a whitewash. Hemingway published a vehement protest essay in New Masses, a communist journal, and it was one factor landing him on the FBIs watch list years later.
The tragedy had one redeeming consequence: The publics revulsion over the abandonment of so many World War I veterans helped to build support for the GI Bill, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1944. Can any redemption be wrested from Katrina?
From the Back Cover
Everyone knew it was coming: The Weather Bureau broadcast hurricane warnings. Keys residents boarded up their shacks under an ominous sky and sank their skiffs in the mangroves. Atlantic tarpon raced between the Keys to the relative safety of the Gulf of Mexico. In Key West, Ernest Hemingway secured his stone house and his 38-foot boat Pilar against the oncoming storm. And yet, through the long Labor Day Weekend of 1935, the superintendents of three government work camps in the Florida Keys, which housed more than 600 World War I veterans building a highway across the islands, did virtually nothing to evacuate the men in their charge.
In Hemingway's Hurricane, author Phil Scott chronicles the days of calamity when the low-lying Upper Florida Keys were stripped bare and submerged by the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States. From eyewitness accounts and depositions, he reconstructs the events in each camp as the hurricane made landfall—the terror, bravery, and sacrifices of men left to fend for themselves. He also explores why the train promised from Miami arrived too late to evacuate the men, and why those who tried to escape in their own vehicles were turned back by the National Guard. And he reveals Hemingway's horror when the novelist arrived in his boat two days after the storm to aid the veterans, only to discover that more than 250 had died in the storm, some sand-blasted by fierce winds, others skewered by flying timbers, and many simply blown out to sea.
Ernest Hemingway's very public outrage over so many needless deaths spurred a congressional investigation that was widely dismissed as a whitewash. It was also a key factor in landing Hemingway on an FBI watch list, which contributed to his suicide twenty-six years later. In Hemingway's Hurricane, the Depression, bureaucratic failure, the cast-aside soldiers of an earlier war, a great novelist, and a killing storm come together in an American tragedy.
The Final Blow
They were the forgotten members of the Lost Generation, traumatized veterans of the Great War who had struggled for years to claw their way back into the American Dream. Described by one journalist as "shell-shocked, Depression-shocked, and whiskey-shocked," they grasped for one last chance at redemption under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Six hundred of them were shuffled off to the Florida Keys to build a highway to Key West. On Labor Day Weekend 1935, the most intense hurricane ever to strike the U.S. took aim on their flimsy shacks, and the two men responsible for evacuating the veterans from harm's way waited too long.
After the storm, Ernest Hemingway took his boat from his home in Key West to aid the veterans in the Upper Keys. But he found few survivors among the wreckage and bloated corpses, and his public cries of outrage bound him forever to the storm.
"Hemingway's Hurricane brilliantly and compellingly captures the events surrounding the 1935 storm, showing how human factors compounded the awful force of sky and sea."
—From the Foreword by John Rennie, Editor in Chief, Scientific American