Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reader Talk-Back

Readers ask about the role of Gorge Dam in saving Akron during the 1913 flood, a mystery medal of honor, a great grandfather in Indianapolis who was a flood hero, and more. Some queries stump me—does another reader know? 

In November 2012, this research blog was inaugurated in anticipation of the centennial of the Great Easter 1913 tornadoes and flood—the nation’s virtually forgotten but arguably most widespread natural disaster, afflicting at least 15 states. The blog’s title ‘Our National Calamity’ (ONC) was inspired by the title of one of the “instant books” published in April 1913, which was itself inspired by President Woodrow Wilson’s appeal to the nation for aid.

As this June 1, 2016, installment marks its fiftieth (50th!) post, it seems fitting to pause for a moment’s reflection and to share some thoughtful reader feedback and queries that other readers may be able to help answer.
So far, ONC has attracted more than 70,000 views, now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 per month. Credit: Stats and graphic by Google Blogspot.
For three and a half years, ONC has sought to highlight original research by others in addition to myself into any and all aspects of the disaster and its consequences, documenting sources as much as possible. So far, ONC has featured the research of two meteorologists (Sarah Jamison and Evan Kuchera), police historian Patrick R.Pearsey, disaster demographer Susan L. Cutter, flood engineer Kenneth E. Smith, historians Richard Davies and Ron E. Withers,  and several muralists—notably Robert Dafford—immortalizing history through public art on floodwalls. It has also highlighted many recent local history books and films in four posts (on March 26, 2013 for the centennial and then annually every January 1). Invitation: If any historian, meteorologist, collector, or other expert or reader has identified or researched an undertold aspect of the Great Easter 1913 natural disaster and its immediate or long-term consequences, please e-mail me—I’d love to hear from you!

According to stats maintained by Google Blogspot, ONC has attracted more than 70,000 views since its creation, now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 per month. The record-setting post was that of January 1, 2016, which drew more than 5,000 views that month—nearly 200 more than the previous record of the March 2013 centennial month. More than 40,000 of the lifetime views are from the United States, but a surprising number are also from Russia, the Ukraine, and Europe. 

Reader comments—and queries
Response to a blog is always dicey, as there are way too many illiterate posters (some of whom clearly have not read the post to which they are responding) who simply want to advertise their own products or make some other irrelevant comment. That clutter I delete. But valuable feedback and queries have come from readers who have taken the time to send an e-mail. It belatedly occurs to me that some inquiries are of potentially wider interest to others as well. Therefore, a few reader queries from over the lifetime of ONC are reproduced below, older requests alternating with newer ones where the older requests contain information of perennial interest. 

Important: Some historical questions from readers I have been unable to answer myself (not every historical resource is accessible online). So I heartily encourage other readers to e-mail me if they can offer any insights at all—including amplifying on an answer I may have given. To protect the privacy of the correspondents in this public forum, I have omitted last names, locations, and e-mail addresses below, but will forward your response to the relevant person offline. Who knows, some correspondence may become the subject of a future post (or a follow-up response in a future reader forum installment)!

On April 12, 2016, the following very interesting query arrived from retired professional engineer George F.:
I am writing to ask whether you have any information or opinion about this question: Would the damage in Akron and downstream have been greater if the Gorge Dam, built in 1912, had not been in place? If the pool behind the Gorge Dam had been full by the time of the 1913 flood, I suppose the dam would not have been much protection for Akron.  I hope you can find some information about it.
The 425-foot-long Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is also called the First Energy Dam. Credit: ideastream

I found your webpage because of my effort to modify the current plan to demolish the Gorge Dam.  My interest in the 1913 flood and the dam is not entirely impartial. I agree that the Cuyahoga River should be returned to its natural course in Akron, but that does not require removal of the dam.  It could be turned into a bridge, providing a thrilling view of the park sixty feet above the rushing river, with a sight line for thousands of feet up and down that beautiful valley.  No one would forget the experience.  A bridge would allow full freedom for the river and the fish and the kayakers, and it would probably cost a good deal less to convert the dam into a bridge than it would to remove it.  The bridge might even be designed to serve as a dam during an emergency.

