The Great Labor Day Hurricane
of 1935 had the stuff of legend.
A compact storm like Andrew but smaller, at a time even before satellites when forecasting was about as good as word-of-mouth of changing conditions and imprecise storm alerts via radio or telegraph. The storm roared across the upper Florida Keys with what would remain today as the record for the most intense U.S. hurricane at landfall, packing 892 millibars of pressure and estimated 185mph sustained winds (which was later re-analyzed to be more likely around 200mph by NOAA).
The storm struck at a time when the country was already suffering its worst depression. Notably, hundreds of World War I veterans who were put to work on a WPA program to "earn" their service bonuses early (the "Bonus Army"), trying to feed their families by working on a project which would connect The Florida Keys by highway, were ravaged by a storm surge which swept them out to sea before a late Florida East Coast Railway rescue train could take them safely out of danger. Of the bodies that were located, many were found among mangroves up and down the island chain for a time to come. Hearing of the news, Ernest Hemingway even sailed his fishing yacht Pilar
up from Key West to assist with rescue efforts.
The storm also notably sealed the fate of the Key West Extension
of the Florida East Coast Railway, which was already in receivership by 1931 due to the Depression, when 40 miles of right-of-way was destroyed and not enough money (or traffic) to rebuild. What cost over $50 million to construct out of "retired" Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler's personal fortune was sold to the state of Florida for $640,000, its bridges and roadbeds later assisting in completing the Overseas Highway.
Some say that had it not been for the miles upon miles of man-made landfill used during construction of the railroad extension, the water would have had better channels around the islands for the surge to pass, rather than right over them. There are claims that locals made, at the time of construction, such an ominous warning to the railroad about doing so.
"About the only way to look at it, just a pity you are not POTUS KFLLCFII, seems as if we would all be better off."