Sunday, November 8, 2015

Grisly Souvenirs

After the Great Easter 1913 tornadoes and flood, big money was made by selling photographic souvenir booklets portraying death and destruction

[Note: Apologies for being a few days late with this post. I was unable to complete and upload it by the first of the month because of intense work on a major—and grim—investigative special report on the California drought for an engineering magazine, to be published near the end of December. (Strange to write on the drought after having been so imbued with flood literature!)]

During the centennial of the 1913 flood in 2013, I closely examined more than half a dozen “instant books” that were churned out by dodgy authors, usually 
Photographic flood souvenir booklets, such as this one from Paducah, KY, were issued by the thousands just a few weeks after the devastating Great Easter tornadoes and flood. This particular one I have not seen and would be very grateful to assistance from readers in locating a copy. see description below under Kentucky. Image credit: Worthpoint.
writing under pseudonyms, who played fast and loose with copyright laws (see “Profiting from Pain”). A year later, I showed how marketing wizards took advantage of the national calamity to push products ranging from movie cameras to tornado insurance with an astounding tin ear for human suffering (see “Advertising Disaster”).

Another type of post-disaster publication for sale were souvenir photographic pamphlets or booklets produced within a few weeks of the disaster(s). Ranging from 16 to 64 pages, many were small, about the size of a postcard (3.5 x 5.5 inches), saddle-stitched with the staples on the short side so that each page is horizontal. Usually one photo was shown per page, although some of the booklets also had text. Others were larger with significant text, all the way up to a full letter-sized sheet of paper (uncommon). The photos were usually lithographed halftones not of great quality.

Some of these photographic souvenirs were produced and sold by newspapers with images and information compiled from their local coverage 
The Omaha tornado was as much a subject for booklets published in Nebraska as the flood was in different cities in other states. See description below for the Gideon booklet from Omaha.
of the tornadoes or flood. If sales claimed are to be believed, sometimes a single newspaper could sell out printings of 10,000 in just a matter of weeks. Most ranged in price from 10 to 50 cents, the equivalent today of a few bucks to about $25.

Like calendars or playbills, the pamphlets were printed in great numbers and so were once common, but many were also discarded. Thus, it’s an irony of history that throwaway items once so commonplace are now so rare (just try now to find a direct-mail calendar of the year you were born!).

Below are nearly a dozen that I’ve found referenced, listed alphabetically by state and city, with links to digital copies online where available. Where I have not seen a copy of a work myself, I would love to hear from libraries or individuals with copies. I strongly suspect this listing is not complete—so if readers know of other 1913 tornado or flood souvenir booklets not listed, please make me smarter—please email me!

At least two souvenir booklets were published in the Hoosier state. One is  
Terre Haute’s Tornado and Flood Disaster: March twenty-three to thirtieth, nineteen hundred and thirteen, published by the Terre Haute Publishing Co. Digital scans are available from both Indiana State and the Vigo County Public Library.

The other booklet I have not yet seen in any form: Twelve Views of the Indianapolis Flood of March 1913, taken by a daring photographer during the 
worst of the horrible catastrophe. Worldcat says it was published by C.A. Tutewiler. The closest I’ve come to it is this tiny image of the cover from an ebay seller.

Flood Souvenir, Paducah, Kentucky, is another elusive booklet (see opening image at the top of this post). I’ve seen two slightly differing covers, one from ebay and one from Worthpoint, but there is no information for the document in Worldcat. The Worthpoint seller indicated it was 6.25 x 8.25 inches, but did not give a page count. I’m especially curious as to whether the booklet portrays the flooding of Paducah as the calamity it was, or downplays it as merely a “water carnival” (see “Spurning Disaster Aid”).

One 32-page pamphlet with a dramatic photographic cover, published by the  
Omaha Bee, was The Track of the Tornado that struck Omaha at 6 P.M. Easter Sunday March 23, 1913. This one I consulted in a library.

A competing booklet was published by The Omaha Daily News, which made up for its plain red cover and stark word Tornado by having 64 pages and being slightly larger than most of these souvenirs. Printed by the Mogy 
Publishing Co., it is also one of the few that claims an author, in this case, Charles B. Driscoll. The title page differs slightly from the cover, reading Complete Story of Omaha’s Disastrous Tornado. This one I consulted in a library, which itself had only a photocopy.