In any case, the sediment must be removed first.  There is a way to do that using the power of the river.  For information, Google ‘Condit Dam.’  As they did at Condit, drill a small tunnel at the base of the dam, but put a control valve on it.  Then the water flow could be regulated to flush the sediment down the pipeline in stages.  This would be better in several ways than pumping the sediment over the dam from a barge, as currently proposed. <snip>

Best regards, George F.

Dear George F.: I am not a civil engineer so cannot comment on the relative merits of various approaches to clearing out the sediment from behind Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam (now also called the First Energy Dam) or to assess the dam’s role during the 1913 flood. However, maybe another reader can assist with your quest for information as to whether the damage in Akron and downstream would have been greater if the Gorge Dam had not been in place? Please e-mail answers or leads; I will forward them to George F. –T.E.B.

Below is an early reader query (from August 23, 2013) asking a question that often arises, so this forum gives me an opportunity to answer publicly:
Subject: Brinkhaven (Brink Haven) Ohio deaths during the 1913 Flood

I am trying to find the number of deaths in the small town of Brinkman, Ohio during the 1913 flood. Cemetery listings and death tolls tended to center around the larger cities, although Brink Haven did receive some flourish because of the tragic events. I could find 6 total deaths utilizing archived newspapers and cemetery listings at Hibbet Cemetery, but I did not know if you kept a listing of more?

Thanks so much-- Jannette Q.
Reader Jannette Q. has written about Brink Haven during the 1913 flood.
Dear Jannette Q: Out of a dozen official reports from 1913, I found only one that specifically mentioned Brink Haven: on April 3, 1913, when a team of Ohio State health officials visited Brink Haven, three people were reported missing . However, ascertaining a precise death toll from such a massive natural disaster as the Great Easter 1913 flood (or tornadoes) is extremely difficult, even within a single small town such as Brink Haven. The fast-rising, torrential flooding was so ferocious that bodies were simply swept away. Some were found weeks or months later, but were so mangled and decomposed that they could not be definitively identified. Some people initially reported missing or dead later found their way home. Conversely, other deaths may never have been tallied, notably those who were not drowned but were severely injured during the flood but died weeks or months later. For these and many additional reasons outlined in “‘Death Rode Ruthless…’” I have become convinced that official death statistics should be regarded only as minimum numbers—and that the actual counts were likely much higher. 

Sleuthing out counts closer to real numbers in Brink Haven or elsewhere would require searching through newspapers and county coroner records in every city and small town in 15 states—an enormous undertaking that I have not done (but could make a great thesis project for one or more grad students). It would be worth the effort, however: In March 2013, Jim Blount—the historian of Hamilton, Ohio, a city devastated worse than Dayton during the flood—recounted to me how years earlier (possibly for the flood’s 75th anniversary in 1988) when he was a newspaper reporter, he and the county coroner spent a day going through Hamilton death records for 1913. They identified 200 to 300 deaths clearly attributed or attributable to the flood, even though Hamilton’s “official” flood death toll is usually given as under 100 (unfortunately, Blount said his notes from that research are long gone). For the centennial in 2013 (and the post “‘Death Rode Ruthless…’”), however, I meticulously compiled Excel spreadsheets of deaths and property damage tallied in a dozen official and semi-official reports (whose statistics, by the way, contradict one another as often as they supplement one another). 

Your findings of 6 deaths rather than 3 in Brink Haven is consonant with Blount’s experience in Hamilton. Thus, I would love to hear more about your research and what you have found out about the circumstances of the flood deaths in Brink Haven. –T.E.B.

Two cousins independently responded on May 12, 2016 to Patrick R. Pearsey’s guest post “Men of the Hour”; one included a query of general interest:
[T]he interesting article ["Men of the Hour"]…was especially interesting to me because I saw my Great Grand Father’s name on the IPD 1913 Flood Roll of Honor. His name was Charles A. Barmfuhrer.

I have a question about a photo I saw of him that had “Inspector” on his hat.  What exactly is an Inspector?

Thank you for posting this Flood Roll of Honor.

