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October 5, 2022

Katharine Hepburn Nearly Died in the 1938 Long Island Express Hurricane

Katharine Hepburn, a pillar of classic Hollywood, a unique beauty who was bold, fierce and independent. This Hollywood legend wasn't just an image of strength on the silver screen, she was also a survivor. A survivor that faced a category three hurricane head on and lived.

September 1938 was not a particularly good time for Katharine Hepburn. Her recent screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby with co-star Cary Grant was a flop at the theaters. Rumor had it, that she was hoping for the lead in the soon to be made blockbuster Gone With the Wind. And even after winning a Best Actress Academy Award a few years prior, she was already being considered box office poison.

So although her career seemed to be going bad, Katharine returned to her true home. Not the city she was born in but the summer home that her family had in Fenwick, a borough of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The house sat directly on Long Island Sound. This is where Kate felt alive! She would play golf and swim in the sound. In fact on the morning of September 21, 1938, Kate did both.

During her morning swim she noticed the usually calm waters of Long Island Sound were in fact pretty rough, unusual but not unheard of. After her dip in the water, she went to play a round of golf, a sport she was pretty good at and played in here film Pat and Mike.

Back in 1938, hurricanes could be tracked only by eyewitness reports. Satellites and radar had not been invented yet and although the weather service existed, their forecasting skills were severely limited when it came to storms out over the ocean.

On the morning of September 21, 1938, a hurricane was off the coast of the outer banks of North Carolina. A strong storm, but it was expect to curve out to sea like majority of the storms did. Meanwhile, after a week of rain in New England, the morning of the 21st had finally cleared and those who were able to, decided to take advantage of the late summer weather. This is why Kate decided to take a nice swim in the unusually rough waters of Long Island Sound.

By afternoon, the clouds had begun to close in on the beautiful morning and the winds began to speed up. No one was aware that the unnamed storm that was off the Carolina coast was not heading out to see but straight up the eastern seaboard and at incredible speed too! In fact, the storm was racing towards New England at 60 mph!

Without warning the wind and water slammed into the south shore of Long Island and New England. The storm was a deadly surprise that caught many leaving work and school. On Fenwick, where Hepburn resided, the waters began to rise and the wind began to howl. Soon the water was crashing up onto the Hepburn home. At this point, Kate, her mother and brother climbed out the kitchen window to run for safety. They were lucky to do so. The storm surge would soon completely wash away her home on the shore.

The storm made landfall on Long Island as a category 3 storm with 120 mph winds around 2:30pm. The storm continued across Long Island Sound, making a second landfall around Milford, CT just west of New Haven, CT as a category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds around 4 pm. With this position, the strongest of the winds and storm surge were just to the east of the eye, right over Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, right where Katharine Hepburn lived!

The storm brought a record 10 feet storm surge to New London, CT. Even higher storm surges could be found in Rhode Island. The unnamed monster of a storm resulted in a staggering 700 deaths, 63,000 lost homes and $620 million 1938 dollars in damage!

Hepburn was lucky to be alive after the unannounced arrival of what is also called The Long Island Express. This storm reshaped the New England coastline and forever will be one of the worst storms to hit the United States.

Katharine Hepburn searching through the debris of her Fenwick home after the Hurricane of 1938.

Kate Hepburn sitting in a tub after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.

Hollywood actress, Katharine Hepburn, sitting in the muddy debris of her destroyed family beach home after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.

Hepburn searching through debris of her family’s summer cottage after the hurricane of 1938.

Katharine Hepburn digging through the debris of her home after the 1938 hurricane.

The original beach home of the Hepburn family at Fenwick in Old Saybrook, CT. It was completely destroyed in the 1938 hurricane.

(via HubPages)


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