Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gloria Swanson: Life in Key West (1909)

Queen Kelly - Gloria Swanson and Walter Byron

These days I am reading this great book “Swanson on Swanson”, an autobiography of the great actress that I am enjoying so much. Of course it is written in a way that becomes almost present time, and the details make me want to do some research. One thing I read was something that happened in her life when she was still a little girl, ten years old in fact, and how vividly she remembers in her book that horrible day of October 1909 when a very dangerous hurricane left Key West, (she was living at the army base then) in a very poor condition. Browsing online the site dedicated to the history of Florida (Florida Memory) I have found a few images that evoke those moments after the hurricane and its devastation along Key West.
I will add what she says about it while posting these photos. I was hoping to see a young Gloria by chance, but of course, to no avail. Maybe her mother appears but nobody knows now. Well maybe not.
“In March of our very first year in Key West, however, which was not the season for hurricanes, the sky looked so threatening one morning when the buckboard came to take me to school that Mother said she didn’t want me to go and sent the driver away. Within an hour the gusting wind built to a roar. Outside, the trees were bending and we could see things flying through the air. Then we could  hear the ocean washing under the house, and floating logs smashed against the floor with a frightening thud. I screamed for Daddy, even though I knew he was on the base. Mother grabbed me and I clung to her. She held her hands over my ears so I couldn’t hear the awful sounds outside. Water was coming through the floorboards and the roof. We held each other tightly and prayed that the house wouldn’t float away. Suddenly Mother said she heard Daddy’s voice. Then I could hear him too. We saw him holding on to the banister at the top of the stairs, soaked to the skin. The three of us huddled together and waited, as the kitchen chimney came down with a crash. Daddy said we had to stay away from the windows, because roof slates were flying around like feathers. It was afternoon before the wind finally died down and Daddy dared to say he thought the storm was over. Only then did I realize how brave he had been to fight his way to us. He had also been right about our house; it had ridden out the hurricane. We all smiled at each other. We even laughed, and I realized what a joy it is to live through danger and come out safely on the other side.
That freak hurricane was the worst anyone could remember. Church steeples were down, stores were full of sopping merchandise, and the public market was washed completely away. The only thing that had kept us alive, Daddy said, was a cement causeway that had been built by the Florida East Coast Railroad to connect the Florida Keys. It had prevented tidal waves from sweeping over the land.”
Later on she speaks about the evacuation that took place, how school was suspended and that a few days after a boat arrived and both mother and daughter left for sometime to go to New York and then Chicago, to spend some time at the grandparents.
Here is a collection of that disaster that stuck Kew West on October 11 1909.

Thanks to
Florida Memory
Swanson on Swanson. An Autobiography
Random House, New York. 1980


  1. This reminds me of a story my Grandma described to me of living through a tornado when she was just 10 and she had me re-living it through her words. I had the same feeling here...thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, some people do really have the power to tell things and make us feel we are right there at that very moment! Thanks for your comment!

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