Wednesday, January 1, 2014

1913 Easter National Calamity: Centennial Highlights—and Legacy

After a year of commemorative films, books, museum exhibits, memorial services, keynote talks, historical markers, reenactments, and newspaper articles, so what?

“I never heard of this huge natural disaster until this talk. Amazing! How could something like this be forgotten?”

Logo from Dayton Art Institute brochure
“My grandparents told me about suffering through a bad 1913 flood in their town, but I had no idea their experience was part of something so huge!”

“I had heard of the Omaha tornado and the Dayton flood, but had no idea they were connected!”

“Just think how awful such an enormous disaster would be if it happened now… Could it happen again?”

Time and again throughout 2013, audience members would flock around speakers, panelists, or exhibitors and offer comments such as these, as well as exclaiming, “Thank you!” and repeatedly asking, “Where can I find out more?” Judging simply from such overwhelming response, the big winner from all the centennial commemorations in Indiana, Nebraska, and Ohio was the general public. Not only did thousands of people learn about our nation’s nearly-forgotten most widespread natural disaster in 1913 centered on the industrial north; they also learned that such powerful tornadoes and devastating flooding could happen again, and protective steps they could take so as not to be caught unawares—as so many victims were a century earlier.

Memorial service April 2013 for  Tiffin, OH 1913 victims
But it is so very easy to forget. So gathered here in one place are highlights of some of the major centennial commemorations throughout 2013. As the sheer volume makes it impossible to catalogue every individual newspaper article, I have chosen to feature those commemorations that left substantial enduring online resources. Some of these documents, films, talks, and oral histories may be useful to scholars, and all should be fascinating and illuminating to the general public. All testify to the care and research of their sponsors, authors, and speakers, and provide a gateway to further exploration. Please contact me if you know of additional resources that should be highlighted.

Exhibit Culver Academies, Indiana
It has often been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The 1913 Easter natural disaster speaks to us in the twenty-first century as we face ever larger and more powerful storm systems—revealing not only that mammoth floods can strike the heart of our nation, even devastating areas not known for flooding, but also that advanced technologies can fail us at critical moments. And how venally or compassionately people reacted in 1913 also gives us insights into how they might respond tomorrow.

Original research does not stop with the closing of a centennial year. In the New Year, some 1913 centennial programs are being rebroadcast, new talks given, and articles published on fresh research—thus, so will this blog “’Our National Calamity’” continue in 2014 and beyond. 

New documentaries
In my March 26 installment “Book Report! 21 Books and Films on the Great Easter 1913 Flood and Tornadoes,  I gave links to two 1-hour documentary films by PBS affiliates. Several additional documentary features and shorts were also issued, most of which also can be viewed on line:

The Omaha Easter Tornado is a 4:45-minute short that brings to light a tragic song written by Hans B. Parkinson in 1913 after the fatal twister—still Nebraska’s deadliest—had killed so many. Two talented Nebraska Wesleyan University music students—pianist Zach Weir (junior) and soloist Cadie Jochum (senior)—perform the piece. The short is a web extra to the 1-hour Nebraska NET public television documentary Devil Clouds: Tornadoes Strike Nebraska, which originally aired in March. Devil Clouds will next be aired in Nebraska on January 13, 2014 at 9:00 PM and January 29, 2014 at 11:00 PM, both on NET1/HD.

When Every River Turned Against Us: Lessons from the Great 1913 Flood is a 30-minute documentary film about the 1913 flood in Indiana. It features actual 1913 moving picture footage of the flood itself around Indiana, as well as modern interviews both about the historic disaster and about current flood mitigation and preparedness. It first screened before a live audience on November 8, 2013, and premiered on WFYI Public TV on Thursday, November 21. Produced by Emmy Award-winning TV producer Gary Harrison at WFYI Public TV in Indianapolis, it was created in partnership with the Indiana Silver Jackets emergency readiness coalition and the Polis Center at IUPUI, with assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA, National Weather Service, and the Indiana Department of Resources.  A 3-minute trailer for the film appears here. A review of the film appears on page 2A of the November 19, 2013 issue of the Berne Shopping News.

