1962: Diary of Destruction

Photo by: Courtesy of Down the Shore Publishing (Island Album 2006) SWEPT: Taken on March 11, 1962, this aerial shot depicts Harvey Cedars as a tidal wash zone from the North Beach line north to Camden Avenue.

Editor’s Note: Carl and Dorothea Sjostrom owned an ocean to bayfront strip of land just north of Harvey Cedars and built two small cottages there, one nestled safely behind a large dune and the other fronting the bay. Following are excerpts from Dorothea’s diary, written at their home in Grovers Mills, during and after the Great March Storm of 1962. The diary and photos were shared with The Beachcomber courtesy of Debbie Dooling.

— Margaret Thomas Buchholz

March 6: Tuesday. Snow and high winds. The weather report said to expect very strong winds, coastal alert on high tides. I spent morning writing necessary letters, and on the phone. Had not had the radio on since noon. Many schools closed because of storm warnings. Sure was blowing.

3:15 Carter Harris phoned. “Have you heard? Things are bad at the shore. Chief of Police and two others have lost their lives. It just came over the radio.”

3:30 Called Jack Vosseller. Talked to both Jack and Elsie. Elsie first. “It really is awful here. First time I ever had waves on the front lawn (they are on the bayside). Just pray that this wind changes before the next high tide.” Jack: “I have just come in and things are very bad. Already three houses are gone in the center of Harvey Cedars and one on 84th Street. Haven’t been up your direction since morning. Things okay then.”

9:00 By now, we hadn’t missed a news broadcast, but learned very little except that the shore was in for a bad time. Carl called Jack. He answered in a very low voice. “Can’t talk,” he said. “I am afraid to frighten my wife and son. Tell your wife I’ll call her in the morning.” Just his manner scared us. We called Jay Doughty in Barnegat Light. Bad there, but they were okay. Had lost a lot of beach. Called Bill Dooling to see if Bill or Dash had heard from anyone there, but Bill said that in view of the officials who had lost their lives, he was sure the Ralph Parkers were too upset to call them.

Still the wind did not change.

March 7: Wednesday. Whatever plans I had for the day were cancelled. I would not leave until Jack phoned. So I waited, having the Philadelphia radio station on all the time. No phone calls from the shore. Surf City under two feet of water. Two complete cuts in island. One at Bergen Avenue, near our old cottage, and one taking all that stood between 79th and 80th streets. Navy helicopters evacuating all from Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light to the mainland. Army flying in water. Red Cross has set up two units at Manahawkin. Four more lives lost – two couples being rescued swept away by waves.

Only helicopters can get to Long Beach Island. Fort Dix sending Ducks (amphibious vehicles). No one can get on the island for at least two days. Regular channel now running, making Harvey Cedars a complete island.

It was Alice’s birthday, and we called Steve. Told him how we knew nothing about how the cottages had fared, but hoped it was okay because of our high elevation. Saw storm pictures on TV mostly about Steel Pier going. Well, Atlantic City always does get the headlines.

March 8: Thursday. The sun shone again, not as brightly as yesterday, when it had been so hard to just sit and wait. It would have been so much better if one could just run down and see. WCAU Philadelphia had a running commentary, also had asked people from the disaster areas to phone in, particularly officials. Mayor Blair from Ship Bottom was on constantly. He said that the Navy helicopters were trying to take the people from Barnegat Light, but they refused to go even though they had no electricity, heat, water or phone. Anything they needed could only get to them by being flown in, and the Navy could not do that indefinitely.

Tides still high, northeast wind still blowing. All had to be evacuated from Harvey Cedars. Another cut through the town. Television in the evening had special picture, mostly from points south of Long Beach Island. Carl talked to State Police Lt. Jerry Dollar. He said he had 20 men on the Island. He’d try to get some news for us. Called us back around 10:30 PM. No information available on property, only on persons, which, at this time, was right.

Heard that Glenna Wilcox from Dutch Neck had flown over the island. Tried to reach her by phone, but could not. Program on television interviewing persons from Harvey Cedars. Our painter, Bill Pustel, was on. He had lost everything: house, business, and both his trucks. There was one cut right in front of his home. Next was the Coyle Family from the Sink or Swim Shop. They had lost everything. They had been evacuated and we felt so sorry for the 16-year-old daughter who had to leave her dog behind.

Steve called us. He read in the New York Times how bad things were. He suggested that we fly over and see what had happened. All broadcasts are now saying that no one can come until next week – even property owners.

March 9: Friday. Radio still telling of complete evacuation of northern end of the island. The ocean is still washing over many spots, particularly in Harvey Cedars.

11:30 Phone call from Alice Tuck. She had asked Glenna about our places and that Glenna had particularly looked for them and could find nothing. I was terribly upset. One always hopes. Later talked to Glenna. She said she might be wrong, but she was pretty sure neither house was there.

4:30 Call from Jerry Dollar. Captain Howard Lambertson from Beach Haven had flown over and stopped the copter right over where our places were supposed to be. Nothing. I argued with Jerry about going down. Glenna had said that property owners were being allowed to go on the island. He said that nothing could move beyond Surf City, no place to park cars, needed every bit of space for heavy equipment. He suggested getting a boat and coming over from Barnegat that way. He said no one was allowed on in order to prevent looting.

