STORIES OF EYEWITNESSES
EXCITING EXPERIENCES OF TRAVELERS THROUGH THE FLOODED DISTRICTS OF OHIO AND INDIANA
Stories straight from the death-dealt flood fields of Ohio and Indiana were told by arrivals in Chicago on Wednesday, March 26, who came through the inundated territory on the last of the crawling, halted trains able to get over water weakened rails hours behind schedule. From the car windows these passengers saw the water eating its way over the land, the bands of despairing refugees and hundreds of wrecked homes. They experienced an unwelcome thrill when trains on which they rode wormed their way over swaying bridges and were able to help some of the sufferers.
First eyewitnesses of the flooded region reached Chicago at 7:45 a. m., via the Baltimore & Ohio railroad eleven hours late. They had seen residents driven from their homes, swept along the flood in boats and other craft, and houses, barns and bridges demolished.
"We reached the flooded district late yesterday afternoon," said W. H. Chown of South Wales on his way to San Francisco. "We passed Youngstown, which was full of water, and then brought up suddenly in front of a treacherous bridge spanning a river which had raced from its banks and covered the surrounding country for miles. There we stuck for five hours. The supports at the end of the bridge appeared very shaky and there was a debate as to whether to attempt a crossing. When we did so we went slowly and could feel the bridge swaying and creaking beneath us.
"For miles and miles in many places we saw nothing but water. Farm houses stood partly submerged and in many places we saw people crawling out of windows into boats, carrying clothing and bundles with them. Every stream seemed to be racing at top speed and most of them had left their channels completely."
Experiences of and sights observed by passengers on Pennsylvania railroad trains were told when they arrived on a combination train made up of three of the fastest trains on that system. The train, which was composed of parts of the twenty hour New York-Chicago special, the eastern flyer and the fast mail trains, came into the union station at 10:45 a. m. Wednesday, many hours behind schedule.
Perry Hollister and Roy Taylor of Ravenna, O., saw more of the flooded conditions than the majority of the others upon the train.
"When we boarded the train at Ravenna, O., the rain was coming down in torrents," said Mr. Hollister. "It had been raining that way for hours, but that town had not suffered to any great extent. We proceeded to Toledo without encountering any difficulty. However, all along the line to Toledo we saw great expanses of water.
"When we neared Toledo, though, we began to see what was the extent of the flood. On the outskirts of that city there was nothing but water. Barns had been swept from their original sites and were being washed about aimlessly. It was hard to tell the depth because everything was water.
"Many of the men had built crude rafts and they were poling these about through what I suppose were once streets. Some of them appealed to the engineer of our train as it was passing to stop and take them aboard and he complied. These people were brought to Toledo. All they did was moan and weep about their losses. The wind was raw, too, and some of them were nearly frozen when we took them aboard.
"Toledo was struck badly. The lower part of the city was under water."
"Our ride on the train was a long period of awful suspense," said Mrs. Henrietta Lama of Pittsburgh. "Every moment we feared that the train would be wrecked.
"The women on board were wonderfully calm and collected, however. The men seemed even more excited than we were.
"Hundreds of homes were destroyed along the route. Dead animals of all kinds were seen floating around in the water-filled ditches.
"The track was covered with water. The engineer was unable to see the track. At times he was forced to halt the train and explore the conditions of the rails for yards ahead.
"It seemed as though he was taking a chance in going at a high rate of speed over the tracks he could not see, and it was this that made us somewhat nervous.
"Much damage to property was done in Lima, Ohio. There we saw hundreds of homeless families and many who had been injured."
J. F. Holmes of Fargo, N. D., another passenger, said:
"The scenes along the track of the flood-swept towns were the most pitiful I have ever witnessed. Horses were drowned before my eyes as well as cows, pigs and thousands and thousands of chickens.
"Hundreds of persons were walking on the tracks, knee deep in water, carrying with them the most precious of their household effects. The women were in tears.
"Many families were in small boats, which were so heavily loaded they appeared in momentary danger of overturning.
