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 )