The 1913 Flood: Shadow Over the Miami Valley features more than 500 flood photos from half a dozen towns around the Miami River watershed in southwestern Ohio, along with moving picture clips of the flood in progress from local historical societies and quotations from letters written at the time. Produced by Middletown, Ohio, filmmaker and historian Sam Ashworth, the 30-minute documentary premiered April 26, 2013 as part of the Michael J.Colligan 1913 flood history project in Hamilton, Ohio. Background about it appears at “New video tells the story of the Great Flood.” The documentary itself does not appear to be available online, but a DVD isavailable from the Dayton Metro Library

The 1913 Flood in Morgan County, Ohio is a 26-minute documentary written and produced by Ohio University professor Rick Shriver focusing on the 1913 flood in the Muskingum River watershed in southeastern Ohio, and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District constructed in the 1930s. An overview describing how century-old photographs were enhanced is here. The documentary premiered on March 21 with a screening at the Opera House in McConnelsville.

The Great 1913 Flood in Greater Lafayette, Indiana is a 35-minute slide show assembled and narrated by Bob Verplank, based on talks he has presented at Rotary Clubs and libraries around northwestern Indiana. The full-length version does not appear to be available online, but some parts of it were captured in a 3:30-minute short The ‘Great Flood’ of 1913 by David Smith of the Lafayette Journal-Courier (see also the paper’s March 19 article and March 23 article and video on high-water marks of damages and deaths). Copies can be ordered directly from Verplank for $15.00: make the check out to Rotary Back Pack Fund. For details, contact Verplank.

A great number of additional videos can be found on YouTube just by searching on “1913 flood” or “1913 tornado.” For example, The Greatest Natural Disaster in Ohio History: The Flood of 1913 is a 4:20-minute short told mostly through historic photographs and produced in 2012 by the U.S. Geological Survey. It also describes how today the USGS uses data collected from networks of stream gauges to monitor river levels and warn the public.

New Books

The March 26 installment “Book Report!” also highlighted 16 books—eight published in 2013 for the centennial. Now, three more 1913 Easter disaster books have appeared, one on the Omaha tornado and two on the flood in Ohio:

Brown, Tom, Warning!High Water Ahead: A Photographic History of the Great 1913 Flood at Zanesville, Ohio. Muskingum County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, November 2013. Only 350 copies printed. $25.00 plus $5.00 shipping; MCCOGS; Post Office Box 2427; Zanesville, OH 43702-2427; (740) 453-0391 ext.139. I was unable to locate an image of the cover.

Mihelich, Dennis, Ribbon of Destruction: The 1913 Douglas County Tornado on Easter Sunday and the Jewish Holiday of Purim , Douglas County Historical Society and Nebraska Jewish Historical Society (48 pages). Although better known as the 1913 Omaha Tornado, the title accurately clarifies that the path of destruction cut a wide swath for tens of miles through Nebraska. Not for sale; complimentary with membership in the DouglasCounty Historical Society.
Scott D. Trostel, Railroads of Western Ohio in the 1913 Flood (96 pages; ISBN 978-0-925436-74-0; $23.95 + $3.50 shipping, Cam-Tech Publishing, 4890 E. Miami-Shelby Rd., Fletcher, OH 45326-9766), is the third of Trostel’s large-format local histories of the 1913 flood in the northern Miami Valley. Information about all three appears on Trostel’s website. Trostel also gives talks around southwestern Ohio; check his website periodically for announcements.

In the category of a book to watch for in the future, historian and writing consultant Anne Wainscott is working on a historical novel Torrential about the 1913 flood in Dayton, based in part on family stories she had heard since childhood. Meantime, in her November 7, 2013, blog installment “Weather Storyteller Unleashes Lessons of Past Storm Disasters,” Wainscott profiled the work of Cleveland National Weather Service hydrologist Sarah Jamison in sleuthing the origins of the monumental 1913 storm system (see also this blog "Be Very Afraid..." about Jamison's research).

Videotaped talks 
Many historians, meteorologists, and flood-control experts in Indiana, Nebraska, and Ohio were in demand to give keynote presentations or participate in panel discussions at conferences, historical societies, or other events commemorating the 1913 tornadoes and flood. Some of these presentations were videotaped for posterity, and several have been made available to the wider public online. For others, just the slides have been made available:

Flood of 1913: Centennial Commemoration Gallery is a web page maintained by the Michael J. Colligan History Project as a permanent legacy project of the Hamilton Flood of 1913 Centennial Commemoration. One of the most ambitious series of events run anywhere in the nation, the two-month commemoration featured one or more events per week from March 1 to May 4, 2013 (see full program).  Partners included the City of Hamilton, the Michael J. Colligan History Project, Miami University Hamilton’s Downtown Center, Butler County Historical Society, Lane Libraries, Heritage Hall, the Fitton Center for the Creative Arts, and many others. Videos of all the talks are archived (note that each talk consists of several separate videos for the introduction of the speaker, the talk itself, and the question-and-answer session). Formal talks directly on the 1913 flood itself (as opposed to background about the Hamilton area’s arts, architecture, and culture) were given by Trudy E. Bell, Jim Blount, Julia Dian-Reed, and Rose Haverkos (search on each name to find the relevant videos on the long archive page). Also noteworthy are the filmed oral histories by individuals sharing family stories of ancestors caught in the 1913 flood.

