INCIDENTS OF THE FLOOD
TALES OF PATHOS AND HORROR THAT WILL BE LONG REMEMBERED IN THE FLOODED DISTRICTS
The story of what really happened during the first two nights and a day in Dayton after the waters broke loose was slowly told on Thursday the 27th by relatives of the supposed dead and the exhausted rescuers and the prostrated victims as they were brought to places of safety. Each fragment of the story is a tragedy in itself.
There is the story of George H. Schaeffer, a rescuer, who went out into the flood with a skiff and saved a woman and baby.
"A house that had been torn from its foundation came floating up behind us," Schaeffer said. "The woman was frightened. I told her there was no danger. Suddenly she stood up and jumped over with her baby in her arms. She went straight down and never came up again."
Then there was the horror that "Bill" Riley, former clerk of the United States Court at Cincinnati and now a salesman for the National Cash Register Company, saw himself.
"We saw a very old woman standing at the window of a house waiting for rescue," said Riley. "We rowed up to it. Suddenly the house parted and the woman in it was engulfed. That was the last we saw of her."
Then there was the man who, nearly rescued, had stepped into the skiff and then walked back into his home which a short time later floated away with him.
And the story of the negro mother who was being rowed to safety with her two babies, when the skiff struck a tree and the little craft capsized. The babies were drowned. The mother was rescued by Robert Burnham, the owner of the skiff, only to die before she reached the hospital.
John Scott, an employe of the National Register Company, who came recently from Butte, Mont., ascended a telegraph pole and guided across the cable to places of safety, men, women and children rescued from flooded houses. It would not have seemed real if presented in a melodrama, this method of bridging a flood, but here was done in the presence of hundreds who stood at safe spots appalled by the imminence of danger.
Scott had guided a dozen persons across the swaying bridge of wires when the explosion that started the fire occurred and the shock knocked Scott from the pole and he fell into a tree.
"The last I saw of him he was trying to get into the window of the abandoned house by way of one of the branches of the tree," said Frank Stevens, a fellow employe of Scott. "The house was in the path of the fire."
One woman had been marooned on top of a moving van in the middle of the roadway since 10 o’clock Tuesday morning. She and two men were attempting to cross the flood in the moving van when the vehicle tipped. One of the men was thrown out and drowned, the other got on the horse and, although swept away, is thought to have reached safety.
"What is your name?" asked the registrar who received refugees at the National Cash Register plant, of a slender person in men’s clothing.
"Norma Thuma," was the reply.
"Norma?" he asked.
"Yes, I’m a girl," was the answer. She had put on man’s clothes in order to cross the perilous span of wires, unhampered by skirts.
Norma reached safety with Ralph Myers, his wife and their little baby. Myers had climbed the pole first. He let down a rope to his wife, who tied to it a meal sack which contained their baby, three months old. Myers pulled the rope with its precious burden up and then let it down again to aid his wife to ascend. With the meal sack over his shoulder and his wife behind him, Myers, holding onto two thin wires, walked across the cable a full block before he reached safety.
There was brought from the flood on Wednesday Mrs. James Cassidy and her three children. Mrs. Cassidy was grief-stricken over the report of the death of her husband by drowning. Even as she was being registered there was brought into headquarters a man who had to be held up and who was very wet.
"Jim!" shrieked the woman. "That’s you—it’s you —you aren’t dead! Say you aren’t dead!"
Jim had been rescued from drowning. His return was the one bit of joy in the awful gloom at the rescue headquarters, where gathered the victims of flood, fire and famine.
A woman, maddened by the sorrows of the day, fought with Bill Riley and his companion, Charles Wagner, who had rescued her in a boat. She bit Riley in the hand and choked Wagner, who sought to restrain her. The little boat swayed and was on the point of capsizing when the woman suddenly became calm and began to pray.
A woman with three children, marooned in the upper floor of her home on the edge of the business district, called to the oarsmen:
"Oh, I know you can’t take me off," she cried, "but please take this loaf of bread and jug of molasses to Sarah Pruyn down the street; I know she’s starving."
Twice the boatmen attempted to take the food, but waves that eddied about the submerged house hurled them back.
Further on, in the exclusive residence district, they were offered fabulous sums for rescue by many of the flood’s prisoners. Their narrative inspired an effort to launch a boat for navigating the vast river, but up to a late hour Wednesday the craft was unable to pass beyond areas already reached on the fringe of the flooded district.
