"CENTRAL"—JUST A GIRL, BUT THE REAL NEW HEROINE OF MODERN LIFE
THE GREAT OHIO FLOOD UNCOVERS AN UNDISCOVERED FORCE FOR BRAVERY AND TEACHES US HOW VALUABLE OUR "HELLO-GIRLS" ARE.
A memorable cause for pride amidst the heartrending hardships of the western floods is the quiet courage of the telephone girls.
Where torrents unloosed by northern watersheds swept swift destruction through unprotected lowlands the plea of a stricken people could be voiced only through "central."
Telegraph companies acknowledged the worst prostration in their history, railways were paralyzed throughout the flood zone. In scores of isolated towns of the Scioto, Muskingum and Miami valley an overwhelmed community’s hope for relief centered on a lonely girl!
In time of peace the operators who sit at the switchboard hear life sweep by—ignoring their existence. The gay greetings, the eager plans for pleasuring do not include them.
But in the hour of crisis, ah, then we consider "central"—grateful to find her clear-headed in calamity, capable of coping with catastrophe, efficient to aid victims who will escape, if at all, by fractions of minutes.
"Don’t ask me who the dead are," answered "central" at Chillicothe, switching and relaying tales of destruction and desolation.
"Don’t ask me who the dead are. Now we must think only of the people who are still alive."
All down the Ohio valley little towns escaped Titanic tragedies because girl operators stood by their switchboards. As Logansport was cut off came a last brave word on behalf of flood refugees marooned on the hilltop. At Dayton an intrepid "central," working in the dark—for gas mains were gone—cheered the thousands in business buildings with news of speedy rescue.
In Peru a quick-witted "central" telephoned warning after warning against the on-rushing danger.
At St. Marys, when the grand reservoir broke and inundated the town, "central" stood waist deep in the flooded office to telephone Fort Wayne of the tragedy.
Hamilton and Fremont and Columbus swept by yellow, swirling seas were comforted by bulletins of lives saved and relief trains already on their way.
The brave reports give no hint of conscious selfsacrifice or heroism. Apparently each "central" was instinctively loyal to her job. Five telephone operators trapped by the crest of the flood in Zanesville’s exchange worked steadily through eerie days to the detonation of falling buildings and the light of burning structures.
"The river swept like a great wind through the city," telephoned Miss Arline Barnett, "but already the waters are receding. The worst is over. We are thankful to be alive. Send us medicine and food."
Girl prisoners who watched buildings collapse in torrents of unimaginable fury and victims whirled away on drifting housetops yet kept courage to voice brave news to homeless sufferers!
We know them now, UNNAMED BUT NOTABLE—the switchboard girls who think and work. Their calm in the midst of calamity promises a new element of safety and gives a new reason for considering "central."
FIGHTING ON THE LEVEES
OHIO RIVER TOWNS AIDED BY SOLDIERS STRUGGLE TO KEEP STREAM WITHIN BANKS—THOUSANDS OF HOMES SUBMERGED—PEOPLE LIVE IN WOODS—BUSINESS SUSPENDED—RAILROADS TIED UP.
Alarming breaks in the Big Four levee, just beyond the outskirts of Cairo, roused the inhabitants to intense excitement. The seepage in all parts of the town became greater than before and a keener realization of the threatened catastrophe possesses the military inside the limits.
Traffic on the main line of the Illinois Central railroad was paralyzed because of a washout of the tracks between Cairo Junction and the Cache river, in the drainage district. The water went over the tracks in the early morning of Monday, March 31st and Tuesday, April 1st, with the result that the Seminole limited from St. Louis and the Panama limited from Chicago were unable to pass.
The stretch of submerged property is about four miles long. Several hundred feet of track were washed out.
Preparations for the flood, which was inevitable went forward in the doomed city. The ring of pick and spade was heard all along the line of the sea wall as the troops from Chicago, the "Fighting Seventh," and their associates from other points of Illinois, with the Illinois naval reserves from Chicago, toiled at strengthening the levee throughout its length.
That the militia officers fully realize the immediate danger was shown when Col. Daniel Moriarty, leader of the 7th regiment and in charge of all the troops in Cairo, practically placed the city under military rule. Although no actual declaration of martial law was announced, picket lines were thrown out and more than 300 soldiers patrolled the streets. It was stated frankly that the reason for this was the desire to inspire fear among persons said to be in the town for the purpose of looting homes left unprotected by people who have fled the city. Col. Moriarty feared a reign of terror among the citizens when the actual flood came. In order that there would be no delay at the eleventh hour, boats were commandeered and moored close to the levees.
