Category 5:
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane

Thomas Neil Knowles


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"A gripping account. . . . Winds were so strong that they tore babies from the arms of their parents. Over four hundred people lost their lives, including over two hundred veterans of World War I. It was a tragedy that did not have to happen."--John Wallace Viele, author of The Florida Keys: A History of the Pioneers

"Makes for fascinating reading about a period of time when science, politics, and nature converged, resulting in disaster."--Rodney E. Dillon Jr., Vice President, Past Perfect Florida History, Inc.

In the midst of the Great Depression, a furious storm struck the Florida Keys with devastating force. With winds estimated at over 225 miles per hour, it was the first recorded Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States.

Striking at a time before storms were named, the catastrophic tropical cyclone became known as the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, and its aftermath was felt all the way to Washington, D.C.
In the hardest hit area of the Florida Keys, three out of every five residents were killed, while hundreds of World War I veterans sent there by the federal government perished.

By sifting through overlooked official records and interviewing survivors and the relatives of victims, Thomas Knowles pieces together this dramatic story, moment by horrifying moment. He explains what daily life was like on the Keys, why the veteran work force was there (and relatively unprotected), the state of weather forecasting at the time, the activities of the media covering the disaster, and the actions of government agencies in the face of severe criticism over their response to the disaster.

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 remains one of the most intense to strike America's shores. Category 5 is a sobering reminder that even with modern meteorological tools and emergency management systems, a similar storm could cause even more death and destruction today.

Thomas Neil Knowles is the author of Long Key: Flagler’s Island Getaway for the Rich and Famous. Born and raised in Key West, he is a fourth generation Conch whose ancestors moved from the Bahamas o the island in the mid-1800s. He now lives in Tallahassee.
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Tells the story in all of its pulse-quickening detail. -- Farm Report

Rarely is a nonfiction book so compelling that it demands to be read in one sitting. But Thomas Neil Knowles' straighforward retelling of the 1935 hurricane that leveled Florida's Middle Keys is the exception. Knowles provides a sobering yet gripping account of the storm's ferocity and at the same time personalizes its consequences by making us care about the people it affected. And if you are a fan of the Keys' special charms, the author's descriptions of life there in the mid-1930s will add to your understanding of why it is such a unique place to so many people. -- Miami Herald

Tells in great detail--including in the words of seven survivors--the story of the hurricane that killed an estimated 400 people, the majority of them military veterans, from Marathon to Tavernier. -- Key West Citizen Hurricane Guide

This book carefully documents the unpredictability of the storm and the failures of meteorologists to succesfully track its progress. -- Book News

Knowles skillfully takes into account the natural events, social consequences, and politics in his comprehensive history. Knowles's book is a useful contribution and provides a unique perspective on an important episode in the state's history that had not just local but national consequences. -- Tampa Bay History

Knowles sets out to provide 'a true account' of the hurricane that struck the Upper Florida Keys on Labor Day, September 2, 1935. The author reconstructs the storm's formation, growth, and eventual landfall from numerous survivor interviews, first-person accounts, published reminiscences, and transcripts of public hearings held after the event. Dramatic anecdotes about those affected by the hurricane play out within the context of U.S. weather service history, the on-again, off-again development of the Florida Keys, and Great Depression public works programs utilizing unemployed veterans. Knowles has taken full advantage of records from the Dixie. The perspectives of the captain, crew members, and passengers complement and round out the accounts from land-based victims. Excellent maps and useful appendixes aid the reader in following the course of events. -- Journal of Southern History

A remarkable story of courage and perseverance. -- WTBF

An excellent source for historians who which to place storms such as Katrina within a larger historical sweep and broader analytical context. -- Reviews in American History

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