It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Hurricane Hugo muddied McClellanville’s timeline. The town has made an amazing comeback and it’s finally to the point that you don’t hear that four-letter word in everyday communication now. I certainly couldn’t say that 10 years ago. Time was still measured in terms of “before Hugo” and “after Hugo”, but that past is becoming more and more distant. This anniversary will come and go and my phone will cease to ring from reporters who read my first article about Hugo looking for an interview, maybe a before and after article or a “Where are They Now” piece to catch America up on what the little Village that could has been up to. They want me to point them in the direction of the best scoop, the biggest tear-jerker, or most triumphant return from despair. Well the truth is that’s the whole Village, that’s McClellanville.
Everywhere you look there is someone with a story to tell, though you may not hear it if you shove a microphone in their face. No, they aren’t all stories to be told on the evening news; they’re meant to be told around dining room tables and shared with the intimacy of friends who will understand why you still tear up just thinking about it or why your face turns stiff with stoicism. People who did not evacuate survived through the fears of night by clinging to loved ones even as the water rose around them and praying only to have day break on the fear of the well being of other friends and family and the sadness of the destruction. There were no phone line (or cell phones for that matter), no water, and no power – trees and debris littered the land as far as one could see and a layer of mud and dead fish covered everything. People walked everywhere and passed along news of survival to those they met in the street. No one rested until they knew that everyone was OK and through the grace of God just one life was lost in McClellanville.
People didn’t just lose their house though, they lost their boats and in turn their livelihood, but the thing that brought them to tears that morning as the sun rose was seeing their wedding album infused with saltwater and mud. It wasn’t that their coffee table was missing it was that their great-grandmother’s coffee table was missing. I was nine at the time and I remember things through the eyes of child, but I grew up more in those few months following the storm than many people do in a lifetime. It sounds odd to say that we (my family and I) were spared because the water only came up to the baseboards in our house and a tree only fell on our boat, but when I looked at others that had seen the water rise to the baseboards of their second floor and trees fall on their houses, I realized that we were. We, like many others, made our house livable and began helping others who were far worse off.
Now on the verge of the 20 year anniversary, Hugo is a distant but indelible memory to many but with the flash of a picture, mention of a word, or a certain smell in the air comes a flood thoughts and the emotions that were associated with it at the time. Oddly as I’ve poured over these images and clips of our ravaged town I held myself together, but found myself in tears when thinking about the amazing love poured out by thousands of volunteers that put their own lives on hold to travel across the US and give of themselves. After spending a day throwing half of your worldly possessions on to a garbage pile in your front yard or mopping pound after pound of mud out of your house a smile and a warm bowl of soup was the most precious gift you could receive. Absolute strangers gave and gave until massive 18-wheeler trailers were filled and one after another they arrived with food, clothing, supplies, and volunteers to aid in the rebuilding efforts until the Archibald Rutledge Academy Gymnasium was literally about to burst at it’s seams. Some of these people still stay in touch and care greatly for the people they helped and return to visit the town that they met on it’s worst day and I know that their generosity has humbled us all to see the care and selflessness that our fellow man can give when moved to do so. I’d like to offer a special thanks to the residents of Ocean County, NJ for the gracious outpouring of supplies and volunteers, the West Virginia coal miners who cleared the roads, the town of Beaufort, and the many, many others who worked along their side.
And still to many more who have moved here since the Hugo, it is just a word, because they have no true knowledge of the events that transpired during and after Hugo in this sleepy village and that, to me, is the most important reason that we memorialize these events, so they will not be forgotten but live on as an important part of the history of McClellanville. Camera’s weren’t as prevalent as they are now and most people had their hands too covered in mud to worry about taking pictures, but the ones that did snap a few shots give us a wonderful ability to look back at these events through eyes not blurred with tears and share our stories with those around us. The following images were taken by my late grandfather, William Baldwin, and McClellanville resident Jim Yergin.
If you haven’t already visited the Town Hall to see Hugo:The Storm in Black in White by the Village Museum you should go. Bud Hill has put together a great collection of images from the storm and opened up his scrapbook of Hugo newspaper clippings to the public and it is truly worth your time. SCETV has also been rerunning their old Hurricane Hugo pieces and a new one entitled The Big Picture: Hurricane Hugo – 20 Years Later with past scenes of McClellanville and interviews of a few residents. Please feel free to pass this along to all you know and love and leave your comments.
* Legal Notice – Copyright 2009 by MyMcClellanville.net – You are free to republish portions or in entirety with credit given to individual photographers noted on the slides and MyMcClellanville.net (link must be included if published on the web).