This is a letter written by Arthur Dilks, an employee of NCR,
telling of his experiences during the flood. Courtesy of The NCR Archive at Dayton History
April 11, 1913
My dear Henry & Tom,
As Mr. Patterson has gone on a tour of inspection with the Ohio Relief Commission I am finding myself at leisure to write a few letters. I have just finished a descriptive account of the Dayton Flood Disaster which I have sent to you via Toronto, Winnipeg, London and Manchester, with the request that it be forwarded by the next post after receipt. I am asking you to send it to Mr. Hendry at Ramsport. Meanwhile Alice has written a descriptive letter to the Editor of the Eastbourne Gazette and I have asked them to send you a copy. Apparently early accounts were exaggerated as to the loss of life. The Exaggeration however was excusable for to anyone looking on it did seem as though the flood would claim thousands of victims. Alice Irene and I narrowly escaped being marooned in the city, although we did not realize it at the time. The rise of water was extremely rapid, some people say six feet in a quarter of an hour.
We are fortunate indeed: we have a clean healthy place of business and a home untroubled by the flood, while thousands of others of all classes have to contend against enormous quantities of slimy mud and debris which cover the cellars and first floors, and in many cases the second floor also. It is estimated that 44,000 tons of mud have to be removed from the city. Add to this the enormous number of broken up wooden houses and the ruined furniture, and the contents of all the first floors of the stores, and you can imagine the colossal task which is being undertaken. The greatest calamity is still in store Should disease follow the flood; and it seems impossible we should escape.
To get an idea of the state of the city during the flood you must imagine a mighty river, two or three miles in width rushing with great violence through your town for a couple of days, at a height of ten feet to twenty feet above the level of the street. Add to this the horror of extensive fires in many parts, the result of escaping gas. Imagine too that in the district surrounding the business part that most of the houses are built of wood. Imagine you hear them cracking and toppling over in every direction, many being carried along bodily in the stream. Picture hastily made flat bottomed boats manned by brave young fellows urged hither and thither at terrible risk, but saving hundreds of lives. Overhead a terrific thunder storm with pouring rain. Picture also the 1500 horses madly attempting to gain foothold where they could, some times on the life saving boats. Imagine all this and you will get some idea of that terrible Tuesday March 15.
The picture of Dayton at the present moment is almost as terrible. The struggle with the mud, the ruined houses, the great business center with its dilapidated stores, all their contents ruined, no business to do, except in upper floors. Everywhere the streets encumbered with mud and debris which are being brought out of cellars and ground floors. It is a truly sickening sight and I must say that the pluck of the men who are putting up placards announcing that they will reopen in a few days is astounding.
Alice and Irene wear the red cross badge and are working hard. Irene has been made historian for the U.S.A. Red Cross Society so far as this flood is concerned. She will not undertake to describe the flood and its causes but the relief work from its inception to its present Scientific form.
My own experience in the fortnight after the flood has been unique: in close touch and consultation with Mr. Patterson I have had an interesting share in the wonderful organization for relief which has won the admiration of the whole country. The quick change of our great cash register manufacturing business to a central organization for life saving, feeding, warming, clothing and housing of thousands of refugees was indeed marvellous to a degree.
At one time we were feeding 80,000 people, and at one time we had only two meals within sight; and none of them knew. You can imagine that I have been compelled to assume an authority which circumstances thrust upon me, so many people appealing to me for direction and advice. Never in my life have I answered so many questions off hand. The whole city came to us and depended on us, and our office harbouring more than a hundred newspaper correspondents was the center of information for the whole world. Sometime perhaps I may give an account of my own personal work, if perchance I am able to call it to mind. At the moment I find it difficult to reconstruct the rapid progress of events and I am now feeling the effect of this huge strain through which I have passed.
Well now I find I have written more than I had intended. I meant to write a separate letter to each of you, but will now ask Henry to post this at once to Bridgewater.