Monday, February 1, 2016

Misery in Missouri...and Beyond

Even as the news cycle is now forgetting the major December–January 2015–2016 flooding down the Mississippi River, the recent disaster raises thought-provoking questions

From Christmas 2015 to the end of January 2016, hundreds of thousands of people along the Mississippi River from north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri down to New Orleans suffered the worst flooding since the epic flood of 

Spectacular drone footage at sunrise on New Year’s Day, 2016, of the Mississippi River at near-record height held back by the concrete floodwall at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Credit: Oral R. Friend
summer 1993—some of the worst suffering along major and minor tributaries. Below are some thought-provoking images, along with some thoughts they provoked about the recent devastation…

Should January flooding be so surprising? Much was made in the media about how unusual it was to have major flooding in winter instead of spring. Why? Partly because water freezes in winter and is thus bound up in snow and ice until melted by spring temperatures and partly because warmer air can hold more moisture than cold air. 
Pacific, Missouri, looking north along 1st Street on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. Credit: J.B. Forbes /St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP
Although less frequent, major January floods are not unheard-of. Indeed, the monumental 1937 flood along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers—a disaster well remembered by some people still living—struck in January and February.

The Great Easter 1913 Flood
burst levees all down the 
Mississippi River. 
Credit: Alfred J. Henry,  
The Floods of 1913, Bulletin Z
Moreover, in January 1913—two months before the unprecedented Great Easter flood—many of the same areas of the lower Ohio River and the Mississippi River were hammered by a flood that, in some parts of Kentucky, were actually worse than what came in March.

As this winter (2015–2016) has been, the winter of 1912–1913 was unusually warm. It was especially warm and wet in January and March, with February having more typical Midwest winter weather. Indeed, research by USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey presents evidence suggesting that winter 1912–1913 was likely in the midst of a very long and strong El Niño weather pattern (“A Tale of Three Niños,” Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin, May 3, 1994, pages 10–11).

The New Year’s 2016 flood also wreaked 
havoc all the way down the 
Mississippi. Credit: ArcGIS
So far, the current winter (2015–2016) in different parts of the nation seems to be following all of NOAA’s predictions for an unusually strong El Niño (in northern Ohio, the winter has been warm and dry—even in the 60s in December, and 20s to 50s in January with only an inch or two of snow at a time).

Flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers has happened all seasons of the year. Spring floods are most common—but note: the storm system that brought even the Great Easter 1913 flood barely cleared the vernal equinox. 

Was hammered infrastructure in designated flood zones? Images of nearly submerged interstate highways abounded on broadcasts and websites during the 2015–2016 flooding, as well as aerial footage and photographs of 
Before/after images of Interstate 44 flooded in Valley Park, Missouri. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson and Google Earth
half-drowned water purification and sewage treatment plants. To be sure, these latter are often along rivers as they withdraw raw water and discharge treated effluent into waterways, and so may be in designated flood zones. For the highways, however, it would be illuminating to determine whether or not they were in nominal flood zones. 
The High Ridge Water Treatment Plant in Missouri was half-submerged in early January. Credit: KMOV-TV
I would bet money that many were not.  That’s the nature of major flooding: water goes where it is not supposed to. Flood maps are outdated in ways that gravely underestimate actual risk, especially in light of predicted and observed patterns of climate change—not only along coastlines as a result of sea level rise, but also in the Midwest as a result of intensifying rainfall and runoff. 

NOAA’s October prediction for a strong El Niño precipitation and temperature pattern winter 2015–2016.
This issue of increasing risk has concerned hydrologists, insurers, and legislators for some two decades, and has been the subject of innumerable reports by bodies ranging from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The recent flooding just demonstrates once more how catastrophic a 1913-scale storm system could be if it recurred in the same geographical areas (see “Benchmarking ‘Extreme’).

Given that floodwater can go where no one expects, a constant challenge to hydrologists, insurers, and others remains: dissuading people from building where water is known to go every now and then—to wit, floodplain. The name should be warning enough. But to the unwary, floodplain can be insidiously attractive for its conveniently flat topography, waterside views, fertile soil, and seemingly low enough risk. One of the best slides I ever saw in a conference presentation was in a talk by architect Adrienne Gann Schmetzer at the 2014 Stay Afloat conference in Indianapolis. It read simply: “DON’T BUILD ON FLOODPLAIN. The End.”

