WHAT A CORRESPONDENT SAW
CONCISE AND INTERESTING STORY BY ONE OF THE FIRST VISITORS TO DAYTON AFTER THE FLOOD.
Mr. Eugene J. Cour, a special correspondent of the Chicago Journal, returned on Saturday, March 29, from Dayton with a graphic story of the great flood. Mr. Cour made many photographs while standing shoulder deep in icy water. He escaped from the flood and walked 26 miles to a railway to get a train that would take him back to Chicago.
Mr. Cour’s photographs of conditions in Dayton were the first to be published in Chicago.
For four days and three nights Mr. Cour was unable to lie down even for a moment. When he reached his home office he was utterly exhausted. The following story was dictated to a stenographer while Mr. Cour sat propped up in a chair:
I was the first man from west of the Miami river to reach Dayton. The scenes of destruction and desolation are almost indescribable.
A specially chartered boat carried me through the fashionable residence district, which was still under fifteen feet of water. Men and women were weeping and begging for food and water to drink.
The rescuers were carrying mud-bedraggled, haggard men and women to the boats. Their limbs were temporarily paralyzed from standing in the water up to their armpits for thirty-two hours. Many had babies and children in their arms.
Frame cottages from North Dayton, which had been carried two miles to this district, were smashed into kindling in front yards and streets. Hundreds of wrecked automobiles, street cars and wagons interfered with the rescue boats. The asphalt pavements had been torn up and strewn in huge piles along the streets.
Dead animals lay all about the city. The Algonquin hotel, at one time reported burned, and the Y. M. C. A. building, in which 1,500 persons sought shelter, were both intact, though under several feet of mud and debris. A team of dead horses blocked the entrance to the Algonquin.
At the Union station, where 600 persons were reported drowned, I found eighteen dead horses, the relief train having taken the 600 refugees to the camps. I investigated every report of bodies found and learned of only two that had been recovered in the downtown district
The burned area covers two square blocks. There was little danger of the fire spreading, as the fifteen feet of water inundating the buildings proved an effectual barrier.
I learned that the soldiers found it necessary only twice to fire on looters. In neither case were the thieves injured.
The principal cause of destruction in the Dayton View district was the breaking of the levee, which let in tons of water, and piled up hundreds of houses and barns against the principal residences and buildings.
The force of the current had washed deep ditches through the asphalt streets and carried the mud of the levee and river into the buildings, filling them in some places as deep as three feet.
Following the flood, it rained or snowed continuously.
The Dayton View schoolhouse, military headquarters and the refugee station for the City of Dayton, was crowded with the thousands who had been rescued from the waters. Here they were fed and given medical treatment. From this point they were sent to the various homes on the heights.
The real necessity seemed to be water. There was no means of distributing the little water on hand.
Nearly all rescued were thoroughly soaked and chilled. There was no way of warming them or furnishing them with dry clothing. Forty-five automobiles were running continuously from this point, carrying refugees to homes and churches.
No one complained of the losses they suffered and none dared to estimate the casualties.
When I asked survivors whether they knew personally of any loss of life, especially in their own families they burst into tears and turned away, unable to answer.
The first person to make an estimate of the calamity was a military guard at Dayton bridge. I asked him if the report that 1,600 were dead was true. He told me that this was a conservative estimate.
At the Summerdale school in Riverdale, the military headquarters, the same conditions prevailed as at Dayton View. Here, however, the poor of the stricken city, the real sufferers of the flood, were being tenderly cared for.
Paul Siegel, a refugee and an employee of the National Cash Register Company, told this story:
"I saw fourteen people on debris jammed between a lamppost and a telegraph pole. The jam began to break up and the people climbed frantically up the telegraph pole. Several of them were women.
"One held a baby in her arms. All the fourteen reached a safe place on the pole. We watched through the night and could distinguish them at intervals in the flare of the fires raging in the city. Several attempts were made to reach them, but the current was impassable. At dawn there were five left. These were rescued later in the day."
In all rescue work, the women and children were cared for first. In the thousands of rescues made, not a man of Dayton attempted to violate the law of "women and children first," though this adherence cost the lives of many.
At the foot of the Dayton View bridge, the established rescue station, newborn babies were taken from the boats. Mothers were unconscious. In many instances women were taken from beds to their two and three day old infants.
The rescuers were hampered in this work because practically the only boats were unstable canoes, and there were far too few of these. It was reported that in several cases where invalids were being taken ashore the boats were overturned and rescuers and rescued alike perished in the muddy waters.
Rescuers, police and soldiers have no relief. They work until exhausted and are carried to huge log fires, where they sleep in the mud. There are men that Dayton will never forget and that Ohio is proud of. This is the consensus of opinion of those who are held at the outer fringe of the swirling waters and have witnessed the results of the work of the heroes.
