Upcoming Talks, Publications, and Other Events on the Centennial of the 1913 Flood
||Talk, Publication, or Event
||Location and Logistics
|Weds., Oct. 2, 2013, 7:00 PM
|Talk"Ohio's 'Katrina': The Great Easter 1913 Flood"
|Lakewood Public Library (15425 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, OH 44107), Main Auditorium; part of the series offered by the Lakewood Historical Society
|Fri., Nov. 8, 2013, 5:30 - 8:00 PM
|Premier of documentary film When Every River Turned Against Us: Lessons From the Great 1913 Flood (directed by Gary Harrison, WFYI Indiana PBS, which I narrate); followed by an audience talk-back
|Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN 46202; Call 317-441-7151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See also my centennial blog "'Our National Calamity': The Great Easter 1913 Flood" highlighting stories and references, launched November 2012. (Installments so far: "'An Epidemic of Disasters'," "The First Punch," "'My Conception of Hell'," "The Villain Who Stole the Flood," "The Governor's Ear," "Be Very Afraid...," "The Prisoners' Feast," "Happy 1913 Centennial Year!" "Rescuing Albany's Water," "Morgan's Cowboys," "Morgan's Pyramids,", "1913 Great Easter Disaster Centennial Update," "Tragedy at the Circus," "'Death Rode Ruthless...,'" "Profiting from Pain," "Centennial Month! Events Update," "Like a War Zone," "Book Report! 21 Books and Films on the Great Easter 1913 Flood and Tornadoes" )
Follow announcements of new installments on Twitter @trudyebell
The United States had no warning. The nation's most widespread natural catastrophe struck Easter weekend 1913 as the grand finale of what Mabel T. Boardman (volunteer head of the Red Cross who succeeded its founder Clara Barton) later called "an epidemic of disasters." Beginning with a dozen tornadoes - including one that still ranks as Nebraska's deadliest tornado through downtown Omaha - the catastrophic sequence of events culminated with record flooding across all or parts of 15 states, which immobilized the industrial heart of the nation.
In July 2003, a chance reading of historical markers on a bicycle trip sent me on what has become a major, systematic historical detective search to uncover the full story of this national calamity, which made front-page headlines worldwide and generated at least five "instant books" and innumerable commemoratives. I also wanted to find out how and why - despite being more fatal than the 1871 Chicago fire and more devastating to property than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (to which disasters it was often compared at the time) - the nation's only natural catastrophe to disrupt communications and manufacturing across the industrial north as well as down the Mississippi River throughout the agricultural south has been virtually forgotten.
Fascinated that something so huge [see U.S. map below] could now be so unknown, over the past eight years I've researched newspapers on microfilm, official government reports, photographs, and correspondence in the National Archives, state historical archives, and special collections of major public libraries - crisscrossing the nation from as far west as Topeka and Omaha, to as far east as Boston, New York City, and Washington, D. C., and points
Map of the "epidemic of disasters" across the United States on Easter weekend 1913
||Left: Extent of the country covered by 1913 tornadoes, electrified dust storm (the worst experienced until the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s), and rainfall of March 23-27, plotted to scale. Subsequent flood crests roaring down the Mississippi River burst levees and devastated vast sections of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Assembled by Trudy E. Bell from data from multiple sources. (Not shown is the Good Friday March 21 hurricane-force wind and sleet storm that extended from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, downing wireline communications, nor the tornadoes that devastated a Chicago suburb and destroyed much of Lower Peachtree, Alabama.)
Right: Five of the "instant books" that were published within two months of the tornadoes and floods in 1913. Books in the research collection of Trudy E. Bell.
south all along the Mississippi River to New Orleans. So far, I've published one book and half a dozen articles (see below) and delivered several unpublished research papers at historical conferences (now here made publicly accessible for the first time); I am also midway through the process of compiling a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary references and locations. In 2009, I was a Filson Fellow for a week of research in residence at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky. My ultimate goal is to write the definitive book on the Great Easter national calamity of 1913.
Why? For one thing, it's a whale of a story with marvelous characters. Its most prominent national hero was a crook - John H. Patterson, founder of National Cash Register (NCR) in Dayton, who along with two dozen NCR executives had just been convicted in Federal Court of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, and whose conviction was under appeal. Although technically a felon, Patterson was given charge of part of Dayton under martial law. Another major figure was Ohio's Governor James M. Cox, "boy publisher" of the Dayton Daily News, who effectively co-opted the nation's 1913 Great Easter Flood and made it specifically the Great Dayton Flood, and who later ran for U.S. President on the strength of his executive ability in rebuilding the ravaged state of Ohio - which after the waters receded lay in utter ruins as if after a war. There was also newly inaugurated President Woodrow Wilson, who sent the Secretary of War into battle against the raging waters. There was engineer Arthur E. Morgan, whose innovative flood control project - the Miami Conservancy District, then the largest engineering project in the world - has protected southwest Ohio and the city of Dayton ever since; his work ultimately led him to be appointed first head of the Tennessee Valley Authority by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There were also the thousand prisoners of an Indiana penitentiary whose beloved warden allowed them to save the town of Jeffersonville from being engulfed by the Ohio River, and whose residents were so grateful they feted the prisoners with a bountiful feast. And there were the fledgling institutions of the Boy Scouts of America and Rotary, whose members' spontaneous outpouring of aid to the victims of the 1913 tornados and flood led them to discover their true mission of humanitarian service. Working with the Red Cross and the Chamber of Commerce, the city of Cleveland pioneered the innovative technique of federated fundraising and giving of aid. On the dark side, across the tornado-devastated and flooded regions, sufferers who had lost everything in the flood wrestled to be recognized as victims worthy of compassion and assistance, rather than turned away branded with the stigma of being undeserving paupers.
