On Friday, March 28, the fourth day of the flood, the waters were gradually subsiding and the work of rescue and relief proceeded apace.

A score of motor boats, besides live-saving boats, were in the flooded district and by night it was hoped relief would be extended to all those still alive. No effort was being made to take out any bodies, the first care being to provide help for the living.

The boats began to return early from the nearer sections, each depositing its load of from fifteen to twenty survivors. Most of them were so weak from deprivation and suffering as to be scarcely able to move. By 8 o’clock several hundred had been taken to the Cash Register hospital on stretchers from the south side of the river.

The food situation was much brighter. Trucks sent from the Cash Register company, manned by men with military orders to confiscate potatoes and food from the farmers, brought back a good supply of vegetables, and several relief trains reached the city with supplies.

The rescue work also had taken on a semblance of system, and all the streets from which the flood had receded were patrolled by militia. The people also were urged to get back to their houses whenever possible.

"Beware of thieves and burglars," said an official bulletin given wide circulation. "Don’t leave your houses without protection. It was thieves who scared you about the reservoir and natural gas explosion. The natural gas has been turned off and there is no danger of explosions.’

Sixty Catholic sisters at the Academy of the Sisters of Notre Dame and eighteen persons for whom they had provided refuge were found by the Louisville life-saving crew to have been entirely without food or water since Tuesday.

There were several cases of illness, and their suffering had been intense. The live-savers left a supply of bread and water and planned to give further help.

The Louisville men also took relief to several hundred families in the low district in the vicinity of Ludlow and Franklin streets. Here the water had reached the roofs of all two-story buildings. Only a few of those in the most desperate condition were brought out, the first move being to leave bread and water in as many places as possible.

There had been little hope there would be survivors in this district, and the fact that there proved to be few deaths brought hope that the death loss would be much lower than was expected.


Facing the tremendous task of caring for its ever-increasing army of refugees and recovering its dead, Dayton began its fourth day of flood under strict martial law. With headquarters at Bamberger park, Col. Zimmerman of the Fifth regiment, Ohio National Guard, initiated plans for the organization to protect the city during the ensuing weeks of reconstruction.

Militia companies from all parts of the state reached Dayton during the early morning hours, and by noon every accessible section was under strict guard. Members of the State Board of Health, bringing carloads of lime and other disinfectants, also arrived during the day and began the work of warding off the ever-increasing menace of disease.


On Friday evening it was possible to take a calmer view of the situation and the following facts were arrived at:

1. Previous estimates of the number drowned had been greatly exaggerated.

2. The property loss from fire was not to exceed $1,500,000.

3. The damage caused to mercantile houses, factories and residences would run anywhere from $15,000,000 to $20,000,000.

4. The water had receded from the business section of the city and from a large portion of the residence district.

5. Residents in portions still inundated were being taken to sections not affected by the flood.

6. There was no lack of food.

7. The telephone systems were being restored.

8. There was much suffering from cold. All available fuel had been appropriated and there was prospect of immediate relief.

9. So far there had been no epidemic of sickness.



Touring the business sections, officials found the high stage of the flood was nine feet at the corner of Third and Main streets, which is in the very heart of the city. The onrushing water flooded the first floor of every store in the business district. This constituted the chief financial loss. The lower floor of the Steele high school was leveled and the Leonard building on Main street was undermined so that it collapsed. Many houses were swept away in Riverdale, West Dayton, North Dayton and Edgemont.


The following buildings withstood the flood, furnishing shelter to about 7,000 persons who were marooned in them from Tuesday until Thursday: Conover building, Kuhns building, The Arcade, two Cappel buildings, Calahan Bank building, Schwind building, Commercial building and United Brethren Publishing Company's building.

None of the public buildings nor churches were destroyed.

The fire loss was reported limited to the destruction of the Dayton Gas Light and Coke Company's plant; the row of two and three-story buildings on both sides of Third street and Jefferson street to St. Clair avenue; the Troy-Pearl laundry plant and to apartment house fires on the West Side.

A daring robbery was thwarted early in the day when the police arrested a man who was escaping from the city with a satchel containing $50,000 in diamonds and jewelry which he had stolen from downtown jewelry stores.


The Fourth National Bank building, which was reported several times to have been destroyed by fire, was untouched by the flames, although a building immediately adjoining was burned.

The newspaper offices, the News and Herald and Journal buildings were found to be safe, but none was issuing papers.

Money was of no use in Dayton for the time being. Every facility was free to every one without cost.


President G. B. Smith of the chamber of commerce said:

"We do not want the world to think that Dayton is unable to recover from the effects of the disaster. We are going to show it that we are capable of coping with the situation with entire efficiency. Dayton is not crushed."


Ben Hecht, staff correspondent of the Chicago Journal at the scene of the Dayton flood, telegraphed from Miami City, a suburb of Dayton, March 29, as follows:

"Unless the thousands still imprisoned in their attics in North Dayton are not rescued the toll of the flood and fire that has wiped out the city will not be large.

"Three-fourths of the city is high and dry. The streets are streaming with people. The weather is bright and warm. The skies seem to be smiling and the people are taking heart. The apparently impossible tasks of rebuilding the city, of finding homes for the sorrowing refugees, starting again to live as they did before the flood, occupied Dayton today.

