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Hurricane Carol Blew Through Yard

Students settled into rooms after a September storm

By Vinita M. Alexander, Crimson Staff Writer

While the storm that was the Red Scare had begun to blow over as the Class of 1955 entered their senior year, a natural force picked up the slack, leaving Harvard Yard in shambles.

Carol, not McCarthy, blazed its destructive trail as freshmen moved into their dorms in September 1954.

Hurricane Carol, that is.

The storm, which caused significant damage to the Yard, would go on to cause $1 billion in damages throughout southern New England—the most destructive hurricane to strike the region since the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.

At Harvard, the costs to repair Carol’s destruction would amount to over $50,000.

In its Pre-Registration Issue of September 1954, The Crimson published a full-page spread of photos of the destruction, featuring students awestruck at the knee-deep rains. Students, however, remained unharmed in the safety of their dorm rooms.

Despite the damage, some students had trouble recalling Carol. Richard A. Johnson ’58, then an incoming freshman, says he does not remember the storm’s impact. “Was there damage on campus? I just don’t remember it being anything really bad,” he says.

But upperclassmen in the River Houses remember damage to more than just the Yard. Richard H. Ullman ’55, who was in Lowell House, says the most memorable damage was “down by the Charles River.”

But written records of the shredded rooftops and shingles of Memorial Hall and Memorial Church and pictures of fallen trees in Sever Quad confirm Carol’s whirlwind through the Yard.

One Crimson photographer, Robert M. O’Neil ’56, a Cambridge native, says the hurricane probably made a stronger impression on him, since he had been in Cambridge so early in the school year.

Of all the images of the hurricane that O’Neil captured with his camera, one in particular stands out in his mind. “[The local station] WBZ T.V. tower, which was blown over and lay stretched along the banks of the Charles River, was probably the most visible casualty of Hurricane Carol,” he says.

O’Neil was quick to capture it on film, and recalls the accompanying damage. “WBZ was knocked off the air for a few days,” he says.

More prevalent than toppled towers were fallen trees. Charles C. Pyne, then-assistant to the administrative vice president, said the “most extensive damage” by Hurricane Carol at Harvard had been wreaked upon the Yard’s landscape.

Administrators predicted that the projected $50,000 figure needed to repair the damages suffered by buildings would nearly double with the inclusion of destruction to trees.

But with the excitement of move-in week and a new school year, it seems that many students missed the eye of the storm.

—Staff writer Vinita M. Alexander can be reached at valexand@fas.harvard.edu.

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