Allan Long tells his friend Louie about his experience during the 1913 flood.
Courtesy of The NCR Archive at Dayton History
16 Lawn View Ave., Dayton, Ohio
My dear Louie:-
You will remember my last account was of the shipwreck, now I am going to tell you a little about the Dayton flood.
For two days the rain had fallen with scarcely a let up. It was Monday night, March 24th, and the old Miami River, usually so dreamy, was awakening from its apathy and was causing some alarm as it threatened to overflow the levee- a pretty serious condition!
It must have been about four o’clock next morning when an awful din awoke me. Bells rang, numerous whistles sounded and following these came a shouting in the streets of “Everyone up, everyone up, the levee has broken.” A loud bang came at my door, my landlady inquiring if I were awake and saying “The levee has given!” “What can be done?” I asked. She replied “Remove the furniture upstairs and get out in a hurry.”
Then I leapt out of bed and soon we had stripped the lower floors and out of the house we rushed. And well that we did for the flood was commencing in good earnest. People were wading through a deal of water – several women I met were carrying their babies and men were hurrying along with valises.
Steering for the city, I crossed the handsome concrete bridge spanning the Miami. What a wonderful sight was the Miami! No longer dreamy but swollen twenty feet to a mighty raging torrent, rushing along with incredible power and speed and well nigh brimming its banks – even there, and down with this rush of waters whirled all manner of articles, tables, floor barrows- even sheds and outhouses.
In the city I got a little breakfast and started for my place of business at the South End. I started but didn’t arrive! No cars were running and as for walking- swimming would have been a better method of progress, for the streets were inundated and one was intercepted –go where you might. Not knowing what to do, I took shelter in the Union Station for the rain still poured down and the water continued to rise.
Then I fell into conversation with a lady traveler bound for St. Louis, but brought to a standstill at Dayton, as train service was suspended. She remarked that this was her third experience of floods, - one in Japan being worse, where she said it did about everything possible but “kill the fleas”. Don’t go to Japan! I conducted my new acquaintance to the safest hotel I could think of and then returned to the bridge I had crossed several hours earlier. I could not resist the fascination of gazing at the furious-rampaging Miami, reminding me of the Niagara. It was marvellus! As for the residential section from which we had escaped it was completely under water and rescues were being made by boats.
A great crowd had collected on the bridge. We stood there amazed at the extraordinary spectacle. The water was overflowing now at many points. Even as we watched, it rose inch by inch and nearby it flowed over into a stone basin close to the bank, containing gold fish, and at that very moment some of the fish swam out and the water washed over our feet. You should have seen the wild scamper as people ran pell mell up the street, but the torrent out-distanced us as it pushed up the main street, and soon we were wading kneedeep. I avoided it just then by scrambling through an automobile, standing against the curb, and by springing towards the center of the street I almost cleared the water. Everybody hastened forward.
Believing it better policy to reach the South End, which is high ground, I determined by hook or crook to get through the deluged streets. Traveling along one street I found the next impassable- I tried another and another with no better success. At last, disgusted, I removed my shoes and stockings and rolled up my garments and then waded through the ever deepening flood. I climbed over fences and stoops and crept up back alleys and finally reached the water limits on a Jewish peddler’s wagon, whose horse ploughed through the strong currents. The man had several children who were crouched under a huge red and yellow umbrella.
That day and the following were awful days for Dayton and I shall never forget them. The deluge of rain continued accompanied with thunder and lightening at frequent intervals. Great black clouds hung over the stricken city adding gloom and apprehension. Dreadful things were happening there and in outlying districts. Houses were pulled from their foundations and toppled over like so many dolls’ houses by the swift currents which swept through the streets- reaching twenty feet in height in some places. Great trees were uprooted, which will give you an idea of the force of the raging flood, and every store in the business center was deluged and covered with four to six inches of the worst kind of mud.
And how about all the inhabitants, you will ask. Well, to many of them it was an inferno, imprisoned as they were by the swirling waters and surrounded by the burning buildings. We in the South End could observe the desperate people clustered on the house tops like bees and outlined against the lurid glow of the flames. We saw them but were absolutely helpless to render assistance. Only those in boats were able to reach them, and certainly they made many wonderful rescues, and most of this rescue work was performed by the N. C. R. Co. through Mr. Patterson, the President, to whom we all consider great praise is due.
Many thrilling stories are related on all sides. A man, woman and child escaped by means of the electric cables, the man having their five years old daughter in a sack strapped to his back, his wife dressed in male attire clung bravely to the wires along which they moved.
A boat containing several refugees was nearing safety, friends were even beckoning to them, when it collided with a tree driven there by the turbulent current- turned over and the occupants all drowned.
Then we heard a report that a frantic man had shot himself, his wife and two children.
As soon as the floods had disappeared I naturally felt anxious to ascertain if my former dwelling had floated down the Miami River. It had not, but the water line was fifteen inches above my bedroom floor- second story, and there was enough mud everywhere inside to grow a crop of potatoes in. The paper from walls and ceiling had peeled off.
A lady searching for a friend’s house inquired for a certain street “Cant tell you M’am” a man replied, “There is a sign upon that house but I don’t know where the street is”.
Passing a relief station- a free lunch counter, a person remarked “I bet my bottom dollar there’s a h- of a lot of people who never lived better in their lives”. Above the entrance of the lunch place in red letters was written “Café de Service Table de hote”.
A poor horse was found in a church with his feet raised up against the altar.
A man was asked “Where do you live?” “Don’t know”, he replied, “Aint you got a home?” “No, only care about getting something to eat.”
One sees every conceivable thing on the streets and in freakish places. Dead horses are met at every turn. A chair hangs on a tree, a mattress is in the branches also; a wagon seat has got wedged above a doorway. There is a wrecked automobile overturned in a gutter. On the river bank reclines a piano. Over the sign at the entrance of a prominent store is suspended a suit of underwear and outside another shop in an erect position is a milliner’s model, its tawdry drapery discolored and the paint face daubed with mud. Such a picture of complete ruin and distruction could barely be imagined.
A little tot of three years asked its mother, who was preparing to escape with her four children “Mama, youse goin’ to a picture show? Me wants to go too! She went indeed to a picture show!
But the citizens of Dayton are plucky and bear up well in their adversity, the following incident shows the spirit here:
A grocer whose store and all its contents were ruined, was cleaning away the mud and debris when a friend passing called out “Why John have you the courage to start again?” He replied, “Yes, for I still have left my smile!”