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Riding out 1928 storm in Boynton High

With the 1928 hurricane more than 83 years past, the number of survivors is now a few. A decade ago, I was doing a talk in Boynton Beach and said the storm’s eye likely went no farther south than Lake Worth.

A hand shot up. Not true, a woman said. We were in the eye.

It was Lorraine Lewerenz Vicki, who died in November. She survived Palm Beach County’s most profound disaster at the old Boynton Beach High, the same one the city is trying to save. Here’s an excerpt from Black Cloud, my book on the storm:

In Boynton Beach, 13-year-old Eunice Lewerenz watched the plaster come down from the ceiling of the new high school. It had been built a year earlier.

Her father Walter had labored in a woodworking mill until lungs weakened by tuberculosis made it too hard. His doctor told him he needed a change of climate. In the fall of 1928, there were five children: Eunice, Aileen, Harriett, Lorraine and Walter Jr.

Walter decided his home wasn’t safe. The obvious alternative: the brand new high school.

They went first to the room used for manual training, now called shop class. It was on the west side and they believed it would be safer than the home economics room on the east side.

Suddenly the ceiling started to come down. The second-floor auditorium came with it. Eunice and her family were in a corner and weren’t hurt, but one boy was.

They raced over to the home of ornamental nursery owner Alfred C. Shepard, just across the street. Inside were Shepard, his wife, and three children. The home had French doors, and Shepard feared they would blow in. Someone placed a chair under the door handle and sat in it.

Then came the eye. Walter ran to his home. The yard was full of dead chickens. He gathered them up and returned to the Shepard home. He was gone less than a half hour. The wind picked up again. Later, the problems of freshly dead chickens and hungry refugees soon solved each other.

The school survived and was repaired, but the storm destroyed Town Hall, the Hotel Cassandra and the First Methodist Church.


The old Boynton Beach High School, shown here in 1956, was built in 1927 as Old Mangrove High School. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm.

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