Can we trust in floodwalls and levees? Today more than a dozen cities along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are protected by concrete floodwalls and earthen levees, many built from the 1940s through 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and now beautifully adorned with thousands of feet of murals (see “Magnum Opus”). 
Left: Top part of a mural on the concrete floodwall at Cape Girardeau at sunrise on New Year’s Day 2016, the day before the Mississippi River crested, photographed from a drone. Right: The same mural is shown as it looked in 2009 with the Mississippi at normal height; red arrow points to the approximate height of the 2016 flood at that point at the moment the drone flew by. Note the massive floodgate. Credit: Trudy E. Bell
But more than once in the course of a flood it has become evident that the pressure of the floodwaters threatening an urban area is so great that the only apparent alternative is to blow up a levee to relieve the pressure. Although that did not happen in this most recent flood, it did five years earlier (2011) and many times before. 

Moreover, levees have collapsed on their own with the same effect. Crevasses opened many places in the Mississippi River levee system in April 1913, in Beulah, Miss. and along the Arkansas side. Levees collapsed suddenly in both Dayton, Ohio and in Indianapolis on the Miami and White rivers. A levee protecting Jeffersonville, Indiana, from the rising Ohio River was on the verge of collapse and was saved only by fast concerted action of nearly 1,000 inmates from the Indiana State Penitentiary (see “The Prisoners’ Feast”).

Newspaper diagram of the floodwaters
being held back by the 52-year-old 
floodwall at Cape Girardeau
IMHO, the most problematic aspect of levees and floodwalls is that their hulking reassuring massive presence lulls people into thinking that living on floodplain is safe. Dramatic footage from a drone flown at sunrise and at sunset over the floodwall at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, starkly reveals that the Mississippi River rose to within only a few feet of the top of the floodwall, around the second story of the shops and buildings across the street. To me, a physics major my first two years of college, those images of human habitation below the level of megatons of angry waters—plus this newspaper diagram of the situation (left)—just give me the willies.

Plus floodwalls can and do leak. As a result, huge pumps are used in Vicksburg and Cape Girardeau to ensure that city streets stay dry—even when floodwaters stay high for weeks, as happened in 1993.

Cape Girardeau floodwall from the land side. Four white arrows at far left indicate the crests of past floods at the city. The top one is for 1993, surpassed by nearly a foot on January 2, 2016.The 1913 flood is not shown.
How did New Year’s flood compare to 1993 and 1913? Although at Cape Girardeau the flood height bested the 1993 record by nearly a foot, the recent flood rose and fell quickly compared to that long siege—so the overall volume was lower. In some places, the intense rainfall of 10 to 14 inches in a few days was comparable to the rainfall in 1913. But as horrific as the New Year’s flood was, it was less widespread geographically. And thanks to modern measurement and warning technologies—and, yes, even floodwalls—it claimed far fewer lives.

Next time: To Build a Tornado 

6-Flood hit areas in Missouri. Photo: Office of the Governor, Missouri  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ringing in 2016: 1913 Centennial + 3

This year's roundup of resources includes a new children's book on the Great Easter 1913 Flood in Dayton, Ohio, and two new adult books and a video short on the devastation in Hamilton—which arguably suffered even worse

Part of the purpose of this research blog “'Our National Calamity': The Great Easter 1913 Flood” (ONC) is to provide a lasting, comprehensive guide to resources published about the March 1913 storm system, devastation, and its societal consequences and implications, broadly interpreted. As my third annual New Year’s Day gift to historians, meteorologist, curators, descendants of sufferers, and places, people, and events that might otherwise be neglected, here are three books and a video short released or discovered in 2015.
New children's book published January 1, 2016, about the worst days of the 1913 flood in Dayton (yes, everyone seems to love this photograph as a cover because it so eloquently tells the story).

