Allard Flagg in the 1893 Hurricane at Magnolia Beach (now Huntington Beach), South Carolina
[A selection from Lowcountry Hurricanes]
Here is a portion of the tale of what the local people called “The Flagg Flood,” the tragic 1893 hurricane at Huntington Beach (then called Magnolia Beach) and the Flagg family, as Cousin Corrie, Hostess at the popular South Carolina tourist attraction, explained it to visitors in the 1950s . . .
The morning of Friday the thirteenth in October 1893 dawned gray and rainy on our South Carolina coast. Wind howled and waves crashed along the shore. A storm was surely coming, but how strong would it be? A mild gale? A hurricane?
. . .
Many Flagg family members summered in houses on Magnolia Beach. One was the unmarriedson of Dr. Allard Flagg of the Hermitage at Murrells Inlet, Allard Belin Flagg III, whom the others called Cousin Allard (and seemingly the only male Flagg NOT to become a physician). He had built a house a short walk up the strand toward the inlet mouth from two other Flagg houses. These belonged to Dr. Allard’s brother, Dr. Arthur Belin Flagg, and Dr. Arthur’s son, young Dr. Arthur Flagg Jr. They, their families (including Dr. Wardie, another of Dr. Arthur’s sons), and their servants usually spent the summer there at the seashore.
That stormy morning . . . Cousin Allard was eating his breakfast at his house up Magnolia Beach from the other two Flagg families. He and his manservant made their morning meal from last night’s cold cornbread however, because he had sent his cook and another servant back to the mainland the evening before when they became concerned about the threatening weather. Young Cousin Allard had chosen to remain at the beach. He looked forward to the adventure of riding out a storm and had always enjoyed watching the winds drive the waves crashing along the shore.
Shortly after breakfast the storm’s fury suddenly increased. Cousin Allard began to realize that this was no usual storm, but it was now too late to escape to the mainland. He watched from his front porch as the churning ocean surged up the strand toward the houses on Magnolia Beach while the high tide began to flood into yards from the creek side. Each house quickly became an island in a sea of crashing waves. Wind and rain lashed viciously while the water continued to rise. A mighty storm was growing.
The beach house of young Cousin Allard was smaller than the other Flagg houses, but like most of them, it had several outbuildings. A shed where Allard stabled his horse and a separate kitchen that kept the heat and threat of fire away from the main house stood in the back yard. As water rose in the yard, Cousin Allard and his servant fought their way through the stinging rain to lead his horse out of the rapidly flooding shed. Cousin Allard turned him loose knowing that the horse had a better chance of survival in the open rather than trapped inside the building.
Cousin Allard and his servant then fought their way back to the house as rain pelted them in the swirling, waist-deep water. At first they felt secure inside the sturdy wooden building even as the wind howled and the waves grew higher outside. Then water climbed the front porch steps. Breaking waves soon washed through the opened front door and covered the wide pine floorboards of the hall and sitting room.
Cousin Allard and his servant made their way up to the second floor ahead of the rising ocean. But larger and larger waves battered the wooden structure until it began to give way under the crushing weight of the water. The front walls collapsed inward as the roof sagged slowly on top of them. Luckily this gave the two men time to escape through the back windows . . . escape, but into raging waters.
The two young men soon found themselves hanging on to slabs of siding that floated in the breaking waves. Fortunately the wind and waves pushed them rapidly into what looked like a raft, the floating roof of the separate kitchen! It seemed almost sturdy in the surrounding chaos. They scrambled aboard and discovered that the roof held another passenger as well: the kitchen’s bedraggled and spitting resident cat!
Although they could see only dimly through the driving rain and breaking waves, Allard and his servant sensed the storm pushing their makeshift raft toward the mainland. And what was that dark object moving toward them through the water? Cousin Allard’s horse appeared, swimming strongly through the waves! Allard called to the animal, which seemed to recognize his master and continued to follow behind the raft.
Frightening and exhausting hours followed, but the two men, the cat, and the horse remained alive amid the pounding wind and waves.
Suddenly bushes loomed ahead out of the storm. No, those were treetops! The waves had carried them to shore, but now they beat the men and their raft mercilessly against the branches and tree trunks of live oaks and pines rising out of the flood. The horse could not touch bottom and soon disappeared swimming farther inland. The two men and the cat continued to cling to the roof with every scrap of strength.
At last the winds began to subside. Waters receded all along the coast. When the weather cleared at the Hermitage, Dr. Allard, Miss Alice, and the servants looked out across the marsh to a chilling sight. No houses stood on Magnolia Beach!
As the rest of the household stood on the shore weeping, Dr. Allard turned away silently on his heel and disappeared into his study. He was always a stern and private man. One can only wonder at his horror and at his fear for his brother’s family and for his son, Allard.
Miraculously, young Allard, his servant, his cat, and his horse all survived the storm! The winds had even lodged their raft on the shore close to the Hermitage itself! It had quite a ride for the adventuresome trio, but gave at least one Flagg household a happy outcome on that Friday the thirteenth, the day of The Flagg Flood.
Copyright 2004 Lynn Michelsohn
For other stories of Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach, and Murrells Inlet in the Carolina Lowcountry, read . . .