"The train I was on was lucky to get through without mishap. I understand that miles of the track was swept away a few moments after we had passed over it."
"In Fort Wayne the water had risen to the second windows of homes when we passed through," said George B. Dodge of Boston. "Several homes had been demolished and were floating about in the streets.
"Temporary platforms were built to allow passengers to get on and off of the trains. There were not many who got off, however."
W. R. Sullivan, a Dayton business man on his way to Denver, heard of the flood while at Grand Island, Neb. He returned to Lincoln, Neb., where the difficulties of travel began. He darted to Kansas City, where delay confronted him; back to St. Joseph, Mo.; but here, too, no railroad would promise to deliver him to Dayton. Finally he went to St. Louis, caught a train to Guthrie, Ky.; worked back through Louisville to Cincinnati, and from the last city arrived home in an automobile. He found the relief committee had cornmandeered his own motor car and that his wife had given away most of her bedding, clothing and food, but that she and the children were safe.
Satisfied, Mr. Sullivan offered his services to the city. His story is a sample of hundreds.
A druggist of Anderson, Ind., whose family was visiting in Dayton, arrived in a state of collapse. Despairing of traveling by rail, he set out to conquer the flood. Where he could he hired vehicles, but he pursued a straight course, fording or swimming icy waters, plunging through swamps and crawling over broken and dangerous trestles. His feet, knees and hands were swollen when he reached Richmond, Ind.
Then he offered $150 and a new set of tires for a machine to take him the forty-three miles to Dayton, but none would take the risk. Later Sharon Jones, who was in charge of forwarding relief at Richmond, bundled him into one of the relief automobiles and he completed the trip.
Jones learned his story, but not his name. It is not known whether he found his family.
After being marooned two days on the roof of the Union station at Dayton, Ohio, living the first day on a bit of milk chocolate and later on food he seized as it floated near his perch, Professor H. W. Mumford of the college of agriculture, University of Illinois, reached his home in Champaign, Ill., March 29.
"It was an experience I shall never forget," said Professor Mumford.
"I left home last Sunday for Springfield, Ohio, and expected to return Tuesday morning. When I got to Dayton I changed cars, took the first train and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning I was still in Dayton, my train had not left the station.
"The flood had come up suddenly and there was no chance for escape."
Samuel F. Dutton, of Denver, president of the Albany Hotel Company, came to Chicago directly from Youngstown, Ohio, having left that city on the B. & O. just before the flood tide swept through it. He and a brakeman narrowly escaped with their lives while attempting to get food for a score of women and children after their train had stood motionless over night only seventeen miles north of Youngstown. The two arrived safely at a farm house half a mile away through torrents of rain. The water rose so rapidly that it was waist deep in low places before they started to return. The trainman, whose name was Martin, was swept from his feet. A wire fence saved his life.
Mrs. C. E. Clifton, president of the Evanston Woman’s Club, arrived in Chicago March 26 from Atlantic City. Hers was one of the last trains to make its way through the flooded district. The lives of more than a hundred people were imperiled when it crossed a tottering bridge just out of Lima, Ohio, which twenty minutes later was swept away. The train traversed tracks which were under water most of the time.
"Our train was one of the last to come through the flood district," she said. "We arrived in Chicago more than nine hours late. In Lima the water was from four to eight feet deep, each street looking like a mountain torrent. The upper floors of office buildings were crowded with people who had either deserted their homes or been marooned. In coming from Baltimore we traveled over four different railroads, being switched from one to another as word reached us that washouts had occurred. Sometimes after proceeding several miles from a junction town we were compelled to back up and take another route. The town of Lafayette, Ohio, was completely covered with water and we saw houses that had been torn from their foundations as if made of paper.
"Just after we left Lima we crossed a bridge which barely stood above the surface of the water. It swayed dangerously as we crept across it. Twenty minutes later, we heard, it was swept away."