Just published on New Year's Day 2016 is Floodwaters and Flames: The 1913 Disaster in Dayton, Ohio, by Lois Miner Huey (Minneapolis: Millbrook Press 2016; hardback library binding). Written for grades 4 through 8, the 56-page book is striking for its large square format (10 x 10 inches) and dramatic layout, with big photographs atop a background of pages from Dayton newspapers. The narrative follows the stories of half a dozen people from various walks of life throughout the three worst days of the flood (Tuesday, March 25 through Thursday, March 27, 1913): NCR's savior John H. Patterson and Bell Telephone's John Bell, aircraft pioneers brother and sister Orville and Katharine Wright, librarian Mary Althoff, rescuer southpaw Dayton Marcos pitcher Bill Sloan, 18-year-old store clerk Clarence Mauch, and coal dealer Andrew Fox and his wife Finette, who had long feared the possibility of a major flood. The two last chapters acknowledge the calamity's wider geographical area and aftermath. A preview of the book is on Google.

Below are three works on the 1913 flood in Hamilton, just south of Dayton where the city was hammered by the full Niagara Falls force of the raging Miami River, and lost at least the same number of lives as Dayton (and most likely more) despite having a quarter Dayton's population. Two are books from the same publisher, MicroPress Books in Kentucky:
Flood of Courage is a historical novel based on the actual experiences of the author's mother and grandparents in devastated Hamilton, Ohio

Flood of Courage: A 1913 Experience (6 x 9 inches, 208 pages, some photos at the end) is a local history by Kathy Toerner Kennedy that was published in 2013 in time for the disaster's centennial, but I discovered only in late 2015. It is a historical novel based on the actual experiences of the author's mother (13 at the time of the flood) and grandparents.As the author notes, the book should not be treated as historical fact (I especially wondered about the recounted meteorology). The flood story begins around page 60, and by the next chapter is truly gripping. Especially revealing were the perspectives of people who experienced the flood from being trapped inside a house, including opening the windows to let in the floodwaters to try to prevent the tonnage of water from shifting the house off its foundations, hearing and seeing walls crack, and quaking with terror when crossing on hands and knees a door laid between windows of neighboring houses to get to a house with third story (reminiscent of the recollections of people who tightrope-walked to safety along telephone wires, see "High Wire Horror"). All these harrowing details were based on truth, as revealed in the four-page written account from the author's mother, included at the end of the novel.
Several hundred photos of Hamilton during or right after the 1913 flood are paired with modern images taken from the same camera angle more than a century later

New for 2015 is the large-format (8.5 x 11 inches) 196-page, lavishly illustrated 1913 to 2013 in 13 miles: The Hamilton, Ohio, 1913 Flood Then and Now, by Brian D. Lenihan, Ph.D. Taking the unique approach of being a step-by-step walking tour for a 13-mile loop through Hamilton, its hundreds of images pair each location with how it looked during or immediately after the flood with how it looks today. Hamilton has one of the largest collections of 1913 flood photos in the Miami Valley, and Lenihan meticulously took many of the modern images from as close to the same vantage point as possible, shooting most of the modern images in 2013 during the flood's centennial. (Hamilton also had what was probably the largest centennial commemoration of the 1913 disaster in any state, with multiple talks, tours, and other events scheduled over six weeks - see the Michael J. Colligan video archive and website). Next time I am in Hamilton, I definitely want to take one or more of the loop routes, Lenihan's book in hand.
Video slide show of 1913 flood devastation in Hamilton, Ohio is reminiscent of footage after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

And in case you haven't seen enough of splintered Hamilton, check out Historic Flood Hamilton, Ohio 1913 Disaster, a centennial slide show of postcards uploaded in September 2013. Seeing the images one right after another in just a few minutes silently conveys the full power and force of torrential waters, which indeedas noted by Ohio Governor Coxleft Hamilton looking like San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

One other 2015 commemoration of the 1913 flood was a huge 5,000-square-foot mural or "wallscape" of the 1913 flood in Franklinton, Ohio, designed for the new headquarters of  Orange Barrel Media (love the name: you know the old joke 
Panorama from the air of the giant 1913 flood mural at the new headquarters of Orange Barrel Media in Franklinton, Ohio 
about Ohio's weather, right? there are just two seasons: winter and orange barrel season). The mural, painted by Emily Jay, was based on a photograph published in the Columbus Dispatch. It was unfurled on March 27. A 30-second video of the unfurling plus several other images from different angles are here, with a news story about its inspirational purpose here.