I recognized another policeman’s name in the Flood Roll of Honor as one of my Great Grandfather’s Pall Bearers: Lieutenant Herbert R. Fletcher. He was listed in his Funeral Memory Book.

Thank you again for the information. Sharon C. 
Short bio of Inspector Barmfuhrer by Patrick R. Pearsey.
Patrick R. Pearsey replies: Inspector was a rank used by the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) from about 1913 to 1969. It was a high rank, basically the 2nd highest rank next to Chief of Police. The Inspector often stepped in as Acting Chief of Police. I wrote a power point presentation about all known IPD inspectors which includes a bio of Charles Barmfuhrer. Thanks for your interest and comments on the article.

An older query from December 12, 2014, might still interest a number of readers:
Hi. I came across your website today when I was doing a little research on the Flood of 1913. First, I think it is awesome that you have done all this research on something that was so significant! Second, I was wondering if you came across any information/pictures specific to Delphos, Ohio. I only have one picture. It is of my great-grandmother and her family waiting on their porch, I guess for someone to come and get them. The floodwaters are near the steps of the porch. I just haven't had any success finding any pictures/information about the Flood's effect on Delphos from here in Kentucky.

Thanks for reading! Tina B.

1913 flood at Fisher's Stone Quarry in Delphos, Ohio. Credit: Delphos Historical Society

Dear Tina B.: Some photographs and articles from the Delphos Herald about the 1913 flood in Delphos, Ohio, appears at “The Delphos Flood—1913by Robert Holdgreve of the Delphos Historical Society. There also seems to be a collection of photographic negatives of Delphos in the collection of Bowling Green State University. If you don’t find what you are seeking on those actual web pages, try contacting the Delphos Historical Society or BGSU directly; I’ve found that archivists can be very helpful in a situation like this. Good luck, and let me know what you learn. –T.E.B.

On May 15, 2016, this comment arrived, unfortunately signed “Unknown” with a “noreply” e-mail address:
I was tipped off that you appeared on [Michael] Feldman’s show. Glad you were able to be picked from the audience and be part of the broadcast [listen beginning at 1:33:24 here]. Several years ago I wrote an article for a local newsletter about the exploits of a local ham operator calling for help in Columbus. He’s been since identified as the first use of amateur radio in the time of disaster. So many great stories link to this event. Keep up the great work!

Dear Unknown: It sounds as though you are referring to 15-year-old Herbert V. Akerberg, about whom I wrote in the ONC installment “Wireless to the Rescue” on April 1, 2014. He actually was not the first, but was one of maybe a dozen
Akerberg's first message in
the March 26 Columbus Citizen
ham radio operators who were able to summon aid during the communications blackout over Easter weekend (see “The First Punch”). He was also one of the youngest. As a result of the heroic actions of all the ham radio operators during the 1913 flood, Congress and other organizations began to move to establish a nationwide system of emergency radio. Thanks for your interest. –T.E.B.

A request that I could not answer from August 18, 2014, but perhaps readers can help:
My name is Christy, and I was born in Dayton, Ohio (though now live in NJ).  In the process of preparing to move to a retirement home, my parents have come across a number of items from their family, one of which is puzzling us.  I have attached images to this email, but the item in question appears to be a 1”x1” medallion, presented to a “Mr Kirby” in 1913.  
Inch square medal from 1913 apparently awarded to Elijah Kirby, possibly for heroism during the 1913 flood. Does any reader have any idea about what organization struck and awarded the medals? Credit: Christy K.V.

We are certain this references Elijah Kirby, my great-great grandfather.  My father believes this item is somehow connected to the Dayton Flood, but isn’t certain of that, and doesn’t know anything more about its origins/meaning.  Seeing as how I am a history teacher, my parents have set me on the task of doing some research.  I found your blogs—and given your comprehensive coverage of this event, I figured if my dad were correct about its connection, you might be able to help us understand what this medallion (if that’s even the word for it) is.

I thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide to us! Christy K. V.

