“I AM POSITIVE THEY ARE DEAD”
SOUTH DAYTON - Part Two
LILLIE H. KILPATRICK
Lillie H. Kilpatrick wrote a small account of when the flood waters began filling her home at 803 South Main Street.
At four o’clock in the morning of March 25, 1913 our next door neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. R. Maretz rapped on the wall and told us the water was coming fast, and then it was to the curb on Main St. in front of our house. We got up and dressed ourselves hurridly and began taking all we could out of the cellar and then began on the first floor untacking carpets and placing things as high as we possibly could, not dreaming the water would come up so high.
By this time we realized that the water might come up still higher, and that we would be obliged to go up to the second story.
We took all we had in the way of provisions &c. up stairs and by eight o’clock we had to flee ourselves, as the water was then on the first floor and coming fast.
Our next door neighbors were so worried that as soon as they could get a boat they tore the sheets in strips and lowered their two daughters into this boat and they were taken to the N.C.R.
After this the parents were so distressed because they expected to go also but the current was so swift at Main and Stout Sts. that it was simply impossible to come again for them, and besides there were many others that were in more apparent danger on the roofs of houses and in cottages, that had to be rescued first. We then decided to make an opening in the closet in the hall so as to enable our neighbors to come in with us thinking they would feel more satisfied, which they did.
My Uncle, Mr. George W. Howard, broke this opening in the wall with a butcher knife we had taken up with us for to cut bread &c.
After this at about half past three o’clock in the afternoon a fearful gas explosion occurred in a Saloon directly across the street from us, in Mr. George Saettel’s building where two persons, Mrs. Schunk and Mr. George Saettel, lost their lives by drowning. From this explosion nine houses on the east side of Main St. were burned down to the water, and then it spread to the west side of Main and four houses were burned to the waters edge.
My Uncle went up on the roof and saw that Mr. T. C. Lindsey’s home had caught fire and he said we would have to get out of our house and that quickly, as he thought our house would go.
So he fixed a plank by taking the door off of the same closet he made the opening for our neighbors to come through to us, and nailed two bed slats to it, after getting through this opening into the next house and from there across to the vacated bakery, (ten feet across) six of us, and from there onto shutters and onto a little building that had floated there seemingly for our accommodation and from there onto a raft.
Now this raft was the roof of Mr. Ollie G. Saettel’s building that had blown off by the explosion. We got out of our house at seven o’clock in evening. At the time we got out Mr. & Mrs. Theo. Biser broke an opening from their house into the bakery and got out and stood with us on the raft.
All of us eight in number stood from seven o’clock Tuesday evening until seven o’clock Wednesday morning and the rain coming down constantly nearly all the time, and the houses all burning around us and my Uncle fighting the flames and trying to keep them from us.
Our house stood through it all and we are very thankful to think that our lives were spared. After calling for help the N.C.R. boats came on Wednesday morning and took us all, one by one, a round about way, over the burnt buildings to the Creamery, across the street, on Main St. where a number of other persons were rescued and here we remained until Thursday morning when the N.C.R. boats came again and took us out to The Cash Register where we all were very kindly cared for.
From The Cash Register my Aunt & Uncle my Mother and myself went to a private boarding house on Stewart St. and on Saturday our relatives found us and took us to their homes...
H. W. LINDSEY
H. W. Lindsey lived at the corner of Vine and Main Street, between the Miami and Erie Canal and the high ground south of the city. His home was across the street from Saettel’s grocery store.
On Tuesday morning, March 25, just before dawn, I was aroused by a call for help from the grocer, Mr. Saettel, and upon looking out of the window was surprised to see that the water had risen and covered the sidewalk. I immediately dressed, waded across the street and offered my assistance. We worked probably an hour waist-deep in water, moving things out of the cellar. Then the water began to pour in upon the first floor, and the rise was so very rapid that we were totally unable to move any of the merchandise to the second floor. At this time the current was flowing east from the river, it was evidently being due to backwater. The current was so very swift that I realized I could not cross the street to my home.
About ten o’clock in the morning the river evidently was overflowing its banks at the north of town, and therefore for a time the current down Vine Street was no longer swift, as the current from uptown seemed to neutralize the current due to the backwater. One of my friends taking advantage of this fact launched a canoe, and as he was passing the grocery I hailed him and he offered to take me across Vine Street to my home on the corner of Vine and Main. I hung from a window in the second story and dropped into the canoe.
About this time the water had risen to a depth of about ten feet. There was a small cottage two doors from the grocery in which lived an elderly man and his wife. They had pushed a table against the front door and were looking over the transom, calling to those in the houses nearby to send a boat to their assistance. Only by great effort was a boat able to reach and remove them.
About one o’clock we heard a loud report, and on looking out of the window saw the grocery, which I had left but a few hours before, was a mass of flames. An explosion in the lower floor had literally blown the top of the building away, and the flames belching forth from the upper story resembled a hot furnace. The concussion shattered the windows in nearby houses. Of seven people in the building, five were saved from any injury. One lad of about eight years was thrown by the explosion onto a roof immediately to the north. Two escaped by means of an improvised raft.
Mr. Saettel’s father, a man of about 75 years, was tossed by the force of the concussion onto a floating roof in the middle of Main Street. The roof drifted towards the west side of Main street, lodging against a barn.