Also, for any K-12 teachers who might want to fold the 1913 flood into lessons about weather, check out this extensive social studies and language arts teaching unit. Sections on the 1913 flood start on page 4 and goes on to at least page 50. Some of the materials seem a bit advanced for third grade, but the approach is clearly adaptable to different levels, and could work very well as a science unit as well.

Previous annotated bibliographies
The 2013 centennial of the 1913 flood in Indiana and Ohio and the family of devastating Easter tornadoes in Nebraska inspired a bumper crop of new histories in print and film. For cultural history and lessons learned, however, memories and scholarship must endure into the future, long after a mere anniversary. For those who like everything neatly collated in one place, here are my past roundups of resources on this research blog:

Sixteen books and two 1-hour PBS documentaries produced after 2000 about the Omaha tornado in Nebraska and the 1913 flood in Ohio—plus three earlier books about the 1913 flood and the resulting mammoth flood control works of Miami Conservancy District—were highlighted in the first resource roundup “Book Report! 21 Books and Films on the Great Easter 1913 Flood and Tornadoes” (March 26, 2013).

That annotated bibliography was updated about eight months later on New Year’s Day 2014 in “1913 Easter National Calamity: Centennial Highlights—and Legacy” (January 1, 2014), noting the production of three more books, four more 30- or 60-minute documentaries, and a couple of 4-minute shorts. Also summarized were several videotaped talks, a round-up of TV and radio coverage, museum exhibits, newspaper commemorations (highlighting those that ran significant series of articles or albums of photographs), plus websites and blogs.

Last year's annotated bibliography "Happy 1913 Centennial Year +2: Books, Indexand Emmy!" (January 1, 2015) introduced five new books, plus pointed out that one of the 30-minute centennial PBS documentaries on the 1913 flood in Indiana had captured a 2014 regional Emmy, with a link to the full movie online.

A different annotated biography was an analysis of the half-dozen century-old “instant books” published in 1913—which keep cropping up all over the internet cited as if they were authoritative references. “Profiting from Pain” (March 3, /2013) pulled back the veil on their rather dodgy and certainly money-grubbing authors, who wrote under multiple confusing titles and pseudonyms (Frederick E. Drinker, Logan Marshall, Marshall Everett [who was really Henry Neil], and Thomas H. Russell [who also wrote under Thomas Herbert and other names]). 

Also relevant is the discussion of film footage that was shot in 1913 for showing in movie theatres—likely the first time a natural disaster was caught on motion picture film while the catastrophe was still in progress. “Screening Disaster” (March 1, 2014) also includes links to YouTube and other sites that have preserved some of this historic footage for public viewing.

And let us not forget the dozens of souvenir booklets of photographs of death and destruction in individual cites, which sold tens of thousands of copies: see "Grisly Souvenirs" (November 8, 2015).

Fast reference subject index to ONC
Over the past three-plus years since November 2012, fully 44 installments—many of them full-length heavily documented research articles—by both guest authors and myself have been posted to this research blog. That’s nearly the equivalent of an entire book. A good many of them represent in-depth original analysis based on new primary sources. And they are read. As of the end of 2015, this research blog has attracted more than 58,000 hits, and now averages about 1,500 hits per month. A heartfelt thank-you goes out to every reader. Some posts have scored more than 200 views in a single day (this year "The Day the Dam Broke?" about James Thurber and "Exhibiting Disaster" at the 1915 world's fair in San Francisco were the lightning rods; "Tragedy at the Circus" from 2013 remains a perennial high draw).

Because of the sheer volume of new material, and the frequency of requests for information, below is a subject index to the posts (not including the resource roundups already noted above), categorized by general topic. Please note that an updated searchable running list in Word in reverse chronological order is posted every month at the top left link on the 1913 flood page of my website.

