Noel Beyle, the Blizzard, and the Bathhouse
To most people who got through the Cape Cod version of the legendary “Blizzard of ’78,” the night of Feb. 6, 1978, was one stormy experience.
To Noel Beyle, it wasn’t a big deal at first — until his phone rang the next day.
“That night, there was just a lot of wind,” Beyle recalled in a 2008 interview. “The next morning, the sun came out, and I was sitting there doing something, and then I got a telephone call.”
The anxious voice on the other end quickly put him on alert.
“Hey, have you been out yet?”
“Why don’t you go over to Coast Guard Beach? There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening over there. The Coast Guard Beach bathhouse is being slammed by waves.”
Beyle, the longtime Eastham historian who passed away in June 2017, was already at work putting together one of his Cape books for First Encounter Press, his publishing outfit, but this storm was about to give him enough material to publish two more books.
Off to the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Coast Guard Beach he went.
“I grabbed my camera and some rolls, and 17 rolls later, standing out in the driveway, taking pictures of that beach bathhouse getting absolutely clobbered,” Beyle marveled.
Bob Seay, at that time a news reporter for WVLC radio in Orleans, was first tipped off on the damage at Coast Guard by the local police dispatcher early on the morning of Feb. 7. Along with the bathhouse and parking lot, the entire barrier beach had been washed over, claiming several beach cottages, including Henry Beston’s “Outermost House” and Conrad Nobili’s “Butterfly House,” among others.
“The only thing that was left was the bathhouse, which at this time was out in the water,” Seay recalled in 2008. “The perspective completely changed. The parking lot had been buried, shattered, washed away. That’s where the water came through.”
As former Cape Cod National Seashore Jack Clarke recalled in 2008, the two ends of the bathhouse washed away during that night. By morning, only the main core of the building, a hexagon, remained. It still stood, but was no longer safe, and Seashore rangers had no choice but to burn down what was left of the structure.
As the water kept rushing in from the east, thousands of people were pouring in from the west down Nauset Road and Oceanview Drive to catch a glimpse of the ocean’s power. Cape Cod essayist Robert Finch was one of those spectators.
There were hundreds of people there watching the waves just smashing up against that bathhouse,” was Finch’s recollection during a 2014 interview. “And with every wave, and every smash, the crowds would just cheer! And I said, ‘Why is that? What are we cheering about?’”
Beyle didn’t count himself as a spectator — for him, he was right in the middle of the spectacle.
“It was a picture bonanza,” Beyle raved. “I was trying to catch the right wave at just the right moment, which I did, although it did cost me a lot of money.
“There was only one guy who was a complete idiot to go out there. Everybody else was up on the bluff, but I went down into the driveway and put the camera on a tripod and shot and shot and shot, hoping for the right shot … and I did!”