Wrecked in a Night, Rebuilt in a Day: Omaha After the Easter Sunday Tornado is a 60-minute illustrated talk by Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Catherine Biba on August 15, 2013, as part of the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Brown Bag Lecture Series. Her focus is on how the business community responded to the tornado. Background about Biba appears in a 1-minute YouTube video.
For the annual conference of the Indiana Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management, held in Angola, Indiana, September 11–13, 2013, the program was kicked off by two talks pertaining to the 1913 flood. A historical retrospective “Indiana’s ‘Katrina’: The Great Easter1913 Flood” was given by historian Trudy E. Bell, and a forward-looking analysis “1913—Looking to Our Future, Enhancing Resilience” was given by Manuela Johnson of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Only slides (no videos) are available from the conference presentations.

Television and radio coverage
The Flood of 1913,” a 55-minute discussion on March 27 on the live call-in program The Sound of Ideas for WCPN Ideastream 90.3 FM/WVIZ PBS Channel 25 TV public radio and TV, featured National Weather Service hydrologist Sarah Jamison and historian Trudy E. Bell. Both an audio podcast and 55-minute video of the show in the studio are online. 

Weekend marks the 100-year anniversary of the flood of 1913 thatkilled hundreds in Ohio,” was a 2:30-minute segment that aired WEWS Channel 5 in Cleveland on the 6 PM news on March 19, 2013. Page also includes half a dozen photos and a video extra. 



Museum exhibits 

Many museums and historical societies in Indiana, Nebraska, and Ohio offered special exhibits on the 1913 tornadoes and flood. Most exhibits were temporary; nonetheless, record of their existence is preserved in a few photos throughout this installment; links to more information can be found in the four installments “Happy 1913Centennial Year!” (January 6, 2013); “1913 Great Easter Disaster Centennial Update” (February 2); “Centennial Month! Events Update” (March 3); and “Centennial Update: April through December” (April 13).
The Miami Conservancy District on the first page of the year-end issue of its newsletter The Deed highlighted five major events around the Miami Valley of southwestern Ohio. See also the detailed “Un-Review of Dayton Art Institute’s 1913 Flood Exhibition” by Wright State University archivist Lisa P. Rickey, and also this comprehensive description on Starr Review "Heavy Weather: The Dayton Art Institute Commemorates the 1913 Flood."

1883 steam pumper. Chris Stewart
During the centennial year, the city of Dayton opened a permanent exhibit “The Great 1913 Flood” at Carillon Historical Park, one of four projects that was part of $4M expansion project. A story and photos appear in the Hamilton Journal-News March 6, 2013 and a you-are-there overview of the exhibit is shown in three news segments from Fox 45 News totaling 6:20 minutes.

WSU traveling exhibit brochure
Wright State University created a traveling exhibit about the 1913 flood for lending to schools and other local organizations up to two weeks at a time; images from it are also online and in a brochure. See also Wright State’s online exhibit of the debate over flood protection in the Miami Valley through political cartoons.

Newspapers and periodicals

Although dozens of newspapers around Ohio and Indiana ran individual articles, individual articles are not cited simply because of their overwhelming number. Below are links to newspapers that ran significant series of articles:

In January, 2013, WSU performed 1913
The Dayton Daily News ran a series of articles between November 2012 and September 2013  commemorating the 1913 flood centennial. Additional Daily News articles on the 1913 flood appear here and here. See also four 1-minute videos on the flood aired from January thru March 2013, and a library of 45 images of flood scenes. See especially this video of 100-year-old Robert Ferneding recounting how he as an 8-month-old infant and his mother were fished from the floodwaters when their rescue boat capsized.

Flood makes front page. Michael Chritton
The Insurance Journal reprinted two Associated Press stories about material losses in 1913 and what a similar disaster happening today could mean to the industry. “Ohio Marks 1913 Flood Centennial, Warns of Dangers,” March 25, 2013 quoted Ohio National Weather Service hydrologist Sarah Jamison, Miami Conservancy District special projects coordinator Angela Manuszak, and a statement released by the Ohio Department of Insurance on March 14, 2013 reminding the public that normal homeowners' insurance does not protect against floods. “Expert: Repeat of 1913 Indiana Flood Would be Disaster,” on March 29, 2013, quoted Indiana National Weather Service hydrologist Al Shipe.