Dear Christy K.V.: I was unable to find any satisfying answer online, but not every historical document or photograph has been scanned and posted to be publicly available. Where did Elijah Kirby work and live in late March 1913? In an instance such as this, I would see if there might be any record through his employer (especially if it happened to be NCR or Delco) to see if the company awarded medals. Also, contact the Dayton Metro Library, which has an extensive collection of documents and artifacts about the 1913 flood, along with knowledgeable archivists who might be able to provide you with useful leads. Another source would be Dayton History, which has preserved thousands of photos from the NCR archives. Last, if another reader knows of another recipient of this medal and can provide a great lead, please email me and I will forward your response to Christy. Good luck, and let me know what you find. –T.E.B.

On April 18, 2016, this brief message—not sure whether it was responding to a specific installment—arrived:
From: “Mike”
Subject: Dayton flood 1913 resources

Don’t forget Alan Eckert’s “a time of terror”. 1965.  Great book. Mike

Dear Mike: A Time of Terror by Allan W. Eckert is a rocketing read by a Dayton newspaper reporter, published a couple years after the 50th anniversary of the flood, about the first flood week in Dayton. Although based on newspaper reports, the narrative is fictionalized in an early example of subjective reportage that came to be called “new journalism (made famous by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff and other works) and a progenitor of what is now sometimes called literary nonfiction. As a result of that creative narrative approach, sources are not footnoted or otherwise indicated, and Eckert himself said he invented dialogue in the book, so it is hard to tell what is factual and what has been dramatized. Thus, it is best enjoyed not as history but as a “docudrama”—one that also inspired the play 1913: The Great Dayton Flood 
The play 1913: The Great Dayton Flood was inspired by Allan W. Eckert's 1965 book A Time of Terror. Credit: Wright State University
most recently performed at Wright State University in January 2013 during the centennial year. A Time of Terror was one of the first books I read on the 1913 flood more than a decade ago; it (along with 20 other works) is summarized in my first ‘book report.’ Its full text is available online. It is not forgotten! –T.E.B.

The seven queries above are just a portion of the correspondence from readers. It only belatedly occurred to me that an occasional “letters to the editor” type of installment might be of wider interest to other ONC readers. But I also try to stop writing when the word count exceeds 2,500 words! Thus, additional reader comments and queries will have to wait for a future post. 

If you can contribute insights of suggestions to answer a reader query, or if you have a question of your own, or if you like/dislike the idea of an occasional “reader mailbag,” just let me know. And if you are pursuing research of your own about any aspect of the Great Easter 1913 natural disaster and/or its consequences, let me repeat my earlier invitation: don’t be shy. Let me know whether you would be interested in contributing a guest post for ONC!

Next time: Crisis Communications in a Communications Crisis
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 at )

Sunday, May 1, 2016

‘Clevelanders Responding Nobly...’

Although crippled and without power itself during the Great Easter 1913 Flood, Cleveland rushed aid to Dayton and Zanesville. And with telegraph and telephone wires downed, the Plain Dealer became the principal information lifeline across flooded northern Ohio.

[On Saturday morning, April 23, 2016, terrific fortune led to my being picked to go up on stage and play the second quiz during Michael Feldman’s fun live radio show Whad’Ya Know? So when Feldman asked about my current work in front of a Cleveland Playhouse Square audience of ~2,500 plus broadcast listeners across the nation, I talked about my research on the 1913 flood and how Cleveland was the state’s first responder in the emergency (listen beginning at 1:33:24 here). To anyone who heard that show and is thus looking here, welcome! Here is Cleveland’s story!  –T.E.B.] 

In late March 1913, Cleveland was a vibrant, proud, burly, bustling boom town: largest in Ohio and sixth largest in the country, with a 1910 census central city population of  

Credit: Cleveland Leader, March 28, 1913, p. 2

560,663 (75 percent larger than it is today and fast on its way up to a 1930s peak of over 900,000). The city was home to some of the nation’s major industrial revolutionaries and benefactors including John D. Rockefeller (possibly the richest man in the world, with a net worth then equivalent to four times that of Bill Gates) and Warner & Swasey (world famous since the 1880s for not only their turret lathes and other heavy equipment but also for their innovative designing and mounting of the two then-largest telescopes in the world at the Lick [1888] and Yerkes [1893] observatories). Cleveland boasted art, culture, and philanthropy equal to those of Chicago or New York City. 
Four brawling newspapers vied for readers’ attention: the morning Cleveland Leader, then still the largest but being contested by the fast-rising morning Plain Dealer, the two being run by former Plain Dealer partners now turned competitors: Charles Kennedy at the Leader and Elbert H. Baker at the Plain Dealer—which Baker was fast turning into one of the best newspapers in the land; plus there were the evening News and the Press. Cleveland was also home to a large contingent of Ohio’s National Guard.