For meteorology of the powerful Great Easter storm system: 
Terror in Terre Haute (May 1, 2015)  The violent tornado that ripped through southern Terre Haute, Indiana, on Easter night, March 23,1913, may have been more than one twister, and its full path of destruction extended over 25 miles
Great Easter 1913 Dust Storm, Prairie Fires—and Red Rains (December 1, 2014) A mammoth Easter Sunday dust storm set raging prairie fires fires in two states and caused "blood rains" in three states
Be Very Afraid... (December 23, 2012) Why the Great Easter 1913 storm system could recur—profile of a computational reanalysis from 1913 data of what happened, by Cleveland-based National Weather Service senior hydrologist Sarah Jamison
“My Conception of Hell” (December 2, 2012) The Great Easter 1913 Omaha tornado
The First Punch (November 25, 2012) A mammoth Good Friday windstorm that decimated communications set the stage for national tragedy
Earth-Shaking Mystery (October 1, 2014) Earthquake in Knoxville, Tennessee, at end of flood week—could the massive floodwaters have triggered the quake?

For facts and figures about death and destruction:
Like a War Zone (March 16, 2013) A modern reanalysis of official documents, revealing that the destruction of property exceeded that of Hurricane Katrina, centered on the industrial North 
“Death Rode Ruthless...” (February 18, 2013) A modern reanalysis of official documents reveals that a minimum of 1,000 lives were lost across 15 states (this is the second most viewed post in ONC, with nearly 2,000 views)

For victims’, rescuers’, and predators’ responses: 
Service Above Life (September 1, 2015) Out of the rubble, mud, and ashes of Easter 1913 tornadoes and floods that devastated a third of the United States, Rotary discovered its mission of humanitarian service. Unpublished letters and meeting minutes discovered in Rotary’s archives reveal the backstory
Wireless to the Rescue! Birth of Emergency Radio (April 1, 2014) High school and college students are the first to establish quasi-reliable communications into the flood districts, and at the end of flood week bills for emergency radio are being presented to Congress
High-Wire Horror (February 1, 2014) First-person harrowing accounts from people trapped in houses who escaped approaching flames by literally tight-rope walking telephone lines over floodwaters to safety
Spurning Disaster Aid (September 1, 2014) Why did cities and individuals, even those who had lost everything, refuse relief?
Advertising Disaster (November 1, 2014) Within 24 hours, tornado insurance agents and others were clamoring for victims' cash

For significance today, including lessons for current-day disasters:
Katrina + 10: Once and Future Disasters (August 1, 2015) Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina—third most intense hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., based on central pressure—slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast, beginning the nation’s worst and most widespread disaster since the Great Easter 1913 flood. Ten harsh lessons from both
Prayers and Lessons (June 1, 2015) The massive multistate flooding in the southern plains states in late May 2015 actually approaches the magnitude of the multistate Great Easter 1913 Flood in some ways. Message: Extreme, widespread, non-hurricane rain events in the middle of the nation can happen again. Are we ready?
Floods and Other Disasters (February 1, 2015)  Despite more knowledge and ability to manipulate nature, we have increased our exposure and susceptibility to natural hazards. Why? Distinguished Carolina Professor Susan L. Cutter explores our current hazardscape
Benchmarking ‘Extreme’ (July 1, 2014) What infrastructure today would lie in harm’s way if the tornadoes and flood recurred
For coverage in the 1913 media: 
Eloquence Beyond Words (April 1, 2015) The Great Easter 1913 national calamity inspired artists to depict fundamental truths in editorial cartoons more powerful and pithy than words or photographs
Screening Disaster (March 1, 2014) The 1913 flood may be the first natural disaster filmed while it was still in progress; includes links to surviving footage  
The Governor’s Ear (December 16, 2012) How two Bell Telephone engineers got the word to Ohio Governor James M. Cox