The first relief to reach Dayton was sent Wednesday by farmers of the surrounding country, following an appeal for aid for the women, children and babies of the stricken city. The appeal was carried from town to town by automobiles, and a relief train made up of a switch engine and seven cars, which had been marooned on a thirty-mile strip of the Pennsylvania tracks, was given right of way.
The farmers responded so promptly that the seven cars were filled at the first three stations. The supplies were principally eggs, milk, potatoes and freshly killed cattle and hogs.
The tracks on the different lines had been mended by Wednesday night. Soon they were congested on the north side of Dayton by relief trains hurrying into the city.
The practical farmers, realizing the conditions, have, in every case, tried to send cooked foods. All flour donated and confiscated has been turned over to the housewives and the lights in the farmhouses and homes in the small towns can be seen burning all night. There bread is being baked by the women.
In my journey to Dayton I found that the water everywhere east of Lafayette had reached its record flood mark. I was first stopped at West Indianapolis by the White river, which had carried away all communication with Indianapolis. The three available boats in the town were being used to rescue 450 women and children from Schoolhouse No. 16 and others from house roofs.
I got a guide and detoured north and around Eagle creek, seeking a place to make the passage across. Here we found conditions worse. There was a report that 800 were dead. We trailed back through the mud to West Indianapolis and found an abandoned boat. With this we struck out in an attempt to cross the torrent.
We shot Niagara-like rapids for two blocks before we could get through the current into still water. We rowed about a quarter of a mile when our boat struck bottom. We found we were upon a submerged railroad yard. It was necessary to get out of the boat and drag it from track to track. Sometimes we were up to our armpits in water. Finally we struck a washout.
While pulling at the boat I slipped into the washout. With the assistance of the guide I was able to get back to the boat, although I had been completely "ducked" in the icy water.
From this point we experienced little difficulty in reaching the west end of the Vandalia bridge. The bridge was in imminent danger of going out. We crossed this as quickly as our chilled limbs would permit. We made the journey in a raging blizzard. We reached Indianapolis late in the evening.
Here I learned that the Big Four railroad would attempt to put a work train over a route which would bring me within thirty miles of Dayton.
I got permission to go with the train. We made the journey easily, but were forced to get out of the train at frequent intervals to remove telegraph poles and other impediments from the track, which had been hurled there by the storm.
We reached Arcanum, thirty miles north of Dayton, at 1:30 Wednesday afternoon.
Here I found hundreds of men and women of Dayton cut off from their families, terrorized by the rumor (which happily proved unfounded) that there were 10,000 dead.
Every available conveyance was confiscated to rush relief to Dayton. None of the hundreds had been able to get any nearer the stricken city. Some had attempted to walk, but the strain under which they labored soon broke them down and kind farmers led them back to the little city.
I decided that I must strike out for Dayton at once and started to walk. I crossed the traction lines and reached the Dayton & Union railroad tracks. Here I spied a handcar in possession of five men. They were carrying it across a switch.
I ran about a quarter of a mile and hailed them before they got started. I was out of breath, but they got my signal and waited for me. I explained to them that I would pay any reasonable price to ride with them as far as they would go toward Dayton.
They refused to take anyone. They were carrying supplies to the stricken city. I jumped on to the car in spite of their remonstrance.
"If this car won’t go with me on board I’ll get off," I told them.
The little gasoline motor chugged just as strongly with my added weight, and I was immediately booked as a passenger.
We reached Dodson Junction and the operator at this point informed the man in charge of the handcar that the first relief train was expected through in a short time, and that, although they could not permit him to carry in supplies, he could wait for the relief train.
From this point I took the relief train to within three miles of Dayton. I walked from there to military headquarters at Dayton View. After being assured of the genuineness of my credentials, Major Huber granted me a military pass. This was at 3:30 Wednesday afternoon. I walked across the Dayton View bridge. Here I got my first glimpse of the stricken city.
The terrors, later unfolded, were obscured. There was a slight sleet falling which cast a curtain over the panorama of the submerged town.
The women and children in this part of Dayton had nearly all been rescued and the rescuers were bringing out the men who had been left behind. They refused to take me to the business section in a boat, declaring that lives were at stake, and that there were too few boats to lend space to a newspaper man.
A young man who owned a canoe volunteered to take me into the city of Dayton. It was a hard pull against the current. We reached within a block of dry pavement. Here we were cut off by debris. I was forced to climb over the debris and waded into the city through muddy water hip deep.
I gained dry land at about 4 o’clock. The military guards were then ordering the people into their homes, permitting nobody to be on the streets after that time.
After some difficulty I finally was permitted to make a tour through the downtown section. I was passed from one guard to another. I made pictures in every direction as I walked rapidly down the streets. The third guard refused to allow a violation of the military orders. I explained that I did not belong in the city, displaying my credentials, but he curtly replied: "You’re all right; swim."