A. J. Saettle, owner of the house in which fire started after a gas explosion, was reported to have been blown into the air and killed instantly. Mrs. Shunk, a neighbor, was blown-out of her home into the flood, and, after clinging to a telegraph pole for half an hour, finally succumbed and was sucked away under the waters, according to a report received at rescue headquarters.
The explosion blew a stable filled with hay into the middle of the flooded street and this carried the flames to the opposite side of the street.
The next house to burn was Harry Lindsay’s, then Mary Creidler’s and then the home of Theodore C. Lindsay. Houses that had been carried away from their foundations floated into the flames and soon were a bonfire. The flames burned without restraint, because engines could not get near enough to stop them.
The search for the dead did not begin until all the living had been helped. The most heartrending feature of the situation was the pitiable terror of the women and children.
Many of them sat up and sobbed through the night, refusing to believe that their fathers and husbands were safe, and husbands and fathers who missed wives and children cried their grief in the nerve-shaking way that men have of voicing sorrow.
A graphic story of the harrowing scenes in the flooded Dayton district was told at Indianapolis, March 27, by Martin Ellis, a refugee from Dayton.
He told of being caught in the flood while he and his wife were in the Hotel Algonquin and of jumping from a second-story window to the roof of a house floating by.
Later, his wife, made insane by the scenes she witnessed and the thoughts of her four little children left at home in the flood-swept district, jumped from the roof into the flood and was swept away.
Ellis was in a terrible state when he reached safety. Exposure and loss of his family had placed him in a pitiful condition and he was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he later died.
His story, as taken down by a stenographer in the hospital, follows:
"At 8:50 Tuesday morning the levee broke. I think it was the Lewiston reservoir. The water swept the town and was halted on the northeast by the levee. The water then traveled in a sheet to the east, passing over the city. A panic followed. People ran to the tops of buildings and were brushed off like flies. The water kept rising. My wife and I jumped on top of a small house that was rushing past us.
"We were in a second-story window of the Algonquin Hotel. The flood carried us south. We passed bodies. There were some live people, too. We were stopped two miles from the city.
"We stayed on the house all day. At night fires started. The parts of the houses above the water burned up. There were people who had taken refuge in the attics of their homes. These must have been killed. My four children were home. We lived on North Main street. We saw the top of our house burn.
"In the middle of the night we heard explosions. My wife couldn’t stand it. She jumped off the house we were on. The flood took her away. Then the house I was on alone started to drift again. It kept on.
"I don’t remember what happened for a number of hours. I found myself on the west side of the flood. Dayton was burning and they were blowing up buildings. I heard the people crying above the roar of the flood and the explosions. I kept on going, and then a train picked me up."
Later he became incoherent. "I’m going home— I’m going home. Let me go home. Oh, God," he shouted, and Ellis went "home" to his wife and his four children, who died in the fire and flood at Dayton.
While the survivors were being cared for the pathos of the flood came to light in stories told by many. Occasionally the tragedy was made the more dramatic through contrast with an incident full of humor and romance.
Of the thousands of remarkable escapes the experience of Miss Flossie Lester, a stenographer, who was marooned on an overturned moving van in Edgemont, a suburb of Dayton, was considered one of the oddest. With several men, Miss Lester mounted on a passing van when the flood came. The van was soon overturned and the party thrown into the icy water.
The horses that had been hauling the van broke loose and separated, swimming for their lives. One of them passed close to Miss Lester, who grasped a dangling strap and succeeded in climbing astride the animal’s back.
For more than a mile and a half Miss Lester clung with her arms about the horse’s neck until it reached a high approach of the levee near a farmhouse. Here Miss Lester fell unconscious to the ground. She was taken in by the farmer’s family. The horse was taken to the barn.
Miss Lester told rescuers that she would buy the horse if its owner could be found.
Mrs. Clinton Wallace and her three children, at 3 Zinck avenue, Dayton, had an experience of another kind. They were marooned without food until rescued Friday night. They subsisted on grapefruit, a box of which they caught as it floated up to the window.
C.. H. Pfeffer, treasurer, and C. D. Gutlip, division superintendent of a Detroit automobile company, who hurried as best they could through the flooded districts from the Michigan metropolis to Dayton to rescue Pfeffer’s sister, found her Friday. She and another woman, both with babies in arms, were discovered on the roof of the former’s home in Riverdale, their feet resting on the eaves-trough..
