From the Darkside

Ocean City: The Great Hurricane of 1933

We are proud to announce that MdHS has been awarded a federally funded grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to get our Ocean City Hurricane of 1933 film preserved! MdHS received 1 of the 35 grants awarded this year by NFPF which ensures that this incredible footage will be available to future generations. Besides being very expensive to preserve, motion picture film also degrades quickly due to its organic properties. Please visit NFPF’s website to learn more about the important task they are faced with and how you can help. This material could not have been saved without the public’s support.

The entire footage will be available for our researchers and patrons later this year after it has been cleaned, duplicated, rehoused and digitized by Colorlab in Rockville, Md. This week we have decided to reblog our post from last summer which was greeted with and overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. 

Two weeks ago, literally minutes before we published our Ocean City post, we made a serendipitous find. While working on an unrelated patron request we stumbled across a film entitled Ocean City Hurricane, 1933  in our rich a/v collection. Not only does this film contain great before and after footage of the storm, it also captures the creation of the inlet which ended up defining modern day Ocean City, only hours after it tore from the bay across the island. If you pay close attention you can see some of the very same structures captured in the Bodine photographs here, here and here we featured two weeks ago.

Since the film discovery came late, we didn’t have enough time to digitize it and add it to the previous post. This week it gets our full attention. The chilling footage captures the destruction and offers a view of the city most living Marylanders have never seen.

We initially suspected the footage was somehow affiliated with Stark Films, a bygone local production house. The addition of title cards to the homemade footage suggested a professional touch and, since MdHS holds a number of the company’s reels, it seemed a reasonable guess. We have since learned from newly found provenance records that the film was shot by S. Watts Smyth of St. Louis, Missouri, who may have had editing experience or at least access to a production house.

According to Bunny Connell, daughter of S. Watts Smyth, the family “spent each summer in Ocean City from 1926-’33.” Until 1933, the family made the more than 900-mile journey by train from St. Louis. However that August, they made the 15-hour drive in their new Cadillac LaSalle. This was the Smyth’s last summer spent in Ocean City before moving to Wyoming. Connell entrusted the film to MdHS in 1987.

This clip has been edited down to two minutes from the 11-minute original. To view the complete film or for more information about using or licensing it, please contact

If you’d like to read some background about the storm check out the references in our previous post or read the following article from the Baltimore Sun. You can also read about a similarly destructive storm that hit Ocean City in 1962 that had it’s own historic repercussions for the vacation town.  Enjoy! (Eben Dennis and Joe Tropea)