A third competitor, published by the Omaha Tribune, was a 40-page German booklet with the English title Omaha Tornado – Album. This one I consulted 
in a library, but all the German pages plus an English translation appear at the Mardos Memorial Library of Online Books and Maps (from where I also obtained this cover image, which is better than my copy). 

A fourth pamphlet was The Omaha Tornado, Easter Sunday, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A. March 23, 1913, published by John L. Gideon (see second image near the top of this post). You can read a not-great Google scan online, but not download a PDF with the illustrations.

No surprise, entrepreneurs in hard-hit Ohio produced numerous souvenir photographic pamphlets and booklets, some of them very informative. 

The 24-page postcard-sized pamphlet Flood Views of Chillicothe, Ohio, March 26, 1913 was published for the Chillicothe News Co. by the Emmel Publishing 
Co. It consists of 22 images and minimal introductory text. I consulted a library copy.

The 64-page 6 x 9-inch A Pictorial History of the Great Dayton Flood March 25, 26, 27, 1913 by Nellis R. Funk—another of the few that claimed an actual 
author—was printed by the Otterbein Press. I consulted a library copy. A high-quality scan is online at 

Dayton: Being a story of the great flood as seen from the Delco Factory is a 32-page booklet from the viewpoint of the factory employees trapped inside 
for several days, but also seeking to rescue others in neighboring buildings. The text only is online at Dayton History and a centennial edition including all the images was published by Frank Miller in 2013 (details in my January 2015 roundup of books). I consulted a library copy of the original plus have the Miller reissue (which has a significantly different format).

The 52-page Great 1913 Flood, Dayton, Ohio by K. M. Kammerer and published by the Specialty Photograph Co. is horizontal like most of the 
photographic souvenirs, but about double postcard size, about 5 x 8 inches. It can be found online at With the exception of the first two pages, it is all images.

Historical Souvenir of the Fremont Flood March 25–28, 1913 is a 48-page booklet published by the Finch Studio that also says it was “Approved by the Relief Committee.” Online at the images look okay online but are 
disappointingly low-res in the PDF. Fremont was one of the areas hard-hit in northern Ohio, and half the booklet is text. I’ve not examined a copy in person, but it appears to be perfect-bound and even hardbound, which makes it unusual among these photographic souvenirs.

The city of Hamilton, downriver of Dayton, had only a quarter of Dayton’s population but suffered at least as many deaths—very likely many more, considering the violence of the flood. The Flood Disaster 1913 (Illustrated), 
available online through HathiTrust, has a title page that reads Flood Souvenir: View of Hamilton, Ohio During and after the Disastrous Flood of March 1913. It was printed by the Republican Publishing Co. Although it was only postcard sized, it has close to 100 images.

Photographic reproductions of the terrible flood of 1913: showing scenes in many Ohio and Indiana cities is a 32-page booklet with minimal text and with coarse halftones, but they include flood scenes from Buckeye Lake, Columbus, Dayton, Delaware, Hamilton, and Zanesville; despite the title, 
all the locations seem to be from Ohio (unless some were misidentified). The booklet was published by the Pfeifer Show Print Co. I wonder whether it might have been printed more than once, as the Delaware County Historical Society shows it having a green cover whereas the cover I photographed (shown here) was buff.

Zanesville in the Flood of 1913 by Thomas W. Lewis is a 96-page booklet. The 
digital scan on is of a photocopy, not or an original.

The only souvenir pamphlet I’ve found for Pennsylvania is the Official Souvenir History of the Shenango Valley Flood March 25, 26, 27, 28 1913, by C.B. Lartz and Z.O. Hazen, available online as a high-quality scan at (from which this image comes). This is one of the few that was printed in large 
format (8.5 x 11 inches) and had 40 pages of text of substantial length as well as photos. Interestingly, it is formatted like a yearbook, with ads sold against the text—obviously a money-making proposition, given the notation on the front cover than “only” 10,000 were printed.

One wonders what happened with the proceeds. Did they all go to the publisher (and perhaps authors)? Or did any portion of their sales get devoted to relief efforts? Some photographic souvenirs claim the money went to relief funds, but others are utterly silent on the question.

I hope this appeal to readers inspires some digging through grandparents’ attics—please do let me know what you find!

©2015 Trudy E. Bell

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 $4.00 shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me), or order from the publisher.

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