There is a tremendous waste in love, understanding and both factual knowledge and experience every time we decide that, just because folks are old, they no longer have anything to offer society.
His hobby met him at the gate when he finally managed to reach his little frame house on the afternoon of Saturday, September 15, 1900.
W.H. Plummer was getting on in years. Already retired from a life spent at sea off the Northeast Coast, he was called "Captain" or simply "Cap" by his friends. Unable to find regular work because folks said he was "too old", he was a part-time employee of the Galveston Police - - cleaning the station and making sure the doors were locked. His hobby reminded him of his youth and was a small-scale and carefully handcrafted boat built on the lines of the sturdy crafts used by Maine lobstermen. Floating free from her chocks in the already waist-high water, she seemed eager to be off. Around him, in the rising wind and water, a city was dying in what would soon be called "The Great Galveston Storm".
Whenever we are faced with a natural or man-made disaster, we see those who prey on the misfortunes of others. Fortunately, we also see those who have led unspectacular lives suddenly rise above the call of ordinary duty in their service and acceptance of responsibility.
This was something Cap knew, and something he could do! He and the sea were old adversaries, and his hobby was waiting to prove her strength.
Cap Plummer didn't wait. He put on his boots and his old slicker, took his two grown sons and four stout hand-carved oars, kicked down what was left of his picket fence, and started out to save as much of his adopted city as he could.
“Huracan”, the Quiche Indian god of thunder, lightening, and evil winds, had ravaged Galveston before. The pirate/privateer Jean LaFitte once sailed his ships completely across the island. The storm of October 3, 1867 did more damage than the Civil War and Yankee occupation combined, but this was different. In 1900, Galveston was a Victorian Queen of Commerce and Culture and was built accordingly. "The Strand" was the Wall Street of the American Southwest. Mansions dedicated to both style and opulence nestled in private gardens or flaunted their excesses next to the streets. The port was as busy as that of Liverpool or Shanghai. People, however, tend to forget the awesome power of wind and water. A city engineer, E. M. Hartrick had said, "The people of Galveston will go on living in fancied security as they always have." Now, in the false security of Victorian mansions they were dying.
Cap's hobby was only 14 feet long. With the crew of three at the oars, that left room for only a handful of people. At first, Cap tried to carry survivors from their destroyed homes to higher ground, but there was no higher ground. The waves were already crossing the island. Neighbors first. In the area between 1st and 7th Streets they often had to split up families, but they kept coming back.
Cap saw his little home demolished, with all those around it, early in the afternoon. Men, women, and children were picked from floating wreckage and ferried in the long haul to the red brick security of St. Mary's Infirmary. Then there was the longer haul back against the wind and waves for more survivors. Each trip was more difficult. On each trip the number of survivors in the wreckage was fewer as their strength failed. As buildings large and small were reduced to floating wreckage, the little boat and its crew continued to pick their way through water that rose higher than the second story of Old St. Mary's. Finally, they could do no more. Capsized and broken, the hobby was tied to a window casing, and Cap and his sons joined those they had saved.
We'll never know how many people died in "The Great Galveston Storm" but a median estimate of 7,200 makes it by far our biggest natural disaster in terms of lives lost. There were, of course, many survivors, and among them were over 200 at St. Mary's who would not have made it if it had not been for Cap Plummer and his hobby - - and something else, his acceptance of responsibility and his value to the community.