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Posted on Wed. Mar. 20, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Readers share family stories, photos from Flood of 1913

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Several readers sent in stories and photos from relatives who survived the Flood of 1913.

The muddy letter

My grandfather, Charles O. Kennedy (born in 1880), was a Midwest-area salesman for the Empire Cream Separator Co., Bloomfield, N.J. During the great Flood of 1913, he was in a Dayton, Ohio, hotel while on company business. Before the flood, he put a letter from the main office in New Jersey along with some clothes in a dresser in his hotel room.

After the floodwaters receded, my grandfather returned to his hotel room and found his clothes and the letter caked by mud from the flood. I have the letter, dated March 21, 1913, signed by the company treasurer, with the original mud stains on both sides.

My grandfather eventually settled in North Manchester, where he established a tire business, which he operated successfully for approximately 25 years.

— Mike Evans, Fort Wayne

Lost even the wedding dress

I have lived in Fort Wayne for 22 years now, but I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. The great flood of that year (1913) not only devastated Fort Wayne, but hit Dayton and perhaps other communities even harder. My maternal grandparents were married in November 1912 and survived the great Flood of 1913. Here is their story:

My grandparents, Frank and Josephine Seiler, were newlyweds living near downtown Dayton when the great Flood of 1913 struck. As the floodwaters rose on the morning of March 25, a gas explosion split open the sides of their apartment building. They escaped, only to encounter waist-deep water and streets made impassable by a strong cross-current.

A man on horseback offered to take them to a nearby school building. My grandmother later wrote, “As we passed by the blazing building that had been our home, I couldn't help but think of the new furniture and wedding gifts that were lost.” She also lost the painstakingly detailed wedding gown she had sewn just months before.

Seconds later, the horse threw its passengers into deep currents. My grandmother was able to grab onto a fence, but she saw my grandfather, his head bobbing up and down, being swept away in the strong current. A rowboat took my grandmother to a nearby home. For several hours, she felt certain that Frank had drowned — that she was a widow after just four months of marriage.

Suddenly, her brother, who was looking out the window, shouted, “There's Frank!” They could see him in a third-floor window of the school building across the street. A rescue boat enabled them to reunite with Frank in the school, where they huddled for four days along with 175 other refugees from the flood. The only food they had to eat were apple cores.

My grandmother later revisited the burned-out apartment building. She said, “All I could find that was recognizable was a broken cup. But we couldn't complain. Our lives were saved. Not everyone was that lucky.”

My grandparents were later blessed with four children and 52 years of marriage.

— Peggy McCarty, Fort Wayne

Drowned while clinging to her Bible

One of my earliest memories is of my maternal grandmother, Thelma Irene Johnson Weist, telling about her childhood friend who was killed in the Flood of 1913.

The girl was being evacuated from the Orphan's Home on Bluffton Road at the height of the disaster. She was carrying her Bible, which she referred to as her “friend.” Soon after climbing into a boat that was supposed to take her to safety, she was thrown into the floodwaters — still clinging to the beloved book — and drowned.

Since then, I've been able to find out more about Grandma's chum. Her name was Ardah Woods. She had lived in Sheldon (now known as Yoder) with her single mother; however, by early 1913, the mom evidently had fallen on hard times. In those days, people who couldn't care properly for their children had the option of taking them to the Orphan's Home until the family recovered financially.

I can't imagine the regret that poor mother must have felt. Ardah's gravestone at Hoverstock Cemetery in Zanesville stands as a monument to what might have been.

— Julie Henricks, Ossian

Family photo albums

John Post, a lifelong Fort Wayne resident, brought into the newsroom a couple of photo albums passed down to him from his mother. They contained several photographs of the great Flood of 1913, in which West Main and Columbia streets, Runnion Avenue, and Swinney Park were directly affected by floodwaters.

They went back for the dog

My mother, Rosella Busch Foelber, was 6 1/2 years old at the time of the 1913 flood. She lived to be 101 years old. Much of her life had faded into vague memories, but not her remembrance of that flood and the day she and her family had to leave their home on Lake Avenue.

Mother's father traveled as a salesman and was out of town when the flood threatened. Her mother and five children were home alone. They had moved many treasures to the upper levels of the house, but they refused suggestions of leaving. Only after her uncle, a local mortician, arrived with his black pallbearers car, and they saw the approaching water, did they agree to evacuate.

As the family crowded into the car, the children turned to have a last glance at their home. What they saw was Zero, the family's fox terrier, looking out of an upstairs window. They had to return to rescue the dog! The funeral home located on higher ground became the temporary home for five rambunctious children, their distraught mother and yippy dog.

After the waters receded, the family returned to their flood-damaged home. That house, after additional weather extremes over the last 100 years, remains intact and standing.

— Suzanne F. Dahling, New Haven

Mysterious postcard

Fort Wayne resident Margaret Slack shared a photo postcard she found in a box of old photos.

“We have no idea how it came into our family,” Slack said. The photo was taken March 29, 1913, along Wells Street. A woman who lived on Fifth Street sent the postcard to her daughter in Payne, Ohio.

Collects historical postcards

Randy Harter of Fort Wayne collects historical Fort Wayne postcards, including the great Flood of 1913. He shared the flood postcards with us for this special report.

Harter currently is working on scanning his postcards into digital images for the Allen County Public Library's collection and typing in identifying information about each image. He also has agreed to donate the original postcards to the library for patrons' research use.

One postcard

Joan Woebbeking of Monroeville also shared a photo from the great Flood of 1913, which she thought was passed down from one of her grandparents.

Found in a scrapbook

Elizabeth M. Niblick of Fort Wayne sent copies of postcards her brother, Howard Mundt of Marion, found in a scrapbook made by their aunt.

skrieg@news-sentinel.com


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