Friday, January 28, 2011

The Flood of 1937

Patricia Sides, the Archivist/Historian at Willard Library here in Evansville gave a presentation Thursday (January  27) on Evansville during the 1937 Flood titled "Water, Water, Everywhere" before approximately 40 guests as well as library staff during the lunch hour.

Pat did a very good job with the presentation, combining photographs from the ever growing collection that Willard has (many which are available for view online) with newspaper, oral, and other written accounts about the flood and the effects this devastation had on our city and so many others that were based on the Ohio River from Pennsylvania and other points east down the river to the Mississippi.

My parents were children at the time of the flood and I had the opportunity to ask my mother her recollections this week, not sure what she remembered. My mother told me that the house that she grew up in was not one of those flooded, so instead her father brought home a co-worker's family with two small boys who were not as fortunate. My grandmother was a hard worker and a spiritual woman, but I can only imagine how different that house must have been with three energetic children who my mother said would run around the circular layout of the main floor repeatedly. Mom also said that they kept their bathtub full of water everyday, which she didn't understand, and that men would come everyday and open the covers over the sewers to check the water level because they were blowing all over the city. (I learned today that because the water plant was well under water clean water was brought in for consumption, thus the full bathtub. The American Red Cross was very fearful at the time that there would be an epidemic of typhoid and/or scarlet fever, so precautions were taken very seriously),

Aerial View of Evansville (Knecht 2108) Courtesy of Willard Library

Listening to Patricia Sides in the presentation and in watching the photos, I gained a larger perspective for all that occurred here.

I didn't know that at one point the National Guard was brought in and martial law was enacted in order to protect property and people. Many people had evacuated. (Tonight my mother told me of a friend of hers that was on the last railroad train leaving the city and that water was actually lapping the wheels as they were moving down the track). I know of a family closer to Cincinnati  in which part of the family went to Indianapolis and the family never was able to reunite.

Patricia reminded us that this flooding came on the heels of a year of serious heat, a time of depression, and that the flooding was coupled with ice storms, snow, and other weather events. So much went on in this city during that time, and those of you that lived in adjoining areas know the story well. Because of the popularity of the session, Willard Library will repeat the presentation in the evening in April for those who could not attend today. I think I am going to attend again. As we all know, the more knowledge we have about the daily lives our families lived, the better.


Greg Hager said...

Dear Kim,

A very well written article! Thank you for attending yesterday. I am not originally from Evansville, but another Ohio River town (Gallipolis, OH), but I, too grew-up hearing about this flood. It was definitely the "Katrina" of it's day! I think the photos that Willard has are some of the most stunning and compelling pre-WWII photojournalism available.

Again, thank you for attending. Pat Sides has done a great job in putting together this and other photographic accounts of our history. Hope to see you at future events!


Greg Hager
Willard Library

Kim said...

Thank you! I am continually impressed by the presentations by Willard staff, and the photograph collection is fantastic! I was thrilled to find a high school portrait of my grandmother among the collection, and there are many others I would like to search to pull into family stories.