’62 storm was harrowing for Brigantine bride-to-be

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BRIGANTINE – Thirteenth Street is the last street on the northernmost tip of the island, only a block long between beach and bayfront. When the storm of ’62 hit, the bay and the ocean met on the narrow thoroughfare, according to Brigantine native Verna Cherry, who now lives in Galloway.

Verna Cherry of Galloway shares photos of the 1962 nor’easter with her grandchildren, Juliet Cherry, 5, and Joey Hawn, 16, a student at Absegami High School Verna Cherry of Galloway shares photos of the 1962 nor’easter with her grandchildren, Juliet Cherry, 5, and Joey Hawn, 16, a student at Absegami High School

On the worst night of the storm, Cherry – who was then Verna Gaus – huddled in her home with her mother and father, Emma and Bill Gaus, and her sister Carol, with no electricity, no phone and only flashlights for illumination. Outside, the wind roared relentlessly, and rising water lapped at the front porch stairs.

“It was eerie, because we had no idea what was going on,” said Cherry. “We didn’t think it was going to be bad – it wasn’t a hurricane – but with the new moon and high tide, it was a combination of things. It was supposed to be a typical nor’easter.”

Though the storm was frightening, the 21 year old had a more pressing concern: On April 28, just a few weeks away, she was supposed to marry her fiancé, Joseph Cherry, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on the island. At first light, when the family stepped outside, they saw scenes of devastation: rocks and trees tossed around like playthings, a once-sunken well that had been completely unearthed, and small mountains of mud and sand.

“When we ventured into the center of town, it looked like a war zone,” said Cherry, who is now 71. She also watched the Seashore Pier as it broke apart and its pilings washed into the street.

She trudged on foot to a downtown school, where her fiancé picked her up and took her back to his home in Galloway. The church had been undamaged, and a few weeks later, on the day of the wedding, “It was a beautiful sunny day,” said Cherry.

The couple went on to have four daughters, Kathleen, Debbie, Jennifer and Mary Emma, and six grandchildren. Last year, when Hurricane Irene struck, the family was packed and prepared to evacuate, but that storm fizzled out before it hit South Jersey.

Cherry and her husband, Joe, lived together for almost a half-century until his death in 2011. Every once in a while, she takes out the scrapbook of old black-and-white photos of the town after the storm, and remembers the drama of the great nor’easter of 1962.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years,” she said.


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