At this time the current was very rapid, the water flowing west towards the river so very strongly that houses and barns were torn from their foundations and floated down Vine Street. One of the houses struck a tree on the west side of Main Street and broke its trunk, 8 or 9 inches in diameter, as though it were a match. There were, I would judge, at least fifteen or twenty horses frantically pawing at the water as they were carried towards the river. Mr. Saettel was on the raft for probably an hour. His plight was pitiful and our very helplessness nearly drove us to distraction. We had a steel boat tied to the porch, but we dared not embark, and if we had done so, we could never have reached him. As each bit of driftwood, and parts of houses shot by the frail roof or raft with terrible force, it would break off a piece. Eventually the remnants were insufficient to keep the old man afloat… and he finally sank below the surface.
Even more tragic was the fate of a woman by the name of Mrs. Shunck. She was thrown by the force of the explosion out of the second story of the grocery and succeeded in catching hold of one of the spikes on a telegraph post about twelve or fifteen feet in front of the building. She was torn, lacerated and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Her clothes were literally torn off. Crying for help she looked beseechingly from one group of helpless persons to another while we fairly shook with pity. She would call the spectators by name asking them to send assistance, which of course was impossible. She evidently had but little strength for as she attempted to crawl up the post, the water being almost up to her armpits, it was impossible for her to raise herself. Two young men did attempt to rescue her. They launched a boat on Vine Street about one square from Main. The current carried the boat so swiftly past the distressed woman that neither of the rescuers had an opportunity to even catch hold of the woman's apparel. Just as the boat shot past her, it evidently struck a piece of debris, as it capsized. Fortunately, the young men were able to reach the barn lodged in front of Mr. T. C. Lindsey’s house and to climb over the limbs of the tree which I have mentioned before, to the rear of Mr. Lindsey’s home. I cannot say definitely how long Mrs. Shunck hung on the telegraph post, but different people who witnessed that distressing scene estimated that the time was one-half to one hour… Finally her strength entirely failed her and she sank.
About this time a boat became lodged in a tree on the sidewalk on Vine Street about half a square from Main Street. In some way the oarsmen had lost their oars. There was a very old couple in the boat and one woman with a baby in her arms. Each one seized a limb of the tree and firmly held to it in order to prevent the boat from drifting past Main Street to the river. We attempted to throw ropes to them, but they were too far distant. We also tried to launch our steel boat and row to them, but the current was so strong that we could not advance at all in either direction. These people were in this perilous condition for about an hour. A boat then came down Vine Street and transferred them to safety. Later in the day the tree was uprooted. One boat load of people attempted for one hour to row south on Main Street to the Main Street hill across the swift current, but had to give up this means of reaching safety.
At this time there were thirteen people in my house. Nine of them were women and four men. Fearing that our house would be set on fire by sparks or floating burning timbers, we put the boat between the porches of our house and the house immediately to the south of us. We then crawled over a roof and a shed to the next house. About this time the back part of the frame grocery was torn from its foundation by the current, and carried against my home, setting it on fire. We dared not go further south to the next house, as this was a small cottage, and it would have been impossible to have passed on to the next house, the distance being too great. We, therefore, hailed a boat from the back window in the house, and the oarsmen consented to take us to safety. The current in back of the house on the east side of Main Street was not as swift as it was on Main and Vine Streets. The boat would hold but five people, and when after three trips it began to get dusk, the man rowing refused to return for the last three of us. However, we offered him fifteen dollars, and after some entreaties we succeeded in having him return. We rowed east from Main to Brady Street, and then went south on Brady across Foraker Street to Apple, where we reached dry land. Before we crossed Foraker Street we had to stop in order to permit two cottages and one double-story house to float by on their way to the river. I might say that one of the main reasons we desired so anxiously to get out of the house, in which we took refuge, was that there was a pumping station for gas in the rear of this house, in which the main pipe had been broken, and as a result the escaping gas threw the water up in the air like a fountain. We feared a spark would ignite the gas and blow us up. Within an hour after the last of us reached dry land, my home, and the two homes south of us, burned to the water line. We had moved all of our furniture up to the second floor and then up to the attic. At the time that the house burned the water was but a few inches from the second floor.
Out of the first 72 hours of the flood I slept but four hours, and these four were no more than a nightmare, as I dreamed of Mr. Saettel, Mrs. Shunck and my father. When I did wake up I had no use of my arms as I had been rowing a bit after I was rescued. However, after some rubbing I again regained their use.
At the National Cash Register Company we were fed for three days, after which time we went to a private family in order to make room for others at the National Cash Register Company. The Commissary Department of the National Cash Register Company served about 2700 meals a day. The men slept on the floors and chairs, and the women were given cots.
Allan Long was living at 16 Lawn View Avenue in Dayton when he wrote the following letter to his friend, Louie.
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 shout 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… 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 Niagara… 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 by 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 climed 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…
And how about 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…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 due.
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.
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 painted face daubed with mud. Such a picture of complete ruin and destruction could barely be imagined.
A grocer whose store and all its contents were ruined, was cleaning away the mud and debris when a friend passing by called out “Why John have you the courage to start again?” He replied “Yes, for I still have left my smile!”
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