Then, with no warning, disaster struck.

Cleveland’s worst flood
On Easter Sunday March 23, 1913, torrential downpours began pounding Ohio, dropping literally three months of normal rainfall in less than a week right over the east-west range of hills that crosses the northern quarter of the state just south of Akron. Bubbling up out of that range of hills are the sources for all five of Ohio's
The most intense rainfall in Ohio—over 11 inches in four days—fell over the east-west continental divide in the northern third of the state. Also, between Easter Sunday, March 23 and Thursday morning March 27, Cuyahoga County (location of Cleveland on the shore of Lake Erie) itself received more than 7 inches of rain. Credit: Alfred J. Henry, The Floods of 1913 (U.S. Weather Bureau Bulletin Z, 1913)
major river systems plus Indiana’s Wabash. Moreover, that range of hills is a continental divide. Such concentrated rainfall at that position caused every major river in Ohio to overflow from source to mouth with the speed of flash floods. On Tuesday and Wednesday, March 25 and 26, literal walls of water—some up to 20 feet high—funneled down onto Sandusky, Tiffin, and other northern Ohio cities as well as onto Dayton, Columbus, Chillicothe, and cities to the south. 

These headlines in the March  27 Cleveland Leader say it all (page number on the microfilm was unreadable)
Megatons of water rushing through city streets scoured channels as deep as eight feet under the foundations of brick office buildings, sweeping away entire houses, trains, and bridges, and inundating riverside power plants and factories. Powerful floodwaters twisted railroad track, scraping topsoil from farm fields and leaving worthless river rocks in its stead (see “Like a War Zone”). 

All around the state, the terrible waters drowned at least 600 Ohioans, injured thousands more, and drove hundreds of thousands into attics or into trees, clinging to branches and shivering with terror and near-freezing temperatures for days—a perch so precarious they dare not sleep for fear of falling into the raging current just feet below (see “‘Death Rode Ruthless…’). Above the water line in downtown Dayton and other cities, inaccessible as if surrounded by a giant moat, lurid flames from enormous fires billowed black smoke, consuming landmarks and lives.

The Cuyahoga Lumber Co. in the Flats in Cleveland was owned by Archibald C. Klumph, president of the Cleveland Rotary Club, and on Wednesday, March 26, the swollen Cuyahoga River swept much of its wood out to Lake Erie. See “Service Above Life” for how the 1913 flood gave Rotary it humanitarian mission—in part through Klumph. Credit: Cleveland Public Library
In Cleveland itself, more than 3 inches fell in just 20 hours on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, followed by another 4 inches before week’s end. On Tuesday, March 25, the city suffered its worst-ever flood in the Cuyahoga River valley and in the Flats—the local name for the river’s flood plain near its mouth. In 1913, the Flats were filled with lumber yards and steel mills (today the Flats are home to trendy bars and restaurants and stores—hello, folks, it’s not called flood plain for nothing…!).

