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Dr. Reeve's Story



This appeared in The Miami Valley and the 1913 Flood by Arthur E. Morgan, 1917
Dr. Reeve’s Story of the Dayton Flood
      Professor and Mrs. Sydney A. Reeve, of Central avenue, Tompkinsville, have received a letter from Mr. Reeve’s father, Dr. J. C. Reeve, of Dayton, Ohio.  It consists entirely of a running story of the flood and the accompanying hardships the residents of that city had to undergo.
     Dr. Reeve is eighty seven years old.  His wife is totally blind, and they live in a two-story brick structure in the heart of Dayton’s business district.  It stands on terraced ground on the corner of Third street.  It is entirely surrounded by business buildings.  Their daughter, Mrs. Robert Dexter, lives across the Miami river at Dayton View, high above the city.
     After the flood of ’66, the plot in question was one of a few that were found to have stood high and dry above the torrents.  In view of this Dr. Reeve, in 1870, decided on the site for his home and office.  The fallacy of this theory of safety is best described by the old physician in his letter, as follows:
Wednesday, March 26th, 10:15
Dear Lottie:
     I am sitting at upper window – Mother’s room – outside a raging torrent pours down Wilkinson street – a mighty river down Third street towards West!  No human being in sight – no sign of life – silent as the grave.  Below, piles on piles of wreckage – a fine piano lying in our yard!  Fortunately, yesterday, 7 a.m., I had gotten breakfast at Arcade – oatmeal and coffee – brought same to Mother.
     The danger whistles had sounded before I was up – I supposed for break of levee.  I did not care much – did not think of possibilities – I banked on great flood of ’66 when this lot – house not then built- stood high and dry – while all around was overflowed.  Not even when water came in yard.
     Now it came so fast I had to hustle to get Mother to the stairs.  Now, since last evening it has fallen nearly four feet and as we passed last night in total darkness (piece of candle two or three inches long) I made an effort to get my lamp from back office.  I stripped to the buff – got down to last step- dare not take the next – so cold, room so full of floating furniture that I could not have made my way through it to the lamp.  I was in to my armpits!  We have a good supply of crackers, a few nuts, a few apples.  This morning young men from roof on house next west gave us coffee.  Mrs. S.J.P. could reach to them and they to us – eggs and shredded wheat.  We have no water, no light, no salt for egg, no telephone connection, no cars, no papers – nothing!  Yes, we have natural gas and know how to appreciate it – neither one next door has it.  I boiled an egg soft for Mother – first thing she has kept down – have some hard-boiled for my dinner.
     Mary, we know, is worrying fearfully – we can get no word to her or from her.  The front and side of our house is a raging torrent – a sea up to Callahan building.  Two street cars stand in front of old Winter’s house, water just over the tops of their windows.  Inside house water went over mantels – you know the rest!  All night in the darkness the crashing and creaking of furnace pipes in cellar – the banging of furniture floating about below.  I could not sleep – do you wonder?
    Pitiful to see the horses swimming for their lives – no foot-hold for them – for yesterday, and now one has just struggled along and been swept down Third street.
     3:00 p.m. – Five hours, water evidently falling, yesterday at 3 reached highest – just cleared globes of electric light – was there when night closed; now two-thirds of the lamp post is visible.
     Still two currents rage and swirl and eddy along – one from North Wilkinson, the other from East Third street, joining forces here.  They might have swept a long section of board fence and placed it right across this corner, so shielding the corner of house, sending one down West third, the other South Wilkinson.  But for this, I don’t think I should be writing this now!  I dined on a hard boiled egg and a little coffee, black, no sugar, no milk-neither attractive nor appetizing.  We glory in our fire, and just think what a find!  A teakettle full of rain water on bathroom stove and forgotten!  Now we can drink!  You have to get down to bedrock to appreciate such a find as that!  I have lain down a good deal; slept none, but am very tired.  I will sleep better tonight; the noises have all stopped and I can close my eyes with the firm assurance that the house will be standing in the morning!
     Two men in boat and canoe have passed several times, but did not appear anxious to find out if anyone wanted anything.  It rains by times, just to make it more cheerful!  All is still quiet, desolation and ruin!  Your Mother is a wonderful woman- not a word of complaint or fear has she uttered, not even one of anxiety.
     5:00 p.m. – As if one calamity were not enough, for half an hour I have been watching the flames of a fire, the highest, finest flames I ever saw.  A man in canoe says it is east of the Beckel.  Where will it stop?  Night is falling.  Good night.
     Thursday, 9:00 a.m.  Went to bed saddened by beating rain against windows, by glare of light from flames up Third Street.  By fact that we had lost our comforter—natural gas would burn no more!  Had a long, sound, refreshing sleep; wakened by light streaming in, rushed out to look up stream and see the fire blazing up—great tongues of flame.  The whole block must be burning.  That was 3:15 a.m.  Another good sleep; wake at 6, driving snow, all, everywhere white where snow could rest. Outside, all water, but moving very sluggishly now.  Top of fence just visible; no sign of life; all desolation and ruin.  I know the meaning of the words now!  The Taylors, next door west, called us—did we want anything?  Yes, coffee.  They made us a pot; by long reaching, both sides, we can just get to each other.  They sent sandwiches, too, which E. cannot eat, and I do not want.  I had cup of coffee, then a raw egg beaten up with whiskey and a little water.  I was glad to give the T’s whiskey.  I have plenty—thanks to J. A. McM.
