2017-09-21 / Columnists

Babylon News & Muse

•While we weathered Hurricane Jose, the poor people in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico, have been hit with still another huge storm: Hurricane Maria. One wonders just how much of those lovely Caribbean Islands will be left by the time hurricane season ends.

•I have to tell you a story about my mother’s family and the hurricane they encountered while living in the U.S. Virgin Islands. My great-grandfather, Michael Nolan, a former member of the NYPD, was appointed to serve as the first police chief of the U.S. Virgin Islands shortly after he United States took control. His two sons also made the Islands their homes for several years and my great uncle, Roger Nolan, was serving as chief medical officer in the U.S. Navy in the Virgin Islands.

My grandfather, Jim Nolan, wed Isabelle Browne of Brooklyn and Lake Ronkonkoma a few years earlier. On their first anniversary, Belle presented Jim with a lovely pair of twin girls (my aunt Mary, and my mother, Isabel). Naturally, Jim was anxious to provide for his young family. He had the bright idea to build a factory in the Virgin Islands to produce alcohol. This venture took place during the 1920s, and you may remember that Prohibition was in effect in the U.S. mainland.

Apparently, relatives in both the Browne and Nolan families thought this was a great idea, and invested quite heavily in this effort. Now, my mother, who was quite proper, insisted that he was making medical alcohol. But her Browne uncles were certain that there was rum involved. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what type of alcohol may have been involved.

Mom and her twin sister were sent to St. Joseph’s Academy in Brentwood, a very respectable boarding school their mother had attended. During the school year, the girls spent holidays with their grandmother Browne (who must have been a saint, to hear Mom tell it!) in Lake Ronkonkoma.

But when the summer holidays came, the two girls sailed to the Virgin Islands to be with their parents and younger brother. When summer ended, the girls would sail back to New York to resume school.

Of course, in those days, there was no real warning when a bad storm or hurricane came. I would suppose that ships at sea might report a storm to other ships and naval bases, but I’m not really sure of that.

In any event, the family was scheduled to sail to New York to bring the girls back to school. They had actually gone on board the steamer that would take them home, when somehow Jim Nolan learned a hurricane was approaching (probably through his brother at the Navy base).

According to my mother, there was an argument between the ship’s captain and Jim. In the end, Belle and Jim ushered their family ashore and the ship sailed, hoping to outrun the storm.

From what Mom told us, this storm must have been as strong as the recent storms. The islands were devastated. Even as a small girl, Mom remembered that the buildings that remained were looted of food and just about everything else.

Fortunately, between my great-grandfather as the police chief, and my uncle Roger as one of the top naval officers, Mom and her family found shelter and whatever else they needed.

They boarded the next steamer for New York City and when they arrived in New York, they found that the original boat they had booked and boarded had sunk, with no survivors. Since the Nolan family was listed on the manifest, New York papers reported that the family had gone down with the steamer.

When the Nolans suddenly turned up alive and well, a headline for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed “Brooklyn Family Saved.”

•Keep your eye on the programs offered by the Babylon Library and our other local libraries…many of them are terrific and are either free or relatively inexpensive!

•I missed a couple of birthdays last week. There’s a mother-daughter pair who celebrated their special days recently, lifelong friends Jane Kane and her youngest daughter, Kristen Shaw!

Also can’t miss saying “happy birthday” to Ann Curry and many happy returns to Ellen Merryman! Four super women who all deserve to have a great year!

•A memorial service for Dr. Milton “Mitty” Beyers will be held at Chapey’s on Sat., Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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