For enduring consequences: 
The Day the Dam Broke? (October 1, 2015) One of the humorist James Thurber's most famous stories was inspired by a bizarre incident during the 1913 flood in Columbus, Ohio. The backstory…
Magnum Opus (June 1, 2014) Stunning murals on concrete floodwalls in 13 Ohio River cities and towns keep history alive--including the 1913 flood 
Morgan’s Cowboys (January 20, 2013) What is the worst possible flood? And how can a city protect against it? A young engineer figures out how
Morgan’s Pyramids (January 27, 2013) Building the monumental but elegantly simple works to protect Dayton forevermore
Local histories: 
Exhibiting Disaster (December 1, 2105) Not two years after the Great Easter 1913 flood, Dayton, Ohio, celebrated its comeback with an exhibit in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco—a city celebrating its comeback after the 1906 earthquake.
Never Before Seen (July 1, 2015) Eight previously unknown photographs of the 1913 flood purchased on ebay portray the flood at its peak in Rochester, New York. Who was the mystery photographer?
Explosion at Equality (March 1, 2015) On Sunday, April 6, 1913, the swollen Ohio River backed more than 20 miles up Illinois’s Saline River, flooding a coal mine that residents of Equality were desperately trying to save—exploding the mine

36 Hours: From Boys to Leaders (August 1, 2014) Fewer than 100 Culver Military Academy cadets rescued 1,400 Indiana residents; by guest historian Richard Davies, Ph.D.  
Tragedy at the Circus (February 10, 2013) At Peru, Indiana; by guest environmental historian Ron E. Withers, M.A. (this is the single most viewed post in ONC, with 3,000 views)
Rescuing Albany’s Water (January 13, 2013) It was also the Hudson River’s greatest flood—and what New York did about it
The Prisoners’ Feast (December 30, 2012) How the inmates of the Indiana State Reformatory saved the town of Jeffersonville from floodingand the unique response of the grateful residents  
The Villain Who Stole the Flood (December 9, 2012) How the 1913 flood in Dayton transformed NCR president John H. Patterson—a convicted felon—into a national hero  
An Unnecessary Tragedy: The Johnstown Flood (May 1, 2014) Describing three potentially fatal dam myths that still persist today; by guest author Kenneth E. Smith, P.E.

Record of 2013 centennial commemorations
Happy 1913 Centennial Year! (January 6, 2013) 

Forget at Your Own Peril (April 3, 2013) Why is such an enormous disaster forgotten?  
“An Epidemic of Disasters” (November 16, 2012) Introduction and mission for this research blog  

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year! Thank you so much for your readership. Watch for new research installments to be posted the first of every month throughout 2016! I welcome hearing your feedback: please e-mail me!

© 2016 Trudy E. Bell

Next time: Misery in Missouri: 1913, 1993, and 2015-2016

Bell, Trudy E., The Great Dayton Flood of 1913, Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control, including several pictures of Cox. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus $4.00 shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me), or order from the publisher.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Exhibiting Disaster

Not two years after the Great Easter 1913 flood, Dayton, Ohio, celebrated its comeback with an exhibit in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco—a city celebrating its comeback after the 1906 earthquake. 
The idea for a world’s fair in San Francisco, California, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal had been batting around at least since 1891. By 1904 the city was committed to hosting the Panama-Pacific International 
Postcard of the Dayton Flood exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, 1915. The exhibit was one of the to 10 draws at the world's fair. Credit: Glenn Koch page 20 here.
Exposition. Two years later, on April 18, 1906, the San Andreas Fault abruptly let loose with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, shattering the city and igniting firestorms so powerful that fierce, suctioning winds were felt clear across the bay. The calamity and its thousands of fatalities redoubled the determination of city fathers to show how San Francisco had powered back from wholesale devastation. How better to declare “We’re back!” than to press ahead with the enormous world’s fair?

The city leaders of Dayton, Ohio, after the Great Easter 1913 flood felt exactly the same way. They decided to herald the Ohio city’s rebirth after flood and fire at the exposition with an entire exhibit devoted to the 1913 flood in Dayton. Indeed, the Dayton Flood exhibit proved to be one of the fair’s top 10 draws.

I had never even heard of the Panama Pacific International Exposition when I first ran across a well-preserved souvenir booklet for the Dayton Flood exhibition in the collections of the Dayton Metro Library (shown at left) in December 2006 when I was doing research for my book The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Arcadia, 2008). 