The rapidly rising Cuyahoga flooded railroad tracks and toppled boxcars filled with coal and foodstuffs, so quickly that some workers trying to save the cargo were stranded atop the cars. The rising river spread into the factories and quenched blast furnaces in the steel mills, and swept expensive lumber from lumber yards out into
Official map of the flooded Flats and other regions of Cleveland along the Cuyahoga River in 1913. Credit: Report of the Special Committee of the Council Appointed to Investigate and Report on the Improvement of the Lower Cuyahoga River, July 1913
Lake Erie.The thundering 20-mph current yanked tugs, barges, and steamships loose from their moorings and swirled them downriver like chaff. The stern of the 366-foot-long steamship William Henry Mack wedged under the lower West Third Street Bridge. The swollen river’s powerful turbulent floodwaters kept pitching the stuck freighter like a relentless lever arm for four and a half hours, until the freighter literally pried the iron drawbridge off its concrete piers and threw it into the raging Cuyahoga.
Altogether property damage in Cleveland was estimated to be in at least $3.5 million dollars (1913 dollars, equivalent to hundreds of millions of dollars today). Electricity was lost city-wide when the power plant was flooded, stopping elevators and darkening lights. Still, aside from flooded basements, Cleveland’s downtown office area—on bluffs well above the Flats and Lake Erie—escaped major destruction. The city was also fortunate in that it still had two telegraph lines operating into and out of the metropolitan area.
The 10-year-old Mack, owned by the Jenkins Steamship Co. in Cleveland, had a load of corn aboard at the time. The freighter’s hull was repaired and continued service, but was sold the next year to a Canadian company, which changed its name to the Valcartier. It was finally scrapped in 1937. More history appears here. Credit: Library of Congress

Burden on Cleveland’
Until rail transportation was at least partially reestablished across the Midwest in early April, allowing Federal troops to penetrate into the state's worst flood zones in southern Ohio and contributions of aid to be received from elsewhere around the country, Ohio was physically isolated. Moreover, other major Midwest cities were preoccupied with their own share in the widespread natural disaster and suddenly needy populations: Omaha and Terre Haute had been half-leveled by tornadoes, and Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Louisville were as paralyzed by flood as Dayton.

On Wednesday, March 26, newly inaugurated President Woodrow Wilson issued a nationwide appeal for goods and money, widely published in newspapers across the country:
President Wilson’s appeal to the nation is the first that calls the natural disaster a “national calamity,” words later adapted for the title of an instant book published weeks later, and also for the title of this research blog
Taking up Wilson’s plea, that same day the Plain Dealer urged its readers: “The floods that have now afflicted so many towns and cities in Ohio are ... matters of general concern. ... A disaster at Columbus or Dayton is Cleveland’s concern.” Similarly, a Cleveland Leader editorial observed three days later: “Here is the richest and most populous city in Ohio. It has escaped with relatively insignificant losses… These facts throw much of the burden of relief on Cleveland.”

Indeed, Cleveland was uniquely positioned to be first responder. Just three months earlier, on January 7, the city’s Chamber of Commerce—2,200 members strong—had made national headlines for founding the Cleveland Federation for Charity and Philanthropy. In that Industrial Revolution era of fascination with efficiency and productivity, time and motion studies, organized social work, and “scientific” charity, the city had just concluded a five-year study of its benevolent associations. The Federation was an innovative experiment for simultaneously increasing the number of donors (principally by setting up methods of appealing to smaller donors), increasing the efficiency of good works (principally by eliminating duplication), and protecting donors from con-men. By instituting a streamlined structure, the new Federation hoped to do the greatest possible good with every gift, and organize Cleveland into becoming “The City of Good Will.” 

With local fanfare, the Federation had begun weekly meetings in early March, just a few weeks before the flood. This—the first modern Community Chest—was co-led by Martin A. Marks, a leader in Jewish benevolences, and Homer H. Johnson, the president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce (incidentally, also the father of Philip Johnson—7 years old in 1913who would grow up to be an influential American architect). 
Description of the innovative Cleveland Federation--the first modern Community Chest. Credit: The New York Times, April 6, 1913

The 1913 flood became the first trial-by-water of Cleveland Community Chest’s machinery for federated fundraising and aid. Immediately after Wilson’s appeal, a citywide relief fund was established. Daily progress in fundraising reported in all the newspapers kept excitement high. Within 36 hours, more than $31,000—equivalent to close to $700,000 today—flowed into the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and was rushed to Dayton. By the end of March, Cleveland had raised some $100,000—equivalent to just under $2.5 million today (or, more accurately, in 2014 dollars, based on the consumer price index). “Clevelanders are responding nobly” Johnson declared on April 1.