Chicago may rejoice in a new title, "The City of Heavenly Rest," bestowed on it March 28 by Eugene Ysaye, the violinist, who arrived there after four days in the flooded district beyond reach of telephone or telegraph or railroad trains. In his watery adventures he missed engagements in Detroit and Cincinnati and barely made his concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
"So tired, so tired," he said holding his head wearily, when he left the stage at Orchestra hall and walked in a sort of daze to his dressing room. "I’m going to bed, and O, it will be so good! This is the city of heavenly rest."
On the train which arrived from Indianapolis after detouring over the Big Four, Monon, Pennsylvania, and Lake Shore tracks, were M. Ysaye, his son, Gabriel, and Rudolph Ganz, the Swiss pianist, who was gathered up on the way. All were exhausted.
"We gave the Monday night concert in Oxford, O., and went to bed well pleased," said the violinist, still holding his head. "When we were to start for Cincinnati on the following morning, we were told all the tracks were gone, and the telegraph and telephone gone. Rain? Don’t talk about it. We found we might possibly get a train by going to Hamilton, thirteen miles away. We got together five carriages, loaded our six trunks, and fourteen bags aboard, and prepared to start. The girls at the college burst into great applause, and one of the teams bolted down the road and smashed the rig.
"We loaded up again in the rain and reached the river just west of Hamilton. Then the horror broke on us, for we saw the great bridge gone, the yellow, swirling river at our feet, and down the channel were tossing whole houses with persons screaming from the roofs. I watched, spellbound. Then back we went to Oxford, the horses exhausted, and one of the carriages broken. We arrived at 9 o’clock at night, after an all day drenching, and nothing accomplished.
"We set out for Detroit on Wednesday by driving twenty-eight miles to Richmond, Ind. I remember going through one ravine where the water was rushing four feet deep. I got wet. The others laughed. I didn’t. And in Richmond we were no better off, for all the roads were gone.
"And then we got to Indianapolis, I don’t know how, except that the engine and tender and baggage coach ran off the track, and it took until midnight to get them back. Then we crawled along to Elkhart. There we found a telegraph wire open and in great relief snapped a message off to Chicago. We beat it in, and it took us more than four hours to make the trip, leaving no time for rehearsal."
"What did you do then?"
Ysaye grinned for the first time.
"I went to my hotel," he said, "and—took a different kind of bath."
Four weary young women, co-eds from Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio, climbed from a Pullman on a delayed Lake Shore train on Friday afternoon, March 28. They were the first arrivals in Chicago from the actual scenes of death and desolation attending the floods throughout central Ohio.
Eagerly questioned by newspaper men, the young women talked freely of their experience and painted graphic word pictures of the horrors of the inundation of a large part of the town of Delaware.
They were: Miss Florence Wyman of 3633 Sheffield avenue, student in general work and instructor in the art school of the university; Edith and Esther Quayle and Mabel Lees, all of Oak Park, Ill.
"The thought that is uppermost in my mind," said Miss Wyman, "is not so much of the horror that has passed as of the greater horror that must inevitably come to those poor people in Delaware and elsewhere throughout the flooded district. There are some dead bodies still in the houses in Delaware and elsewhere in Ohio, and it is staggering to the imagination to attempt to conjure up the picture of desolation, famine and pestilence that will follow the recession of the waters.
"The flood itself was like a horrible nightmare. The water crept up slowly, but, oh, so steadily and relentlesslv. First it was six inches deep in some of the lower streets; then a foot deep, and at last it had covered all the lower part of town and was lapping at the foot of the hills, while the houses in the flooded portion stood, many of them, with only the upper stories and roofs visible.
"And on nearly every house there was a family, or what was left of the family, clinging to the ridgepole and chimneys and praying for deliverance.
"The university stands on the highest hill in town, and we were not affected by the flood itself. But all night, the first night, the 300 girls in Monnett Hall, our dormitory, walked the floor and wept and prayed as the wails of the unfortunates only a few blocks away were borne to their ears. Closed windows could not keep out the sound. Now and then a woman shrieked above the general lamentations, and we knew when that sound reached us that some one had seen a loved relative, an aged father or mother, or perhaps a child, lose the grip of numbed fingers and slide off into the black, chill waters.
