Brackers reflect on ‘32 Storm

New museum exhibit features old family photographs, audio clips, 1930s furnishings

District Commissioner Ernie Scott used the term “home folk” when he welcomed locals and residents outside the Cayman Brac Museum to a commemorative service and official opening of an historical exhibit, both marking the 80th anniversary of the 1932 Hurricane. 

The programme of prayer, music and speeches included a poignant candle-lighting roll call of victims – the 69 men, women and children who lost their lives on land, and the 40 more who died at sea. By the time all the names were read, no one present could remain unmoved by the enormity of suffering this little Island endured when 10 per cent of its population was taken and so many homes were destroyed. Whether people in the audience were mourning family members or admiring the human spirit under adversity, the evening engendered a sense of community and everyone was made 
to feel like home folk.  

“This evening is not about celebrating, but remembering the impact of the ‘32 Storm,” Mr. Scott said on 8 November, calling the service a time of reflection and paying tribute. 

His remarks and the main address by Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly focused on the courage and determination of storm survivors, who rebuilt despite their numbing losses. They also served as an introduction to a new exhibit in the Brac museum, which features old photographs of Brac families, written and oral accounts of the storm and household furnishings from the 1930s era. 

Mr. Scott and Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly, who is First Elected Member for the Sister Islands and Minister for District Administration, also pointed out that 8 November, 2012, was the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Paloma. This time, as the deputy premier pointed out, no life was taken. If memories needed prompting, an audio-visual presentation showed numerous sites around the Brac after Paloma’s damage and again after repairs and reconstruction. Delroy Bodden and Chevala Burke were thanked for their work in organising that video. 

Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly asked audience members to imagine what it was like when the only storm technology was a barometer, when light at night came only from the stars and moon, plus a lantern if one was lucky enough to have kerosene. She reminded them of what helped their parents and grandparents after the ‘32 Storm — common sense and hard work. She related what her grandfather had often said — “Work never killed anyone yet.” That was the modus operandi for Brackers, and still is for the majority, she asserted. 

The deputy premier suggested that Brackers were genetically encoded to survive. “Often it takes storms for us to shine,” she commented. “As Brackers, we’re always stronger when we reach across with love.” She urged everyone to carve out time to spend with family members, hand down stories from the ‘32 Storm and share experiences from Paloma so that everyone will be better prepared for the future. “We have this rich heritage,” she pointed out. “We ought to be happy and proud.” 

Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly paid special tribute to Heather McLaughlin, who compiled and edited survivors’ recollections for the book The ‘32 Storm: Eyewitness Accounts and Official Reports of the Worst Natural Disaster in the History of the Cayman Islands, and to Nancy Kirkaldy Bernard, who illustrated the book. Both women attended from Grand Cayman, as did Director of the Cayman Islands National Museum Peggy Leshikar-Denton. 

Also in the audience were three survivors of the ‘32 Storm. Priscilla Ryan was nine years old and living on the bay (behind where Billy’s supermarket is now) when the storm struck. Pauline Ritch-Poldervaart of Creek was 10 months old and Quelda Solomon had been born at Watering Place just two days before the storm struck. The women received a warm round of applause when asked to stand and be recognised. 

Music in the programme was provided by the Combined Primary School Choirs, which sang the National Song; the Layman Scott High School Choir, which sang Till the Storm Passes By; and by Conrad Martin, who accompanied himself on guitar to perform The Nineteen Thirty-Two Hurricane, written by his uncle, the late Willie J. McLaughlin. Pastors Audley Scott and Laurel L. Ryan offered prayers and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tibbetts served as master of ceremonies. 

Just before Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly cut the ribbon to officially open the museum exhibit, chairman of the event organising committee Wanda Tatum presented a framed certificate of appreciation to Debra Barnes-Tabora, national museum curator, for her many hours of work in setting up the displays. Everyone was then invited to tour the exhibit, under the auspices of Brac museum curator Lisa McFarlane. 

For details of the ‘32 Storm, see the story Terror came to Cayman 80 years ago, by Alan Markoff, in the 9 November edition of the Caymanian Compass. 

Mr. Scott’s remarks and the main address by Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly focused on the courage and determination of storm survivors, who rebuilt despite their numbing losses. 

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