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James R. Stout


            Between the evening hours of September 8, 1900 and the morning hours of September 9, 1900 what came to be known as the “Great Galveston Hurricane” made landfall. There was no radar warning available given radar had not been invented yet. It wasn’t reported on the radio or on television for the same reasons. However, within hours after the storm had passed newspapermen were hurriedly taking photos and writing news reports of the devastation that they saw. The city dropped from 38,000 to about 30,000 overnight. Approximately 8,000 people died. Most of the survivors were now homeless due to almost all of the buildings, including nearly 4,000 homes, were torn to shreds from the wind. The houses and buildings that remained were damaged either by the winds or by the 12 foot storm surge. If you’ve ever seen photos of the aftermath it looks like the remains of cities such as Dresden and Berlin at the end of WW2. In fact, some who witnessed it would later remark that photos of Hiroshima, Japan after the atomic bomb was exploded looked similar.

            As the story goes in our family, my great-grandfather, “Babe” Parker, and his brother Ben were so curious about what it looked like that they rode to Huntsville by wagon and then caught a train to Galveston to see what it was all about. Babe was 27-years-old at the time. He had been married to my great-grandmother for a little over 2 years and he had one child, 10-month-old Tom Parker (my grandfather), but despite the protests of his wife he and his brother went to see what they could see. My mother said that what he witnessed while there was so traumatic that he rarely would talk about it for the rest of his life. He died in 1953 at the age of 80. But he did tell my great-grandmother some of what he experienced, and she later told my grandfather and other family members.

            He reported that the first thing that they were struck by when they got to Galveston was the complete devastation. Great piles of debris, some up to 30 feet high, filled what were once roads. The second thing they saw were the bodies. Bodies were everywhere. The smell was already overpowering by the time they got there. It so sickened them that they decided to leave on the next train going back north, but that’s not what happened. They were conscripted into service for two weeks. Their duty? To pile the bodies and burn them in funeral pyres. There was no place to bury them and an attempt to dump them out in the Gulf of Mexico only resulted in the bodies washing up back on the Galveston shoreline. It had to be done. Frankly, I can see how this would be something you never wanted to talk about afterward.

            Babe and his brother Ben made it back home by the end of September and like so many disasters, either man-made or nature-made, the story ran its course. The cost of that storm, adjusted for inflation, is the third most expensive storm in American history. And that’s just the monetary factors. Today, it remains as the deadliest natural disaster in American history. To put it into perspective, nearly 3 times as many people died in that storm as did in the 911 attacks. Still, time passes, and other fresh news items filled the newspapers. A year later President McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet. Other presidential elections came and went as well as news of The Titanic, WW1, Prohibition and the rise of organized crime because of that amendment, another Babe, Babe Ruth, became a household name, an engineering feat called the Hoover Dam, the stock market crash, the depression, and the list goes on.

            So, why do I tell this story? Because I want to point out that sometimes we’re better off not allowing our curiosity to get the best of us. We all know that it would be dumb to open an unknown email due to the likelihood of it containing malware, a worm, a virus, or whatever else they have today. The worst are those ransomware emails. Yet, every day a whole lot of people let their curiosity get the better of them and they open the email anyway. It’s natural for us to be curious about things but be smart about it. I don’t care much for Stephen King the writer. He’s a raving lunatic so far as I can tell by his political rhetoric. He’s written some extremely disturbing and disgusting things. That said, there was a time when I read many of his books. This was 40 years ago though.  To be honest, those earlier books of his were not so twisted and sick as his latter books. One of his novellas that was published in the early 80’s was called “The Body”. It was later made into a very good movie called “Stand By Me”. Those four boys allowed their curiosity to nearly get them killed. Remember the train trestle scene? Remember the big scene with the older boys? Their curiosity of seeing a dead body overwhelmed them. Once they had seen it, they were forever changed. No twelve-year-old needs to see a rotting corpse.

            Now, if you’re curious about a new flavor of ice cream, then go for it. But, if your gut tells you that doing something because you’re curious about it isn’t a wise thing to do, then go with your gut. It works for Leroy Jethro Gibbs so it can’t be a bad thing!

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