"Throughout the night the men students and members of the faculty did what they could to rescue the sufferers, but we had no boats at the university and it was almost impossible to guide a raft through the blackness of the night, which was intensified by a cold, drizzling rain.
"As soon as dawn came the boys got together in an organized rescue corps. Our school produced a hundred heroes in half an hour. Every one of those students risked death on the flimsy rafts they were able to construct, but they never hesitated. They found some small boats, too, and did as well as they could with these. Professor W. E. Dixon, the physical director of the university headed the work of rescue.
"Some of the houses could not be reached at all. The rafts were unmanageable, and the few boats were smashed one after another as they were caught by the eddying currents."
This is the story told by a reporter at Sidney, Ohio, who returned Thursday afternoon from Piqua:
"The four carloads of provisions that were sent to Piqua from Lima saved survivors from starvation. Food stocks in the stricken city were completely exhausted when the supply train arrived.
"At 4 o’clock Thursday four bodies had been recovered. The bodies of the others who lost their lives are in the lowlands. The exact number of lives lost in the flood will never be known.
"Pooltables in the poolrooms at Piqua were utilized as beds. Men, women and children slept Wednesday night on the floors of the churches, schools and lodge rooms.
"Residents whose homes escaped the flood opened their houses to the less fortunate. The Plaza Hotel, which had several feet of water in it when the flood was at its height, sheltered hundreds of the homeless."
Thrilling stories of the flooded district in Ohio were told by the Rev. E. R. O’Neal, who returned to Chicago March 28 from a lecture tour. He said he saw rescuers take twenty-eight bodies from the river at Delaware, O.
"All of the small towns along the river have been deluged," he said. "The greatest problem is food. The victims are starving and freezing to death. Those who are able to work are making every effort to rescue and help others. There is no communication between the towns.
"While at Delaware I saw college students make many thrilling rescues by swimming out into the swift current and swimming back with a flood victim. One young man swam out and rescued thirty persons in one day. He was the bravest fellow I ever saw.
"I saw a house with one woman and three children clinging to the roof floating down the stream. The house was whirling and bobbing up and down in the water. The woman was screaming for help. Persons on the edge of the flood had a small boat, but they could not row fast enough to catch up with the house.
"The house bore down on the Pennsylvania railroad bridge and crashed against it. The mother caught the bridge and held on. The children went down, but came up again near a tree. The eldest child helped the other two and held on to the tree. The boat put out and rescued all of them.
"A few minutes later a house with an old man about 75 years and his wife floated down the stream. The woman was lying on the roof. The old man was holding her. Suddenly the house struck a tree and the brick chimney fell off. Then we saw the old man lift his wife in his arms and carry her to the chimney hole in the roof and let her down into it. When the rescuers put out in a boat and caught up with the house, one of the rescuers inquired of the woman.
"‘She is dead,’ said the old man. ‘She died two hours ago, and I was afraid to let her lie on the roof because the water would carry her away.’
"I saw another house with a man and woman clinging to the chimney to keep from falling off. The house struck a tree and the chimney crumbled. Both went down before the boat reached them and we never saw them again. These are only a few instances of the horrible things seen in the flooded district.
"I went from Delaware to Prospect and the same tragedies were repeated. At Prospect I saw the meanest man in the world. The meanest man, I think, is a farmer who owned a boat at Prospect. He lived across the river from the town. He lent his boat to a Baptist minister who used it for rescue work. They saved more than a dozen women and children during the day. It was the only boat in the town.
"Although the minister could not rescue but two persons at a time he was doing noble work. Many persons were swept away before the boat could reach them. Late in the afternoon the farmer came to the shore and announced he wanted the boat. He declared he would take the boat by force. He said he wanted the boat to go across the river and attend to some business.
"The minister refused to give up the boat, but offered to row the farmer across the dangerous river, if he could keep the boat. The farmer grudgingly assented, and a newspaper man from Marion and the minister rowed him across. It was the first attempt to take the boat across the swift river and was extremely dangerous.