Two hundred people were waiting to get to the refugee stations. There were two boats, a canoe which would carry two persons and a small flat-bottomed affair which would hold three.
The guard kept a line formed and at the rate the boats were progressing I was about 200 hours from dry land. I made a detour, crossing a jam of lumber and other debris which reached out about a block and a half into the flood.
Testing the depth, I found a shallow spot, knee deep.
I removed my coat and wrapped up my camera, and set out.
I thought I might be able to reach the other side of the break in the levee. I found, after wading to my armpits, that the current had washed out to a considerable depth. I struck off for Monument avenue. I got through to the avenue by way of an alley. Here I found gravel piled knee deep in the street.
I signaled and shouted at the top of my voice for help. A rescue boat set out for me and took me to the foot of Monument avenue. I was bundled into an automobile and taken two and a half miles to a relief station, fortunately north, in the direction I wished to go.
There was no heat in the station and, as my clothing was soaked, I set out on a brisk walk toward Arcanum, leaving Dayton behind.
I made inquiries along the way, but was unable to get any sort of conveyance. My clothing froze and gave me great difficulty in walking.
I walked to Brookville, a distance of fourteen miles. I was nearly exhausted. I stopped for hot coffee and sandwiches and resumed my journey. After walking three miles I discovered I was on my way back to Dayton. I then turned about and proceeded again toward Arcanum.
I reached Dodson about 3 o’clock Thursday morning. From there I took the Dayton and Union tracks. They were in terrible condition—washed out for hundreds of feet.
After walking about three miles my steps became more or less automatic and, finally losing caution, I stepped into a washout, bruising myself and severely straining my knee.
I stumbled on to the first farmhouse and, being crippled, again sought a conveyance. The farmer, Mc Nally, was in charge of the relief in that district, and he did not wish to hamper their collecting system by hiring out his buggy. Finally, noting my exhausted condition, he agreed to take me into Arcanum on my agreeing to donate $10 toward the relief subscription. I just made connection with the train to Indianapolis.
I reached Indianapolis at 3:10 Friday afternoon. I immediately inquired about trains for Chicago. An attendant pointed to a train leaving the station and said:
"That’s the second train to leave here for Chicago since the flood."
I caught it by a hard sprint and arrived at Chicago without further incident.
One of the passengers on the first relief train from Toledo that succeeded in entering the stricken city of Dayton after a circuitous trail through flood-bound territory, was Mr. Clyde T. Brown, a staff representative of the Chicago Daily News. The reports of his observations and his personal experiences, added to the distressing tales he heard from the lips of those who had lived through days and nights of horror, combine to make a story that needs no embellishment.
It is a story of how a city suddenly found its paved streets turned into raging torrents; of how great buildings suddenly became small helpless islands—rocks in the surf of a storm-ridden sea, and of how homes were swept away like toy houses of sand in the rising tide on the beach. It is also a story of gallantry and heroism in the work of rescue.
Mr. Brown was aboard a relief train which was sent from Toledo by the New York Central railroad at 6:30 p. m. Wednesday, less than thirty-six hours after the terrible torrent of the Big Miami river had broken upon Dayton. It ran through long stretches where everything except only the roadway was under water.
The perilous trip of the relief train and his subsequent experiences were described by Mr. Brown as follows:
"We made the trip in eighteen hours, arriving at Dayton after considerable difficulty, shortly after noon Thursday. We proceeded on the train that left Toledo to West Liberty. This part of the journey was made in a roundabout way. At this point we came up to a washed-out bridge.
"A hundred or more farmers with teams stood ready. The train was carrying a stock of medicines, clothing and food, besides doctors, nurses, naval cadets, telegraph operators and newspaper men. The provisions were taken from the train and loaded into the farmers’ wagons. There was a haul of three and a half miles to get around the washout to the other side, where another train waited. We walked this distance through mud, water and snow.
"In the second train we went to Xenia, thence to Springfield and finally to Dayton. All along we encountered flooded conditions and at times the train made barely eight miles an hour.
"At Dayton we found a frantic, despairing, half-starved lot of people. They were huddled together wherever high spots in the city afforded a place of refuge. The flood had receded somewhat, but the streets still were raging torrents in many parts of the city and the water marks on the buildings showed that the flood at some points had been twelve feet deep.
"The militia already had established a wall about the city and sightseers were barred absolutely. All along the route of our train persons attempted to get aboard to go to Dayton and it was with difliculty that they were kept off the coaches. At Springfield, for instance, a gang of ruffians attempted to get onto the train by force and there was a struggle before they were repulsed.
"Every one in Dayton had on high rubber boots. Travel was almost impossible except by boats. Everywhere the work of rescue was being carried on. Every man that was able was aiding in the work.