     Then next for fire.  Got with difficulty some of the bricks out which block natural gas; broke up paper boxes and few thin box tops!  Oh! If I had hatchet or axe; there are book shelves plenty, fuel plenty, but efforts to break and pull show me how feeble I am.  I just had to lie down.
     9:30 a.m.  Sitting here at window saw rapidly coming down East Third Street a boat—man and woman in stern saluting with hands; window hard to get up.  Just had time to hear the shout: “Mr. and Mrs. Penfield.”  He called, “Do you want anything?”  I said, “No, not much,” and they were gone.  Now, they live a few squares from Mary.  I hope they will give her word.  Evidently they were in doctor’s office down town, imprisoned, just getting home.  Our other neighbor, Patterson, is at his office; Mrs. P. shut up here.  I have drunk a little more hot coffee, but mouth and throat so dry, I cannot eat.  Next!
     11:30 a.m. – Sky cleared.  Sun shining.  Can see our yard where uncovered by wreckage.  Water all out of front room but several inches of slime and mud prevent my going to foot of stairs.  Furniture piled in heaps in front and towards bay window.  Down office stairs; back office not yet clear of water; furniture piled in heaps.  Think by night I can get lamp.  Boats pass often now.  Have brought food for men in Y.W.C.A.
     4:45 p.m.  Thursday – Things clearing up; skies brighter; sunshine sometimes.  Two offers to take us to Dayton View, one by boat from Dr. Henry, next from Red Cross.  Mother refused to go.
     Men walking on tracks.  Water just to ankles.  Inspecting track, I suppose.  We have done well enough for food.  The Taylors sent in big pieces of bologna, fresh bread, coffee.  Mother can eat nothing.  Drinks coffee.  What we want most is milk for her.  At 4 I stripped and went to the lower regions, the office below; there is a shorter word!  Got the lamp; coal oil can gone; got hatchet; have cut up some bed slats and have more, so fuel is provided for.  All floor below, everything covered with mud, slime – so sticky can hardly get feet out of it.  Such a sight below!  Furniture overturned – piled in heaps.
     Dr. Hudson, in Red Cross, offered to take us to Dayton View—this, the second offer—Mother refused to go.  He promised to get word to Mary.
     Friday, 3rd – Night passed.  Fourth day dawned.  My toilet - rub face with wet end of towel.  Great disappointment last night.  Lamp, that I made such a perilous trip to get, would not burn!  Could not sleep; thoughts of this, near and remote, on us and others in city of Dayton, kept me awake hours.  This morning shows streets and sidewalks are clear.  Now, 11 a.m. have talked with friends in street.  A man from next door got in by ladder from roof to window; he has knocked book shelves up.
     Dr. Evans has brought from depot a bucket of coal – so we are well off.  Mrs. P. has given bouillon cubes; next door evaporated milk.  Mother will not drink it.  She ought not to put solid food in her stomach; throws up everything; drinks the bouillon.
     I have been down.  No imagination can depict the ruin, the wreck.  Mud, sticky mud, pulls rubbers off. Piano overturned.  Everything upset and wrecked.  Sun shining now – glorious!  I trip down to get water, and I only just got back; dropped on floor and lay a good while before I could get up.
     Friday, third day, evening approaching.  I cannot write much today.  Have had fire all day and natural gas promised for tomorrow.  Wish you could see me.  Went with great difficulty to kitchen pump for water; just reaching stairs when narrow board underfoot turned and I went down into slime.  You should see my clothes. I am faint, mouth, throat so dry I cannot eat.
     Streets full of people.  Have just had word that Charley is at Lebanon in hotel.  Am told that city is under martial law!  See lots of badges on street.  But how fine is the sunshine all day.  Mother keeps about on her feet.  How she lives I cannot imagine.  She eats so little and then throws that up.
     Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – Soon after I wrote last Robert came with wagon to get us to Dayton View. I got down stairs, but had to be lifted into wagon.  Dr. Henry fortunately came at same time and he carried Mother down and over the slimy, slippery steps.  We rode, my head lying upon young woman’s lap; Mother’s in another.  Water too deep in places for carriage.  We got here safely!  Oh!  The luxury of washing face and neck and of hot milk!  Dayton View is a huge relief station; school house headquarters full and more coming.  Good organization; military; no going about without pass.  Our rescue came none too soon.  I feel certain that I could not have got through another night.  I have now for memory the recollection of a great calamity, second, perhaps, to the Titanic, but to none other.


                                                                    With love to all.




[The above letter was written by Dr. Reeve to his daughter in New York.  Its brevity is due to the stress under which it was written and to the fact that the only available paper was some old newspaper wrappers.  The original is in possession of his daughter, “Mary,” Mrs. Robert E. Dexter, who lived across the river in Dayton View during the flood.

At that time Dr. Reeve was 87 years old, which makes all the more remarkable his wading into the ice cold water up to his shoulders.  His wife, his only companion, was ill and entirely blind at the time.  Her death, a month later, was caused in part by the privations which she suffered during the flood.]