"The preacher declared he would take any rist in order to keep the boat. They landed the farmer across the river after much difficulty. They started back and when in the middle of the stream the boat capsized and both went down. With the boat hundreds of persons could have been rescued.
"The victims need food more than anything else. There is a bread famine at Delaware. To show they were willing to do anything to help the sufferers more than 100 students at Wesleyan college volunteered to leave the city so there would be 100 less to feed. The students departed at night for their homes in different parts of the country.
"At celina I saw the same suffering. The town was under ten feet of water. I saw them take ten bodies from the water at Massillon, O. Prospect, O., is under fourteen feet of water and the river at that point is four miles wide. I saw them take more than a dozen bodies from the water.
"The reports of the dead have not been sent in from these small towns and the country will be sufficiently appalled when the full number is known. From what I saw there is little wonder that the reports have been exaggerated.
"Piqua and Fostoria are under water and many people are drowned. The nearest I could get to Dayton was Piqua. Most of the town was under water. It was impossible to get to Dayton."
At Delaware, Ohio, William Fielding clung to a tree for three days and was rescued only to die of exposure. A Mr. Rainer was marooned in the top of a tree for three days and a half and was rescued. He became ill from his frightful experience. A little girl was picked up at Delaware from a raft on which she had floated five miles from Stratford.
One of the saddest passengers who arrived in Chicago from the flooded district was Miss M. Wilkins, a trained nurse. She was in tears when she stepped off the Dixie flyer at the LaSalle street station.
"I had gone to Jacksonville, Fla., in response to a message stating that my sister was seriously ill there," she said. "Almost as soon as I arrived there I received a message telling of the destruction of our home, three miles north of Omaha. All of the members of my family, the message said, had been hurt, my mother seriously. Of course, I immediately started back for the west.
"Coming through Ohio we were caught by the floods and were delayed for a long time. The scenes of suffering that I saw there naturally did not have a cheering effect on me, full of worry as I was for my own people in Omaha. I hope I have seen the worst and will be able to get back to my family before anything serious happens."
"God save Peru! I left there late last night and just saw the start of the flood. If it keeps on it will be awful. There is no way of stopping the Wabash river as it was rushing through Peru yesterday. There are no banks to it whatever, and it flows but a few blocks from the main business district. Only a miracle can save the people who live in the lowlands."
This statement, the first personal information to reach South Bend March 27 concerning the Peru disaster, was made by a traveling man from Chicago, who was deeply impressed with fear of the possibilities. Fortunately the outcome, though horrible enough, was not so bad as he evidently anticipated.
Vivid stories of the havoc worked by the floods in Indiana towns were related by R. W. Duke of Kokomo, Ind., and John F. Fox of Chicago, who arrived in Chicago from the flooded regions by the Pennsylvania Railroad March 28.
"When I received the first news of the floods I boarded a train at Kokomo on the Erie Railroad for Peru in order to assist my relatives, who live there," said Mr. Duke. "We found the track washed out when we arrived within three miles of my destination and were forced to take a rowboat to enter Peru. The scenes which I witnessed in Peru will live forever in my memory.
"People were floating about on rafts, waiting to be rescued. The work of the relief committees is confined to aiding the living. No time has been found to seek the bodies of those who perished."
Glenn Marston, editor of the Public Service Magazine, arrived in Chicago March 29 from Columbus. "Things occurred in such rapid succession that it was impossible to remember them all," said Mr. Marston. "On Wednesday, when the flood was at its height, I climbed to the roof of the Crittenden Hotel. From that point I saw at least 500 people standing on housetops, waving tablecloths, towels and other things, in an effort to attract attention. When I was trying to get out of Columbus on Thursday afternoon I saw several people, including a number of women, standing on the High street bridge. I was astounded when I saw the bridge suddenly swept away, taking with it the people who had endeavored to cross. It was impossible to aid them and they sank in a whirling pool before my eyes."
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman