Remembering Hurricane Hugo battering South Carolina with author Mickey Spillane


Touring the rocky coast

I’ve written about midnight Sept. 1989. I’m remembering it again. Hurricane Hugo. Worst killer storm to ever hit the Carolinas.

I arrived to see my friend Mickey Spillane, then Earth’s top kill ’em/shoot ’em/maim ’em mystery writer who’d done 50 best sellers featuring his fictional hero Mike Hammer.

Near what remained of Myrtle Beach — the 18-room Murrells Inlet house he’d lived in 35 years — gone. His boat sat in what would’ve been his living room. A live pelican flapped in the dining room. The pelican was on a dock. The dock was now in the dining room. We examined wreckage with a flashlight when the pelican flapped his wings, chased us and threw us out.

A giant hole was the once-glorious white house. The section fronting the water totally gone. A gleaming porcelain toilet festooned the front yard.

The front door hung. Steps, gone. Trash was piled against a 5-foot watermark like some frightening sculpture. Weird things stuck to shredded screens. A rocking chair — not his — in the library. Saltwater crabs alive and well everywhere.

His boat wound up in the living room. “When I went away my neighbor had my house keys,” he said, “but who needs keys when there’s no house?”

We sat on a porch festooned with fallen trees and bushes. The roof sagged. The floor had a hole. The walls were hanging. A boiler sat on his front yard along with water pipes, kitchen freezer, clothes iron, and rocking chair that didn’t belong to him.

Myster writer Mickey Spillane's Murrells Inlet house was completely destroyed by the storm.
Myster writer Mickey Spillane’s Murrells Inlet house was completely destroyed by the storm.
AP Photo/Lou Krasky

We saw a now-rusted pot bellied stove, smashed Tiffany lamp, Mexican tile kitchen, which was now complete history, and an assessed $3,000 in stored groceries. In what had been Mickey’s office an ashtray — not his — that blew in from somewhere said “Home Sweet Home.” An Ethan Allen chair somehow got used for kindling. Service for 12 left only one pewter salt shaker under a mound of mud.

A year later Mickey rebuilt. He said: “The situation was unsolvable. We bulldozed and started over. Cost half a million just to tear it down and another million to rebuild. We started from scratch. Took nine months.

“The new house, on stilts, has 100% structural integrity. Ten feet off the ground. Three stories. Concrete foundation. The underpinnings have enormous power. A whole level’s underneath our first floor like a carport. We’re up on hurricane ties, concrete steel posts deep into the ground up through the walls to the second story. Hurricane windows that can withstand tremendous winds.

A woman standing near her home after it was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in Folly Beach, South Carolina.
A woman standing near her home after it was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in Folly Beach, South Carolina.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
A street in Garden City Beach, South Carolina covered in debris after Hugo.
A street in Garden City Beach, South Carolina covered in debris after Hugo.
AP Photo/Bob Jordan

“Pine floors. Old-fashioned Victorian tub on an oak pedestal. New old-style pull-chain toilets. Worry won’t put anything back. Jeez, I’ve been through enough.”

Jehovah’s Witness Mickey stayed cool. He sat me in remnants of a rocking chair and said, “I’m 71, gray. Lucky I still have hair. I can’t spend what’s left of my life worrying.”

Near a trusty antique Smith Corona typewriter on which he pecked out his best sellers, he found what he said was a 500 year old bottle of wine, poured it into a paper cup and said: “Hell, I’m still doing OK for an old bastard.”


Two partners on a train back from Florida. One suddenly jumped up, screaming, “My God! I left the safe open.” The other partner shrugged and said, “So what’re you worried about? We’re both here, aren’t we?”

Only in New York, kids, only in New York.



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