Bigger than the individual stories, however, are two societal concerns highly relevant today.
First, a 1913-scale flood to the industrial north could happen again. The storm system that caused it was an unusually powerful version of a normal winter storm system on the Colorado track - a path followed commonly by Midwest winter storms. In this 21st-century era of increasingly powerful storms due to climate change, what could the nation learn from the 1913 disaster in how to prepare - and recover?
Second, how could something so vast and transformative be so forgotten? This question is perennially uppermost in my mind. Yes, the death of J.P. Morgan, the fall of Adrianople, a hunger strike of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, and other world events eventually swept the 1913 disaster from newspaper front pages. But it is also clear that some forgetting was quite deliberate and intentional - either because it was too horrific to remember, or because whole cities did not want their credit downgraded and so publicly covered up the scale of their true damages. Indeed, some city leaders (including John Patterson) almost welcomed the flood's wholesale sweeping the land clear as an opportunity to rebuild modern structures from scratch. But what crucial lessons in warning and recovery - and repeating mistakes - has posterity lost through such collective amnesia?
Notable media appearances (videos) discussing the 1913 flood:
2:30-minute video segment on Channel 5 WEWS 6 PM News, March 19, 2013, that segues into a 5:30-minute extended excerpt from the longer interview at "Weekend marks the 100-year anniversary of the flood of 1913 that killed hundreds in Ohio"
50-minute audio podcast plus televised video round-table discussion "The Flood of 1913" with Mike McIntyre on "The Sound of Ideas," WVIZ/WCPN Cleveland Public TV Ideastream, along with fellow guest Sarah Jamison, hydrologist at the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service, March 27, 2013
(page last updated September 27, 2013, with addition of October 2 and Nov. 8 events)
Below are my writings so far on the Great Easter 1913 tornados and floods, including for the first time access to the text and slides of unpublished drafts of presentations at historical conferences. If a print magazine or newspaper has also published an article online, I have included a link directly to the PDF or HTML (about two-thirds of the articles). To editors: If you wish to read an article not available online, please contact me directly to request a copy.
Roll your mouse over the thumbnails of the print magazine or newspaper pages; those with links should turn your cursor into a hand. Depending on your browser, the article pages with links may also appear outlined in color. Note: In Microsoft Internet Explorer, you will also see a few details about each article - such as magazine and publication date - if you run your mouse over the page; other browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, may not reveal the hidden text or color outlines, but should still change your cursor to a hand on any page with a link so you can click through to the article online.
2013. "Angry Waters," New York Archives 12 (3): 12-17, Winter. The Great 1913 Flood in New York brought two significant legacies to the state and the nation: the creation of Great Sacandaga Lake (in Fulton, Saratoga, and Hamilton Counties) as part of a statewide system of reservoirs to control the flow of the Hudson River; and dramatic proof of the effectiveness of chlorinating drinking water to combat typhoid fever and other water-borne diseases.
2011. "The Great Flood of 1913," The Rotarian 189 (9): 30-37, March. Rotary (then called the International Association of Rotary Clubs) was founded in 1905 as a business service organization - but the spontaneous outpouring of prodigious aid from Rotarians led its members and leadership alike to discover Rotary's true mission in humanitarian service. Article based in part on discovery of unpublished correspondence, minutes, and other documents in the historical archives of Rotary International, including in off-site storage.
2010. "Designing Against Disease: Engineers and Enteric Fever," The Bent 101 (1): 13-18, Winter. Although not specifically mentioning the 1913 flood, this research and article was triggered by the need to understand the frightened concern and actions taken to prevent typhoid fever after the flood contaminated supplies with human waste from overturned outhouses. It also describes the Albany water treatment plant that was flooded in 1913 by the record rise of the Hudson River.
2009. "Swept Away: The Great 1913 Flood," Timeline (Ohio Historical Society) 26 (1): 38-54, January-March. This comprehensive article, 17 magazine pages long, recounts the devastation of the 1913 flood around the entire state of Ohio as well as the role of John H. Patterson in Dayton, and includes archival photographs of the ruination in a dozen Ohio cities. [Editors: contact me for a copy.]
2008. The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Arcadia Publishing), 128 pages. Some 200 images (courtesy of the Dayton Metro Library, the National Cash Register Archive at Dayton History, and the Miami Conservancy District) document high water, rescue, devastation, relief, resolve, recovery, and renewal during and after the 1913 flood in Dayton alone. Along the way, it corrects some long-perpetuated errors in the meteorology of the storm system, and culminates with the story of the innovative engineering of the Miami Conservancy District that has protected Dayton (and southwest Ohio) ever since. [Editors: contact me if you wish to see excerpts.]
