Skip to comments.Over Two Days, Hurricane, President, Beatles Visited North Fla. (1964)
Posted on 05/30/2004 4:20:23 PM PDT by nuconvert
Over Two Days, Hurricane, President, Beatles Visited North Fla.
Ron Word/Associated Press
May 30, 2004
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. (AP) - It was a remarkable two-day period in northeast Florida's history: Sept. 10-11, 1964. In less than 48 hours, Hurricane Dora's high winds and storm surge devastated Jacksonville and St. Augustine, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a surprise visit to inspect the damage, and the Beatles performed for 20,000 screaming fans at the Gator Bowl.
Glenn Guthrie remembers all three events - he witnessed each one.
At the time, surfing was Guthrie's life. Big waves are rare along north Florida's coast unless there's a hurricane or tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm left 8-foot-waves in its wake.
"There was a bunch of us, 30 or 40 of us, we all surfed it," said Guthrie, now a 54-year-old country club maintenance man who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach.
James Ward, a former reporter for The Florida Times-Union, recounted Dora's devastation in his book "Old Hickory's Town" and how the storm slammed into shore just after midnight on Sept. 10, 1964.
"Along the Duval County coast, seas were running 10 feet above normal and many oceanfront homes, together with seawalls, roads and highways, were dissolved in the raging surf and winds," Ward wrote. "Although the storm did between $250 (million) and $300 million in damage in the county, no lives were lost."
Guthrie's parents, who lived at the beach, listened to storm reports on a transistor radio as the hurricane roared ashore, while visions of big waves crashed in Guthrie's dreams. The 14-year-old slept through it.
Several buildings along the beach and the seawall were damaged. Large boulders were placed along the shore following the storm to prevent further erosion.
"It was a mess. We didn't have any power," Guthrie recalled. "We just ate sandwiches and drank colas. We were kids. We didn't care."
A day later after Dora struck, President Johnson made a surprise visit to Jacksonville Beach. The president waded through mud and muck and visited a resident whose house was destroyed.
"I feel real sorry for you," Johnson told the homeowner. "I wish there was something I could do." The president declared northeast Florida a disaster area and the federal government provided $4.8 million in aid.
Guthrie remembers seeing Johnson roll by in his motorcade as it made its way through the Jacksonville Beach area. "It was definitely a big Cadillac," he said.
Faye Lightburn, whose family rode out the storm at their home on the beach, said she was impressed by Johnson's visit, but the storm left more a lasting impact. Dora's wind and the rain blew through the blocks of her home and left the family "mopping all night, she said.
"There was a solid roar. What they say about sounding like a freight train is true," said the 75-year-old Lightburn, who still lives at the beach. "It was a scary time. It was an exciting time."
While residents struggled in Dora's aftermath and much of the city was without power, the Fab Four roared into town for a scheduled concert as part of the band's first U.S. tour.
At a news conference, John Lennon had one word, when asked how it felt to be in town at the same time as President Johnson, "Amazing!" the Times-Union reported.
As the Beatles left their hotel for the Gator Bowl (now Alltel Stadium), a near riot broke out in the hotel's parking garage as 500 fans fought to catch a glimpse of the band.
Later, Guthrie joined 20,000 screaming fans, and according to news accounts, most were teenage girls, to hear the Beatles perform. Tickets were $5 apiece. A Times-Union story on the concert mentioned that Dora's remnant winds "blew Beatle hair in all directions."
"It was unreal," said Guthrie, who estimated the entire concert lasted less than an hour. "They played 10 songs and they were out of there ... It was a real good show."
Another hurricane survivor, Maxwell Dickinson, said he was too concerned about putting food on the table and a home for his wife and three children to be concerned about the Beatles or President Johnson.
When his wife, Edna, heard Dora was taking aim for north Florida, they family left their home at the beach and headed inland.
When they returned, they found their home standing, but the storm had ripped off the porch and blown off the front door, depositing water and sand in his home. The winds and waves carved some 40 feet from the yard.
In their book, "Florida Hurricanes and Tropical Storms," John M. Williams and Iver W. Duedall, said Dora was the first to strike north Florida at a 90-degree angle since the Great Hurricane of 1880. Since Dora, north Florida has not received a direct hit from a hurricane.
Dickinson, 72, worries about the next hurricane, particularly since most coastal residents have never witnessed that kind of storm damage. The population has skyrocketed since Dora. From 1960 to 2002, St. Johns County has grown from 30,034 to 136,038, an increase of 353 percent, while Duval County has grown from 445,411 to 806,120, an increase of 81 percent, according to U.S. Census figures.
"I don't think most people realize the wrath of the ocean," he said. "It is not a matter of if we will have another hurricane, it's a matter of when."