This Labor Day weekend marks the 78th anniversary of the Great Florida Keys Storm of 1935 — still the most powerful hurricane to strike the United States.
The storm is a critical element in my novel TOROS & TORSOS, currently free for Kindle this Labor Day weekend. (Download your free copy HERE.)
The ’35 hurricane occurred at a time before tropical storms were given names. Storm forecasting was an uncertain science. And officials charged with the responsibility of informing and evacuating citizenry in the storm’s path were more grossly incompetent in performing their duties than those who bungled evacuations in the run-up to Katrina.
Toros & Torsos opens in Key West during Labor Day weekend, 1935. It finds Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway preparing for the hurricane and traces their activities during and after the monster storm swept north of Key West.
America’s southernmost island was spared; the hurricane instead swamped and devastated the upper middle keys, killing numerous World War I vets left stranded on low-lying labor camps by dithering federal officials who had adequate time to evacuate them.
The needless deaths of the vets and others had the effect of politicizing a previously apolitical Ernest Hemingway (admittedly, never an FDR fan) who was among the first to reach the destroyed keys to lend support and aid in collecting storm victims’ swollen, rotting bodies.
Hemingway wrote, “I would like to make whoever sent them there carry just one out through the mangroves, or turn one over that lay in the sun along the fill, or tie five together so they won’t float out, or smell that smell you thought you’d never smell again, with luck when rich bastards make a war. The lack of luck goes on until all who take part in it are gone…You’re dead now brother…Who left you there? And what’s the punishment for manslaughter now?”
In writing the Key West portion of Toros & Torsos, I consulted numerous Hemingway biographies, but the book I leaned hardest on is Phil Scott’s Hemingway’s Hurricane, which is not just the most comprehensive resource for Hemingway’s storm experience, but an excellent overview of the 1935 disaster that will be of interest to anyone who believes Katrina and government officials’ failure to adequately prepare for that gathering storm was an isolated phenomenon.