But San Francisco has not forgotten the grand exposition. All this year and into 2016, various museums, historical societies, and other groups have collaborated to host events and exhibits in San Francisco commemorating the centennial of the exposition—a 635-acre city within a city
in what is now the Marina District, which ultimately attracted nearly 19 million visitors from around the globe from February 20 through December 4, 1915. A very nice centennial website (see its logo at right) features links to its history, photographs, and other items of interest—including a 25-minute video with historical footage (alas, no glimpses of the Dayton Flood exhibit).

Many photographs and postcards depict the exterior of the Dayton Flood exhibit, which shows a mythological figure holding back gates against floodwaters trying to burst through. But I have never seen any images depicting the interior of the exhibit—likely in part to the prominent signs NO PICTURES (meaning no photography) posted to entering visitors. Nonetheless, snippets from newspapers and books give an idea of what went on inside.

One of Henry Elsworth's dramatic paintings that may have flanked the stage, from the Dayton Flood souvenir booklet.
From what I’ve gleaned from newspaper snippets, the interior of the Dayton Flood exhibit had seats arranged as if in a theater with a stage in front. The stage held a model of the city of Dayton, flanked by large, dramatic paintings depicting flood scenes. The flood was reconstructed in three acts. The first 
Official map of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition; location of the Dayton Flood exhibit in The Zone I've circled in red. Credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
showed the city the day before the flood; the second showed the flood itself and the fires it ignited, ending with rain and snow; the third depicted the floodwaters receding and leaving enormous piles of debris. As a man on stage narrated events, real water ran through the streets of the city model, and buildings burst into real flames. An epilogue depicted the city as harmonious and peaceful with a Wright airplane flying overhead, as if the flood had never happened.
The painting on the front of souvenir program from the Dayton Flood exhibit shows perhaps more successfully than the actual sculpture what the exhibit’s exterior was intended to depict. Inside are reproductions of paintings that may have been the scenes lining the stage around the model city. After so many 
years of seeing the flood in black-and-white photographs, the almost photographically realistic paintings are striking for how they bring the scenes to life in color.

Frustratingly, the 16-page booklet says nothing about the exhibit itself, nor gives any information about the painter, Henry Ellsworth—who also painted under the name of Harry Ellsworth Feicht. He appears to have had a studio with assistants in Dayton, and had attained fame for traveling with paintings he made depicting the passion of Christ as reenacted once a decade in the German town of Oberammergau; scenes from the passion play he sold as stereoopticon views

A wealthy promoter, Feicht a/k/a Ellsworth instantly recognized enormous opportunity in Dayton’s devastating 1913 flood of late March and early April for a concession at the planned world’s fair: by the end of May, he was off to San Francisco to select a site for his exhibit. 

Judging from credit given on the program booklet’s title page (shown at right), he may also have had some support—or at least tacit consent—from John H. Patterson, president of National Cash Register, Dayton’s largest employer, whose rescue work during the 1913 flood saved him from Federal prison for his thuggish monopolistic business practices (see 
The Villain Who Stole the Flood”). Ellsworth didn’t miss a bet in publicizing the exhibit, either, taking out display ads in newspapers promoting it as “The Scenic Production With a ‘Soul’” (see left).

The Dayton Flood exhibit, along with the rest of the fair, closed on December 4, 1915. 

Today, the only building that remains from the PPIE is San Francisco’s magnificent Palace of Fine Arts. It almost didn’t survive. According to historian 
Philip Fradkin in his wonderful book on the 1906 earthquake, all the buildings from the world’s fair were immediately razed and the land fill on which it was built was turned into a city dump including charred remains of buildings ruined by the earthquake. Eventually the land was reclaimed as the Marina District. However, mystifyingly after the massive earthquake, San Francisco’s building codes were weakened. When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989, the fill land turned to jelly and fires raged in that section of the city, put out by water from around the Palace of Fine Arts. 

©2015 Trudy E. Bell

Selected references
The single best book I’ve read on the 1906 earthquake is Philip L. Fradkin, The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself, University of California Press, 2005. 

For images of the devastation to Dayton of flood and fire, see “Like a War Zone.” For links to movies of the hauntingly similar devastation of San Francisco seven years earlier, see “Screening Disaster.”

Bell, Trudy E., The Great Dayton Flood of 1913, Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control, including several pictures of Cox. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me.)