There was seven feet of water in Riverdale, Mr. Pfeffer said, and 300 or 400 persons were marooned in second stories. He offered to take a boat load from one house, but as there was not room for every one none would leave their perches.
There were eight elephants among Peru’s victims of the overflowing waters. The elephants were a part of the Wallace-Hagenbeck menagerie, which has winter quarters two miles outside of Peru. Their keepers feared to free them, and chained to the ground the big beasts drowned.
In Logansport, Michael Fansler, prosecuting attorney, was prominent among the leaders of’ the rescue work and incidentally figured, almost at the cost of his life, in the most dramatic incident of the flood. He and John Johnson, the postmaster, were in a boat with two women, each of whom had a baby in her arms. The boat capsized in six feet of water.
The prosecutor grabbed one of the women and her babe and caught a protruding telephone pole. From this position the prosecutor was rescued by a man whom he had tried only a few months before to put into the penitentiary.
Fansler’s rescuer was enabled to assist him by the aid of a rope which his wife was holding from the second-story window of their home near by. The postmaster was saved by the sensational effort of a Chicago traveling man, D. L. McClure, who dived from the second floor of the Barnett hotel.
During the worst day of the flood at Logansport some one sent broadcast a report that the Celina dam had broken.
"Run for your lives," was the message which flashed across the roofs. Bells and whistles were sounded in alarm. There were instances where the alarmed actually jumped into the torrents which circled their homes and would have drowned but for the patrolling boats.
Simultaneously with the identification of three flood victims, an aged woman and a married couple, at Columbus, came the story of how Wilber Morris, living at 861 Glenwood avenue, first fled from the onsweeping waters to the hilltop, then waded back waist deep, through the swift current and unsuccessfully begged Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Howard and Miss Cordelia A. Carrager, aged seventy-four, to desert their home. They stoutly insisted that they were provisioned for a siege and that they were not afraid. All three met death.
Semi-conscious, his name beyond the pale of memory, an old man, aged seventy years, was found dying from illness and exposure in a house on the flood-afflicted West Side at Columbus. No one was found who could identify him and he was taken to an insane asylum.
Eyewitnesses at Columbus told of having stood in their homes on the West Side and watched many persons fall into the raging torrents as their heads hit against the lone rail left in position, while the roofs of houses upon which they were floating passed through a break in the high embankment of the Baltimore & Ohio tracks. Some of the houses in passing through the large opening were dashed to pieces.
Fifty-two persons were taken out of a West Side drugstore at Columbus, where they had been marooned four days. Their supplies had given out and they were suffering from hunger.
Here’s the prize story of how one family prepared against starvation when the flood came up. It comes from the home of George Roller, 79 Dakota avenue, in the heart of the flooded West Side at Columbus. When they saw the flood coming they persuaded the family cow to enter the kitchen and ushered her upstairs, where they gave her a private room. They also laid in a supply of corn and hay. Result: Plenty of fresh milk and some to spare to the neighbors. Another family took their chickens into the house and not only saved the chickens but had plenty of fresh eggs.
Taken from a tree and supposed to be dead, C. A. Turney of 355 Glenwood avenue, Columbus, was removed to the temporary morgue at Greenlawn cemetery, to await identification. A small boy standing by thought he detected a slight motion in Turney’s body and called the doctor’s attention to it. Restoratives were quickly applied and after heroic work, Turney was returned to consciousness and taken to the home of friends.
More than a score of persons were rescued from perilous positions in treetops and on the roofs of houses in the flooded district between Logansport and Peru by men from the United States naval training station at Chicago, Ill., according to advices received by Captain G. R. Clark, commander at the station, from the Logansport relief committee.
The naval station men left early Thursday, March 28, in command of Lieutenant John J. London, for the stricken Indiana cities. There were fifty of the recruits and they took with them six boats provisioned for a cruise of six or eight days. Their special train was given the right of way direct to Logansport, this part of the programme being arranged by the Chicago Association of Commerce.
When the recruits arrived at Logansport their boats were at once placed in the flood waters and the men began their work. They carried aid to many flood-marooned persons lacking food and conveyed others in more dangerous positions to places of safety.
A story of the break of the levee at Dayton and the onrush of the waters was told by Edy Vicent, a member of the fire department No. 2. The fire house is located within a few doors of Taylor street, where the first break occurred.