"In many of the large buildings there were still hundreds of men and women marooned and these were being taken from their places of refuge as quickly as possible. Throughout the residence section of the city people were imprisoned in their second stories and on the house tops. Members of the rescue party were taking food to these people in boats, making the rounds of the flooded homes.
"The early horror of the catastrophe seemed to have passed somewhat and the people had become slightly hardened to the situation. They were in a nerve shattered condition, however, and they showed the effects of sleeplessness and the overtaxing of mind and body.
"New panic broke out when it was reported Thursday afternoon that the Lewiston reservoir had broken and another flood was on the way. This report proved to be untrue.
"There were stories of fearful tragedies mingled with tales of remarkable heroism to be gained from those who had fought through the trying hours to save their fellow men.
"The number of deaths remained a mystery. About eighty bodies had been recovered when I left Dayton Thursday night. They had been placed in temporary morgues. Many of the deaths were the result of suicide among persons who became frantic as they watched the death waters creep upon them.
"There was a remarkable story of heroism of two sailor lads who happened to be in Dayton when the flood broke. They gave up their lives in the work of rescue. Their identity was buried with them in the swirling waters.
"The two sailors were in the residence section of West Dayton when the torrent reached there. Able at the oars, they quickly obtained a boat. I was told that they rescued at least 150 men, women and children from marooned residences, carrying load after load to higher land.
"The waters became higher and more turbulent as they proceeded with their work. They started out upon another trip of rescue. They encountered the rapid current. The boat was capsized within sight of many of those they had saved. It was impossible to swim in the raging water and the two heroes went down, their bodies to be carried away, probably never to be found.
"The heroes whose deeds were recounted to me were too numerous to list. Men struggled in the work of rescue until their muscles gave out and their strength failed. Large numbers of boats were at hand. They had been sent from all neighboring towns and localities.
"Immediate rescue of those marooned in the large buildings in the business section of the city was impossible because of the swiftness of the current and this was not attempted until Thursday, when the waters had begun to recede considerably.
"The method of rescue was unique. The current in most of the streets made it unsafe to attempt to row to the buildings. Ropes and cables were hurled into windows and made fast. In many of the buildings elevator cables were cut and brought into use. The boatmen used these ropes and cables to propel their boats, making progress hand over hand.
"Hunger was the chief cause of suffering among those who had been marooned in the office buildings, but plenty of food was at hand once the work of rescue became possible.
"Churches, schools and all buildings on higher ground were turned into dormitories. Many persons also were taken out of Dayton to near by localities. Every farmer who could drive to Dayton was there ready to return to his home with as many of the flood victims as he could afford to care for and house.
"There were many cases of individual heroism. A barber, Edward Price, thinking that his wife and child were safe in their home in Edgemont, when the flood first broke went into the heart of Dayton to rescue his parents and brothers and sisters. He procured a boat and after a difficult and perilous trip he found the entire family on the roof of their home, the water already lapping the second story. Alone he carried the members of the family to safety. In the meantime the roaring waters had spread throughout all parts of the city and Edgemont was submerged. When I left Dayton he had not found his wife and child, for whom he had been searching night and day.
"There were many suicides. One particularly tragic incident occurred in a house in Jefferson street. A man and wife stood at a second story window of their home Tuesday throughout the afternoon calling frantically for help. The street before the house had become a torrent and no one dared brave the current to get to the house in a boat. The water continued to crawl toward the two at the window. ‘If the water reaches us I shall kill my wife and end my own life!’ the man shouted. He brandished a revolver. Darkness fell. Two shots were heard to ring out. In the morning the two figures were not at the window.
"Several men who were aiding in the rescue work Thursday met death when a carload of carbide exploded near the railroad station.
"Others, in walking about the flooded streets after the waters had receded somewhat, suddenly disappeared from view. The cause of this, it was learned, was that the force of the waters in the sewers had blown off the covers of many manholes and men were walking into them unawares.
"Hundreds of horses and dogs were lying dead in the street from which the water had backed off by Thursday afternoon. Several hundred residences were carried away by the flood, but most of the wreckage had been carried downstream so that very little of the destruction in this respect was visible. Estimates as to the number of persons carried to their death with these houses varied and were entirely uncertain.
"The actual damage done by the several fires that burned Thursday in the business section of the city could not be established, because it was impossible to get near enough to see. The fire was said to have started in a drug store. As far as I could learn no one was burned to death. A large number of persons, including women and girls, were rescued from one of the burning buildings.
"When I left Dayton Thursday night the water had left many of the streets and it was not more than four feet deep at any point, I should judge. None of the large buildings had been wrecked. Stocks were ruined, however, and the loss of residences was undoubtedly large.
"There was little attempt at looting. The militia force, which had the city under perfect control in conjunction with the police, was on a strict watch for any such attempt."
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©2001, Lynn Waterman
© 2001, Lynn Waterman