In parallel, Clevelanders ranging from wealthy industrialists to churches to fraternal and women’s groups mobilized mammoth rescue efforts to send necessities to Dayton, Columbus, Zanesville and other flood-devastated southern Ohio cities. Adults and school-children alike gathered blankets, food, clothing, water, medicines, boats, and even “auto trucks” to rush down to flood-devastated Dayton and Columbus by train, horse, and boat. 

National Guard to the rescue
Meantime, late Tuesday night March 25, Ohio Governor James M. Cox issued an order directing Brig. Gen. John C. Speaks to call out the entire Ohio National Guard to report to their nearest armory on Wednesday morning—a statewide total of some 6,500 strong young men. Included in that call were all four of the Cleveland-based companies of the Fifth Regiment, under the command of Col. Charles X. Zimmerman (often misspelled with one m), plus the Cleveland-based Fifth Infantry, Troop A cavalry, the naval reserves with their life-saving equipment and various boats, Engineers’ battalion, and auxiliary organizations. 
Credit: Plain Dealer, March 27, 1913, p. 8

Within 24 hours, troops were boarding the first relief train leaving Cleveland Wednesday morning to try to ford through treacherous veritable inland seas to reach Dayton and other flood-stricken regions. Zimmerman and his troops were put in charge of securing some of Dayton’s hardest-hit flood districts; by week’s end Zimmerman was also put in complete charge of securing even worse-hit Hamilton. In succeeding weeks, the Cleveland Engineers were crucial in the early reconstruction of both Dayton and Hamilton.

Lifeline—and scoop
During that terrible first week after Easter when telephone and telegraph communications were down across the Midwest, newspapers became the primary means of mass communication. All the Cleveland newspapers prominently ran official notices, such as warnings from the Ohio Board of Health urging citizens to boil all drinking water to prevent the spread of typhoid fever and other diseases, as well as progress reports of Federal and local rescue efforts and appeals for money and relief supplies. But flooding or loss of electricity had also shut down many newspaper publishers in flood-swept towns and cities around Ohio.

On Tuesday, March 25, the Plain Dealer announced it would seek missing Cleveland or Ohio people who were in Omaha or Terre Haute when the Easter tornadoes struck. The next day, as soon as the mammoth scale and severity of the 1913 flood was becoming evident, the paper set up bureau to collect frantic inquiries from Clevelanders anxious about flood-stranded relatives in some 50 cities around Ohio, including deluged Zanesville and Findlay, using its single fitfully working private telegraph connection. 
Cleveland newspapers competed in sending reporters into the flood zones. Cleveland Leader, March 20, p.1

Augmenting its already existing statewide network of correspondents, however, the Plain Dealer embedded three strong, ambitious reporters with the first relief train Wednesday morning carrying the first troops from the National Guard, “in the hope that once there, they will be able to relieve the fears of thousands of Clevelanders” about the safety of relatives and loved ones in Dayton, Miami, and elsewhere. The flood-beleaguered train finally reached Dayton around 5 PM Thursday evening—the same day as five competing reporters from the morning Leader and evening News arrived (each having taken a different train route) along with a photographer.

Armed with lists of names, re reporters’ overt mission was the humanitarian one of determining the safety and whereabouts of friends and relatives of Cleveland residents, which information the Plain Dealer published in column after column of tiny type. Block by block in Dayton, Columbus, and Hamilton and 45 other hard-hit cities, the Cleveland reporters as well as local correspondents canvassed what was left of neighborhoods, sleuthing frantic queries about some 2,500 families and individuals from 1,500 Cleveland-based friends and relatives.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer March 28, p. 7

But in tracking down Clevelanders’ loved ones, the reporters took unique photographs and collected first-hand accounts of tragedies and thrilling escapes. Their derring-do pursuing of news had the reporters piloting rowboats and riding “breeches buoys” on cables strung across raging rivers right into the heart of flood zones that exhausted refugees were fleeing, or—after the floodwaters had somewhat receded—skidding motorcycles through the muddy streets of Dayton to inquire after Cleveland relatives in every block. The Leader and Plain Dealer journalists, some of the most enterprising and physically courageous in the land, competed with each other in efforts to reunite flood victims with their Cleveland relatives even as they were filing “we were there” stories from the muck.