Nights of the terrible week the levees were alight with the camp fires of the soldiers. Along the sea wall, with swinging lanterns, strode officers searching for traces of a rupture in the clay and concrete structure. Knots of officers stood in groups and discussed the situation or glanced curiously at the captain’s cabin of the Henry Marquand, a river packet, in which Col. Moriarty has established his headquarters.
The way to the high perched military office was a devious one and involved much climbing of planks, narrow stairways and railings. In the middle of the little cabin, surrounded by a miscellany of curios collected by the captain of the Henry Marquand, sat Col. Moriarty. He had impressed a reporter for a Chicago newspaper and was dictating to him rapidly as the rest of the detachment entered. The reporter sat at a typewriter, mounted on a box and pounded away in the murky light of two ship’s lanterns.
The first serious break in the Big Four levee occurred at 6 p. m., Tuesday, April 1st, when, with a rush, a section of the masonry gave away about two miles outside of the city and allowed a torrent to surge into the low lying section known as the drainage district—a tract of about 9,000 acres. All inhabitants of the valley had been warned hours before. The water reached a depth of several feet in the area and had the effect of temporarily relieving the strain on the rest of the levee farther south. Minor breaks occurred and the seepage continued to increase, with the result that many persons who intended to "stick it out" weakened and began to make inquiries relative to train time.
Among the firms who have offices or lumber yards in the drainage district are Sears, Roebuck & Co., of Chicago and the Chicago Mill and Lumber company.
A strange parade was held Tuesday when 100 militiamen marched through the thoroughfares in charge of nearly 600 colored men, whom they had dragged from their homes to act as laborers. The negroes had not responded to the call for help and had to be "gone for." Although their wives, in some instances, falsified blithely and earnestly from the front door steps, the searches usually were rewarded by discovering the recalcitrants in bed—if not in fact under the bed—endeavoring to avoid service at the levee.
A. E. Eden arrived in town with $1,000 for the use of any Odd Fellows among the citizens or among the troops who might be in need of assistance. Mr. Eden reported to Lieut. C. F. McClure of the 4th regiment, who is a grand guardian in the Odd Fellows.
United States Senator James Hamilton Lewis wired from Chicago that he was starting for Springfield to take up with Gov. Dunne a request to the president for more government boats in the Mississippi river for this place. Authorities here are anxious that they be sent.
Labor troubles and of rapidly rising water at Mound City, Ill., eight miles from Cairo, complicated the relief work. To add to the excitement a big fire attacked some of the structures in the little town and the red glare in the sky was plainly visible in Cairo. Two companies were hastened to the scene to join those already there. The fire was extinguished without much loss, but shortly afterward a second glare in the heavens announced a second blaze, this time in the drainage district.
Shawneetown, Ill., was twelve feet deep in water and the levee was awash in places. The levee on the lower side was cut, so that the water entering was back water, and comparatively little damage was done by the wash.
As soon as the water in the levee had equaled the stage of the Ohio outside the militia permitted the telephone girls and the citizens’ committee, consisting largely of business men, to enter. A patrol of the flooded town was made by boat and business men guarded their stocks, put out of reach of the highest water before the town was cleared by the militia. The telephone exchange was above any possible water.
Of the 2,000 inhabitants of the town, 600 were in tents on the ridge a mile back of the city. A detachment of the militia was in charge. The rest of the people have gone elsewhere.
A large warehouse of the Rugby Distillery company in the western end of Louisville, weakened by flood waters, collapsed late Tuesday night, April 1st, releasing into the river about 5,000 barrels of whisky, valued at a quarter of a million dollars.
The threatened collapse of weakened buildings was the only source of anxiety as the crest of the flood passed Louisville with a stage of slightly more than forty-five feet.
Lower river points were under water to Paducah, with water more than two feet deep in the lower sections of the city, faced the menace of a useless lighting plant. Henderson and Owensboro, safe from flood damage themselves, were taxed with the care of hourly increasing refugees. At Wickliffe, where are gathered more than 1,000 refugees from Hickman, Cairo and Columbus, the shelter situation became acute.
Secretary Garrison of the war department, as he passed through Knoxville, Tenn., on his way to Washington, returning from his visit to the Ohio flood district, sent an identical message to the governors of the ten states lying in the Ohio and lower Mississippi valleys, pledging federal aid to all local authorities in handling the flood situation. The war secretary’s message asked each of the executives to raise all the money and gather all the supplies possible in the circumstances. Mr. Garrison further suggested that each of these ten governors appoint a responsible person, who shall receive local appeals for federal assistance and transmit them to the war department in Washington.
"It is obvious," said Secretary Garrison, "that this plan will result in co-ordination, will prevent waste and will assure much more efficient service."
Back to Legacy