March 10: Saturday. Up early. Called Princeton Airport to get a plane. Came over the ocean at Island Beach and we followed the coast south. At Barnegat Light, we could see some damage. As we came down the beach, the destruction became worse and worse. In our area, on the beach, in addition to our house, Silvermaster’s big house, Wolper’s, Biddle’s and Gross’s were completely gone. Gross had spent thousands putting in a very substantial bulkhead last summer. We proceeded on down and Harvey Cedars is so devastated it will be a wonder if it can ever be re-established. There are several cuts right through, and one is a regular inlet at 79th Street. Small’s, (now Sisters of Charity) which we had always thought was indestructible, was a mess. One house and the bulkhead were gone, the big house was on its side. We circled around and came up the bay and flew over our property. We saw the second floor of our bay house at an angle on the sand with cinderblocks protruding on the north side. The sand from the dunes, which were very substantial, had washed over all the poison ivy, bayberry bushes, and bay lots and formed a spit out in the bay, almost eliminating the cove and engulfing the adjoining houses on the bay with sand. The roof of our dune cottage and the top of the Biddle house were in the sand on the oceanside lot lying close to the road. Otherwise the destruction is complete.

In the southern part of Harvey Cedars, our former house on Passaic Ave., all the small houses which were built in back of it, Blai’s, Amram’s and the adjoining houses on both sides were completely gone; only a row of sticks showed where the bulkhead had been. All the way to Surf City, dunes had been washed down and replaced with gullies to the bay. The houses still standing generally were on stilts with the ocean washing right under them. Heavy equipment was working on the road to make it again passable.

We made another sweep over our place, took another look at our lot; it was just as devastated as before. We were back at the Princeton Airport before noon after a nice trip, but heartbreaking.

March 18: Many phone calls and many letters from family and friends. As one wrote, it is almost as if there were a death in the family. Well, maybe not, just the end of an era. Met Steve at Newark Airport and drove down the Garden State to Manahawkin. Had to stop at Boro Hall there to get pass to the island. First roadblock on other side of causeway. Down to Long Beach Township Boro Hall in Brant Beach for next pass, then up the island to Surf City to the next roadblock. Went through two more showing passes already received and seeing all the damage as we went. We went as far as Harvey Cedars old Coast Guard Station. At this roadblock, we were told we could not go any farther without a HC pass. We asked for Bob Van Meter and then everything was okay. We had to park our car on a side street there and then be taken north by jeep. This was a very sad ride. The devastation was horrible. Where our old cottage stood on Passaic Ave., not a thing anywhere. Both bay and oceanside completely wiped out. That area and a bit farther on are entirely gone. As we came into the center, it is okay for a couple of blocks and then again complete devastation, cars, and houses, everything piled up on top of each other.

We bumped over the newly covered cut in the center of town, and amid more destruction, finally made our way to what would have been our place had it been there and had there been any road. We were dropped off and told to hail another jeep when we were ready to come back.

We climbed over sand hills made to let the jeeps pass and began investigating our property. The most obvious was the top of the Bay Cottage. It sits there on top of lots of debris, and it looks pretty good. We climbed the sloping deck and Steve got in the window. One can hardly imagine the inside. One partition wall was resting on the metal frame of the chaise lounge. The slant of the whole place gave one a feeling of being slightly seasick. Everything is askew, and one looks down the stair well at piles of junk oozing up through the opening. The new addition is the best preserved. This is the one section which seems worth salvaging. Even that did not look too good to me.

We crossed what used to be the road. Near the road is all that is left of our nice Dune Cottage. The roof is at a queer angle and underneath, if one crawls in, there are the remains of the living room floor and a little farther back, some of the kitchen. The cupboards and sink are being held up by the refrigerator, which is jammed across what were the two sides of the kitchen. Not a stick of furniture is around. No dishes are left in the cupboards. Our washing machine lies a few hundred yards away on the next property. The electric stove is down under the refrigerator. One of the frames of the west side picture window remains and those nice drapes, torn and shredded, are blowing dismally. It is a very sad sight. Steve discovered one picture that is whole. I am not sure just where he found it. I was miserable and cold so when I saw a jeep, I took it to back to our car and waited there. I had had enough for one day.

March 24: Went to the Island. Need only two passes now, and not so many road blocks, but they are still doing a good job keeping out the sightseers, and any possible looters. All the Army Engineers heavy equipment was working. Stopped at the Esso Station and saw Jack Vosseller who showed us the results of the new cut, it had been filled in, and said how impossible it was to live in HC at the present, nothing, except electricity in spots.

At our property heavy equipment was filling in a big lake that had formed back of the artificial sand dune that had again just been pushed up. It is an arbitrary line and evidently the ocean is quite arbit­rary about it because it keeps knocking it down. Where our house and a few others used to be, is a lake, salt water, I guess, almost as big as Grovers Mill Pond. The ground from this down to the road is all soft and slushy. Not a very encouraging situation. I am still rather discouraged, but Carl is going right ahead planning for the future and plans to have a cottage on the bay for this summer. He is even optimistic enough to think it is almost time to begin looking for the boats.

March 25: No more bulletins. We have mover, a piling man, and a builder so do plan to come see us this summer, if the Army Engineers finally convince the ocean that it is not wanted on our side of those silly dunes.

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