Moreover, the Plain Dealer stood out for its enterprising distribution of newspapers. As soon as printed papers, ink still damp, ran off the presses, they were wheeled into the mail room, wrapped in waterproof bundles, and rushed into waiting special hired trains that steamed to the edge of the floodwaters. There, the bundles of papers were transferred into motorboats and rowboats, which newsboys paddled up to the second-floor windows of homes to sell issues to marooned flood victims. To frightened families feeling profoundly alone as they huddled in the sodden attics of homes that kept shuddering from impacts of downed trees carried in the muddy torrent raging only inches away on the other side of a wooden wall, reaching through a window to take a damp newspaper from the wet hands of a courageous newsboy must have felt as welcome as seeing a glimmering light in terrifying darkness.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer April 1, p. 1

By sheer ingenuity and perseverance, the Plain Dealer both discovered and spread breaking news about the statewide flood—including exclusives from within the flood zoneas far west as Toledo, as far east as Ashtabula, and as far south as Columbus. Indeed, for the worst of flood week, the Plain Dealer crowed that it “was the only newspaper in the country to invade scores of cities and towns in the flooded sections.” 

The extraordinary measures were kept up for more than a week, until waters receded and wireline communications were somewhat repaired. On April 4, the Plain Dealer announced: “With means of private communication re-established between Cleveland and the Ohio cities that were flooded, the Plain Dealer inquiry bureau goes out of existence”—although reporters stayed somewhat longer in Dayton and Columbus, whose communications infrastructure was still badly devastated.
Map of the Plain Dealer's reach across northern Ohio as an information lifeline during the worst of the 1913 flood. Cleveland Plain Dealer March 27, p. 6
National consequences of Cleveland’s heroism
“Cleveland has just passed through the worst flood in her history,” declared an editorial in the Plain Dealer on April 2. What were some of the 1913 flood’s long-lasting results for Cleveland and the nation?
People atop boxcars watching after the William Henry Mack had destroyed the lower West Third Street Bridge in Cleveland. Credit: Cleveland Public Library
Homer H. Johnson, the president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and co-leader of the Community Chest, was appointed by Governor Cox as one of the five commissioners of the Flood Relief Commission charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Ohio. The speed and efficiency of the Cleveland Community Chest in both raising funds and directing aid dramatically demonstrated the potential power of what came to be called “federated” fundraising and giving. The Community Chest, subsequently replicated in many cities around the nation, ultimately became one predecessor of today’s United Way. 

The yeoman efforts of the Ohio National Guard in securing Dayton, Hamilton, and many other Ohio cities under martial law and organizing their relief, sanitation, and reconstruction actually saved its very existence. Before the flood, there was strong agitation within the Ohio State legislature to slash appropriations for the Guard and do away completely with certain arms of it. The 1913 flood resoundingly demonstrated the value of having trained troops who could stand up at a moment’s notice in a major emergency. 

The extraordinary efforts of the Plain Dealer in its humanitarian efforts, its sending reporters into harm’s way to get news from almost impenetrable corners of the worst flood zones, and shouldering the task of being the principal information lifeline across thousands of square miles of flood-devastated Ohio helped establish it as a major national paper.
Men salvaging lumber from Edgewater Park after it was swept down the Cuyahoga River into Lake Erie. Credit: Cleveland Public Library
In 1917, Arch C. Klumph—president of The Cuyahoga Lumber Co. in Cleveland, whose lumber was swept down the Cuyahoga River and into Lake Erie by the 1913 flood, and also president of the Cleveland Rotary Club in 1913—proposed setting up an endowment “for the purpose of doing good in the world.” In 1928, the endowment was renamed the Rotary Foundation, today sponsoring international programs for humanitarian purposes.
©2016 Trudy E. Bell

Next time: Crisis Communications in a Communications Crisis

Selected references 
There are many ways to convert the value of historical sums of money. Officer, Lawrence H. and Samuel H. Williamson, “Measuring Worth is a Complicated Question;” for the actual calculator, see “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to Present.”See also their discussion “Choosing the Best Indicator to Measure Relative Worth,” using the cost of constructing the Empire State Building as an example for  an infrastructure project.

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. 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.