2007. "Natural Disaster," Ohio magazine 30 (3): 54-57, June. A short popular account of the 1913 flood and devastation in Dayton and around the rest of Ohio, including the leadership of John H. Patterson.
2006. "Forgotten Waters: Indiana's Great Easter Flood of 1913," Traces (Indiana Historical Society) 18 (2): 4-15, Spring. This long article (12 magazine pages) documents in text and photographs the fact that the 1913 flood was not only Ohio's worst natural disaster, but also Indiana's. [Permission to make PDF available courtesy Traces of the Indiana Historical Society.]
2004. "Taking Engineering by Storm," The Bent 95 (1): 15-22, Winter. Recounts the 1913 flood in Dayton and southwest Ohio, detailing Arthur Morgan's flood control innovations in the Miami Valley Conservancy District - including dry dams and the hydraulic jump, plus innovations in managing large-scale, complex engineering projects - management techniques later adapted for the Tennessee Valley Authority and even NASA's Apollo missions to moon.
Draft footnoted research papers of work in progress presented at historical conferences:
(Text and slides of some of the papers below also may be accessed from the menu at upper left of this page.)
2009. "The Great Easter 1913 'Midwest' Flood in New York State." Conference on New York State History, State University of New York, Plattsburgh, New York, June. Paper presents original research about effects of the 1913 flood across New York State, including record flooding of the Hudson River that knocked out the Albany water treatment plant, and the subsequent movement to regulate flood heights of the Hudson. Includes one graph.
2007. “The Devastating Nebraska–Iowa–Kansas–Missouri Tornadoes of Easter 1913,” Missouri Valley History Conference, Omaha, Nebraska, March. Paper presents original research and analysis documenting that there were more tornadoes over a wider area in the Easter 1913 supercell outbreak than is generally recognized, and that their paths of destruction were longer. Slides, which include new maps, appear here.
2006. “Recovering From the Great Easter Flood of 1913,” at a special conference called "After Katrina," Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, June. Talk, not written out in a detailed draft, compared different Federal and local responses in 1913 vs. 2005; the principal difference was that in 1913 individuals were encouraged to return as soon as possible to clean and rebuild.
2006. “The Great Easter Flood of 1913: The United States’ Forgotten Most Widespread Natural Disaster,” special featured speaker, Missouri Valley History Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, February. General introduction because the disaster was news to many of the historians, including the conference organizer, who asked if I would turn my paper from a regular talk into an evening presentation. Talk was not written out in a detailed draft; much of the paper's information appears as background in the other papers and articles.
Keynote guest lectures (or other guest appearance) during the 1913 flood centennial (links go to a relevant page of each organization's website):
2013. Guest speaker, "The Great Easter 1913 Tornadoes and Flood: How Rotary Discovered its Humanitarian Mission," Lakewood-Rocky River Sunrise Rotary Club, Don Umerley Civic Center, 21016 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, OH, April 24.
2013. Guest with Sarah Jamison (hydrologist, National Weather Center, Cleveland) on 1-hour call-in show devoted to "The Flood of 1913" on "The Sound of Ideas" (WCPN 89.3 FM radio; televised WVIZ Channel 25 Ohio channel), March 27. Audio podcast and televised studio appearance available.
2013. Lyceum Lecturer at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Happy Days Lodge, Peninsula, OH), speaking to sell-out crowd of 280 on "The Great Easter 1913 Flood: Ohio's Worst Natural Disaster--and Cleveland as First Responder," March 22.
2013. One of three featured guests (the other two were Eloise Batic and Angele Giacomelli of the Indiana Historical Society) discussing "Flood of 1913, Worst in State History," on the one-hour radio show "Hoosier History Live!" hosted by Nelson Price, WICR 88.7 FM, Indianapolis, IN, March 9.
2013. "Ohio's Greatest Disaster: The 1913 Flood in Hamilton and Beyond," sponsored by the Michael J. Colligan History Project, Parrish Auditorium, Harry T. Wilks Conference Center, Miami University Hamilton, Hamilton, OH, March 5.
"The Great Easter 1913 Flood: Ohio's Worst Natural Disaster--And its Legacies," 70th Annual Meeting of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (OFSWCD); (theme: "70 Years of Conservation: Events That Shaped Our Future"), Columbus Renaissance Hotel, Columbus, OH, February 25.
2012. "Remembering and Forgetting 'Our National Calamity': Legacy from the Great Easter 1913 Flood," at the fall conference of the Water Management Association of Ohio (theme: "100 Years of Watershed Events"), Quest Conference Center, Columbus, OH, November 14.
2012. "Ohio's Greatest Disaster: The 1913 Flood in Warren County and Beyond," at the Franklin Area Historical Society symposium "Preserving the Memories of the 1913 Flood," Franklin Public Library, Franklin, OH, March 30. Events in 2013 are listed on the FAHS website.
Page created May 12, 2011.