The department watchers, fearing being floodbound, sounded the fire call simultaneously with the break in the water wall.
"When the horses, which were hitched in record time, reached the street," he said, "we were met by a wall of water which must have been ten feet high. The driver was forced to turn and flee in the opposite direction to save the team and the apparatus."
Supplies ordered March 26 by the Secretary of War to be rushed to the scenes of the flood disasters in Ohio, Indiana and Nebraska included the following items:
To Columbus, O.: One million rations, each ration being a day’s supply for one person; twenty thousand cots; four thousand tents; thirty thousand blankets; one hundred hospital tents; four hundred stoves; five thousand cans of milk for the younger children; five hundred boxes of reserved dressing; ten thousand vaccine points; five thousand anti-typhoid vaccine units.
For Omaha, Neb.: Four hundred hospital tents; one thousand blankets.
"The worst damage I saw was at Elkhart, Ind.," said Jacob Riis of New York, who was to have spoken at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, on March 25, but who arrived in Chicago a day too late. "We got as far west as Columbus and there were delayed because of weakened bridges. When it became known that they could not be repaired we were re-routed to Cleveland and there took the Lake Shore. I did not see much water until we got to Elkhart. There a portion of the poorer residence district was inundated and many houses wrecked. No lives were lost so far as I know. When I knew that I could not keep my engagement in Chicago I tried to send a telegram telling of the delay, but wires were down."
For every Jack Binns afloat there is a telephone heroine ashore, said the Boston, Mass., Journal on March 27. She stays at her post sending warnings throbbing over her wires, while fire cuts her off from the avenues of escape through which others have hurried, and she keeps plugging in calls until floods racing down upon her break her connections with the outside world. Several times in late years the tale written by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps has been duplicated in actual life. The latest case of vigil and devotion at the switchboard comes from the Miami valley. The girls who kept their wires humming while the waters surged down upon them and who flashed the last tidings out of stricken Dayton did as brave a thing as ever does the cavalryman who gallops into the midst of enemies with 600 others riding with him, knee to knee.
With the rapid subsiding of the flood waters and dissipating of panic among refugees at Dayton, thrilling adventures continued coming to light. Among the most interesting of these were the experiences of the family of Charles M. Adams in Riverdale. When the flood first rushed through that section of the city Mr. Adams got his wife and 10-month-old twin girls into a skiff and took them to the home of a friend in Warder street.
An hour later it was again necessary to move and the family was taken by rescuers out of a second-story window. The canoe in which they were being transported was dashed against a telegraph pole by the terrific current and capsized. Adams swam bravely in the icy water for a few minutes when he was picked up by some men in a flat boat.
Just before he was rescued he saw his wife sink for the third time. The baby girls were floating down the street. Then he collapsed. Three hours later he regained consciousness to find himself in an attic and beside him on the floor lay his wife, whom he believed to have been drowned. A few minutes later a man crawled into the attic window from the floating roof of a barn, bringing with him the twins. They had caught in the branches of a tree and were picked off unhurt by the man, who was riding to safety on the roof. Mrs. Adams was rescued by a high school boy on a hastily improvised raft. The lad was a member of the Riverdale troop of the boy scouts and had been trained how to administer first aid to the drowning.
A family named Porter, six in number, lay in the Riverdale morgue on Sunday, March 30. They left their home on the outskirts of the city when warning of the flood was brought there. They were overwhelmed and drowned on the road, while the flood missed the home they had deserted.
Harold Ridgley, a popular young man of Riverdale, lost his own life after saving thirteen families. In seeking to recover a lost oar his frail skiff tipped too much and sank.
At the Van Cleve school building in Riverdale there was a $10,000 cook engaged in the inartistic task of making bean soup, coffee and sandwiches and superintending the distribution of the same. He is the chef of the leading hotel of Dayton, and composes menus of tempting savor with French names attached, or did before the deluge. The flood carried away his home and for several days he presided over soup and sandwiches with dignity unimpaired.