"'We will build again,' they say. Even the refugees who have nothing except the clothes they wore away are dreaming today of a new Dayton. The tales of hardships, rescues and deaths are passing from mouth to mouth. All the living are heroes.


"In the Van Cleveland school a young woman, tall and squarely built, has taken charge of the foreign refugees. Her name is Lisa Matiny. She was saved from her home on South Main street. Her mother and two sisters are among the dead. When the rescue boat came to free her from the room to which they had fled, Lisa Matiny put her mother and two sisters in the boat. She remained in the room and waited.

"The flood rose higher until the water reached her waist. ‘Good-by,’ she called, and the mother and sisters were carried away. They were never heard of again. Lisa clung to a door that had been washed loose. She was picked up on the shore. Her family lies in the morgue at the National Cash Register Company.

"There is another woman in the Van Cleveland school who has lost her senses. She is old and can say nothing except, ‘Where is Billy?’ Billy is her son. This morning a half clothed boy was carried into the room where the old woman was. She grabbed him in her arms and cried ‘Billy!’ But it wasn’t Bill. The boy had lost his mother, whose name is Sarah Calkin. He fell asleep in the old woman’s arms, and both seemed happy.

"Two children were born in the Longfellow school, where many refugees are being fed and housed. The mothers was rescued from Second street. The names of the children are Jennie Williams and Harriet Gordon. One of the babies died.


"Among the heroes of the flood are the telegraph operators. They have sent tens of thousands of messages and have stuck to their jobs day and night. Some have dropped from exhaustion.

"The Western Union men, who were the first strangers to break into the city, haven’t slept since Tuesday. ‘Safe,’ ‘safe,’ the monotonous words of rescue and death have jammed the wires since the first one was opened.


"The martial law declared two days ago has been raised for this afternoon to permit refugees to seek their homes. Creeping and splashing through the mud are countless people on their way home. Home often means a half house, torn and scattered across the entire street. But it is home anyway, and the men grabbed spades to shovel out the mud while women try to cook their meal. Sometimes it isn’t a half house; only a mud hole greets the refugees.

"Howard Lowrey found a mud hole on lower River street. He stood knee deep in the water watching the people pass. A woman carrying a child came trudging along. She was his wife, and it didn’t matter that the home was swept away. The family reunited, laughed and cried and started off arm in arm for a refugee home.

"There are thousands of similar scenes. They would fill a volume that would bring tears and smiles and tell a story such as the world has never heard.

"Families are being reunited in the hospital schools, in the refuge homes and in the morgues today. The residence districts, no longer covered with water, are being re-entered and the houses filled.


"The streets of Dayton are again filled with people. Where two days ago thousands screamed their terror and grief groups of men and women walk today.

"The flood has gone out of the city proper. Along the streets of the business and residence sections now the demolished buildings lie like pieces of kindling.

"Some of the steel structures have been twisted out of shape, others are overthrown and scrattered along the squares. Mud lies two feet thick on the floors.

"In the teller’s cage of the First National Bank building a horse was found. Another animal was discovered on the second floor of a department store. There are thousands of similar freaks.


"A few blocks removed from the downtown district the huge corps of volunteers is working day and night.

"Free-lunch signs are everywhere and no one is permitted to ask money for food or clothing. Hundreds of automobiles have been provided by citizens. They are used to carry the sufferers to places of refuge."


On March 29, Secretary of War Garrison, who had visited Dayton, at President Wilson’s request, to supervise the work of Government relief there, described the situation in a telegram to the President as follows:

"The flood has subsided so that they have communication with all parts of the city, no one being now in any position of peril or without food or shelter. The National Cash Register plant has been turned into a supply depot and lodging place for those who have no other place.

"Surgeon-General Blue and some of his officers are here, as are also some naval surgeons. We are all working in concert. The governor, the mayor, the local committees, and the citizens have all expressed much gratitude at the action of the national government, and have welcomed us warmly, all of them stating that the fact that a direct representative has been sent to their community has been of the greatest benefit to the morale of the city.

"I find a competent force is already organized to clean up the streets, remove the debris, and do general work of that description, and they have agreed to work under the direction of the army surgeon I leave in charge of sanitation.

"The National Guard have their adjutant-general, George H. Wood, here in command of the military situation, and he has cordially offered to co-operate in every way with our work of sanitation.

"I think the situation here is very satisfactory, and that this community will find itself in a reassured position within a short time and facing then only the problem of repair, restoration, and rehabilitation.

"I will go back to Cincinnati tonight to get in touch with matters left unfinished there, and will go to Columbus at the earliest moment. Governor Cox tells me he thinks matters are in a satisfactory condition at Columbus, that he has ample immediate supply of medicines and other necessities, and that much of each is on the way. The weather is very fine, and there does not seem to be any cause for apprehension of further floods in the vicinity of Dayton."

A similar report might have been made of the conditions on Saturday, March 29, in other cities that had suffered loss of life and damage to property.

Thus ended the week of the great flood, with relief systematized and the work of repairing damage begun. From that day on the efforts of all the people of Ohio and Indiana were bent on restoring former conditions of activity and prosperity, with the aid and goodwill of the whole United States.

"The West"


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© 2001, Lynn Waterman