Exhibitor hold century-old flood mud. Greg Lynch
The Hamilton Journal-News covered many of the Michael J. Colligan commemorative events. No index page to all the articles appears to be online, but articles include “Flood expert: 1913 event changed nation” March 6, 2013 and “‘Time of Terror’ tells personal stories of the 1913 Flood” March 16, 2013.

The Marietta Times ran a special series of articles under the title “Progress 2013: The great flood” on April 8, 2013, about the 1913 flood in the Muskingum River watershed in southeastern Ohio—Ohio’s largest watershed, accounting for 20 percent of the area in the state. Two index pages to the articles appear here and here. (Before Christmas, an editor told me that the paper was also running a wrap-up of the centennial year on the 1913 flood on December 29, 2013, but it may be a print-only feature as it does not appear to be online.) Another ten stories about centennial talks, films, markers, exhibits, and other events from February through April commemorating the 1913 flood around the Muskingum River watershed are at .

The News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio, ran a long feature “Public largely has forgotten Ohio's Flood of 1913,” March 16, 2013; the page includes an impressive album of 72 images of the 1913 flood around the entire state of Ohio.

Many other newspapers around the Midwest ran one or more centennial articles about local devastation by the monumental 1913 Easter storm system (see, for example, these articles that ran in the Tiffin, Ohio, Advertiser-Tribune). Google on the name of a city and state along with the words “1913 flood” or “1913 tornado” for additional links and images.

Websites and blogs
Silver Jackets' 1913 flood portal
Several years ago, a number of Federal and State agencies came together to address flood risk priorities and management jointly, creating the Silver Jackets. The centennial of the Great Easter 1913 flood was a natural opportunity to raise public awareness for 2013's Flood Awareness Week about flood dangers and preparedness. The Silver Jackets developed talking points for outreach, a major web presence, including detailed community profiles the devastation from the 1913 flood around Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. See also the Silver Jackets’ quarterly newsletter The Buzz for January 2013 (p. 8) and web write-up in “Newsworthy.”

From Polis and HND
Wright State University archivist Lisa P. Rickey wrote extensively about the 1913 flood in WSU’s blog “Out of the Box,” the Dayton Daily News, and her own blog “Glancing Backwards.” See especially the before and after photos of Dayton buildings that survived the flood and of various 1913 flood exhibits and postcards. She also points to geotagged images of the 1913 flood in downtown Dayton both during and after. Also see her own retrospective on the 1913 flood centennial.

Speaking of comparing images, Jeff Satterly and Robert Muhlhauser created to match photographs of historic disasters with present-day photographs. For them also the 1913 flood was a natural, as was the Easter 1913 Omaha tornado. Their work got some good attention in Cleveland and Satterly wrote a guest essay for the blog Polis (about cities around the globe) “Mapping the Aftermath of Historic Storms,”. drawing attention to the Google Map on the Great Flood of 1913 with several dozen before and after photos. See also their guests posts “Natural Disasters” in Steve Wolfgang’s blog “Eclectic” (which actually goes under the Greek word ἐκλεκτικός ) and "James Cox and the Great Dayton Flood" published by

A City Under Water. Trudy E. Bell
Indiana: The Great Flood of 1913 on the Hoosier Recollections Flickr site features 75 postcards and an associated map of 1913 flood scenes around the state of Indiana. (Lest we forget that the 1913 flood engulfed parts of 15 states, check out the images on this 2011 blog post about the 1913 flood around Albany, New York.)
Finally, a searchable Microsoft Word doc listing all 20 previous installments to this research blog “’Our National Calamity’: The Great Easter 1913 Flood” with permanent URLs, from November 2012 through April 2013 can be downloaded from my 1913 flood web page—just click on the top left link "'Our National Calamity' research blog posts" to either open or save the file. ONC will continue (although not weekly, as during the height of the centennial events—that nearly put me into the hospital!). Future topics will include the role of the 1913 tornadoes and flood in developing emergency radio, reshaping philanthropy, and impacting local and national business communities, as well as tracing the flood’s devastation around Kentucky and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans—as always, uncovering little-known primary sources. Please let me know if you want to be notified when future installments are uploaded!

Next time: High-Wire Horror

© 2014 Trudy E. Bell

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 )