Survivors recalled that shortly before noon Tuesday watchers on the hills of Dayton View, a fashionable residence section of the city, saw a frame house float from its foundations above the Dayton View bridge across the Miami. Just before the structure reached the bridge a door opened and a man was seen to look out, shading his eyes with his hand. Beside him stood a woman and behind them in the room of the cottage appeared another woman with a baby in her arms. The watchers shouted warnings to the man to jump into the river and take a chance of being rescued. Their cries evidently were unheard. The man closed the door. A moment later the cottage crashed into a concrete pier of the bridge and was broken into bits. Nothing was ever seen again of the occupants.
An amusing incident in connection with the receipt of relief supplies was a dispatch from Dr. McGrudder of Baltimore, addressed to General Devine of the American Red Cross at Washington, and by him forwarded to Dayton, in which it was said that among the contributions of clothing from the Maryland city was a woman’s sealskin coat, valued at $1,000, which the owner’s maid had included by mistake. The coat has not been found.
Among the largest contributors to the city’s needs at a time when food was most precious were the hundreds of farmers near Dayton, who went to the out-skirts of the city every day after the flood broke with wagon loads of milk, eggs, potatoes and other vegetables. It was due to this that the mortality among infants dependent entirely upon milk for sustenance was not large.
John Stone, 78 Victor street, was one of the large number of volunteer life savers in Riverdale. He rescued a woman from the second-story window of a house in Linwood street who insisted in bringing with her a snow shovel. Clutching the shovel to her breast, she sat in the stern sheets of Stone’s boat, alternately singing a hymn and laughing hysterically. In attempting to round a street corner where a torrent poured in from a cross street, the boat struck an electric light pole and Stone lost the paddle with which he was propelling his craft.
"God told me!" shouted the woman, a Mrs. Clemens. "He told me. Now use the shovel."
Stone managed to paddle his boat with the shovel to a place of safety.
It is said that in the bread line at Dayton was Eugene J. Barney, a millionaire, whose gifts to charity have been very large and recently included $25,000 to the Y. M. C. A. of Dayton. He obtained three loaves of bread and a small sack of potatoes.
Two employes of the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, M. B. Stohl, wire chief at Dayton, and C. D. Williamson, wire chief at Phoneton, by almost unprecedented devotion to duty kept Dayton in touch with the outside world.
At noon Wednesday they had been on duty for thirty-six hours, and, although there were no prospects of their being relieved, they gave not the slightest indications of an inclination to leave their posts.
Mr. Stohl reached the Dayton office just before the flood broke in the small hours of Tuesday morning. The water came with such suddenness that all batteries and power were put out of commission before any measures could be taken to protect them. This left the wires without current and effectually cut off Dayton from the outside world.
Stohl rummaged around and found a lineman’s "test set." With this he made his way to the roof of the building, "cut in" on the line to Phoneton and reported to Williamson, whose batteries were still in condition. Over this meager equipment messages were exchanged by means of the underground wires of the company, which held up until after the noon hour March 26, before the cable in which they were incased gave way. The break, however, was south of Dayton and Phoneton was still in touch with the flood stricken city.
The national calamity—as President Wilson termed the tragedy of the deluge—probably cost the railways traversing the flooded states $50,000,000, according to "Boersianer," financial editor of the Chicago Examiner. This estimate includes contingent as well as capital loss; damage to perishable freight; the expense of increased crews, of widely circuitous detours; of abandoned and delayed traffic; of congestions; of restoration; of reconstruction and of replacements.
The heaviest blow falls on the Baltimore & Ohio through the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railway. The former virtually controls the latter. It guarantees the Dayton’s fixed charges. Dayton, Hamilton, Piqua, Lima, Miamisburg—almost all the inundated towns and cities are on the C., H. & D., which has a mileage of 1,000 miles, and of which the greater part was under water.
King George of England cabled to President Wilson April 1, 1913, as follows:
"I am greatly distressed at the news of the disastrous floods and the grievous loss of life caused by them. I desire to express to your excellency my deepest sympathy with yourself and the people of the United States in your misfortune."
President Wilson replied:
"Allow me, in the name of the people and government of the United States, to express deep appreciation of your majesty’s kind message of condolence."
King Victor Emmanuel of Italy cabled:
"On hearing the news of the floods that have devastated prosperous regions and made so many victims, I beg you to believe in the sentiment of sincere and deep sympathy with which I join in your country’s mourning."
President Wilson responded:
"Your majesty’s touching words of sympathy in the terrible loss of life and property which has befallen many American homes are a real solace to the government and people of the United States."
Other reigning sovereigns also cabled their sympathy with the flood sufferers.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman