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A People of Heroic Resolve
The danger notwithstanding, stories of people being rescued sprung up everywhere throughout the Miami Valley. One related the experience of a pregnant woman in the throes of delivering an infant son. Because of the flood, she had not only been unable to go to the hospital, but had also been forced into the attic to escape the rising water. A boat with two men aboard managed to find them and take the mother, her husband, a nurse, the infant’s grandmother and the baby out.
Not all houses had attic trap doors, forcing many to chop holes into their attic, a neither simple – nor easy – feat. Those houses were built to last. If you were able to break through the ceiling tile or the one‑inch wood lath and plaster, you were then doubtless confronted with the arduous task of chopping through an attic floor and even, perhaps, through wooden struts and cross‑braces. And, you wouldn’t have the luxury of time. Remember, the flood water would have been in the house, above the second level … and rising!
An elderly woman recounted the exploits of a neighbor, who lived across the street from her in a three-story house. Along with other men, he carried the woman and several children across on planks to his home’s third floor where they all were forced to drink rainwater until the Red Cross eventually arrived.
Collier’s Magazine reported this eyewitness account: ” … a railroad agent … tells of seeing two men, a woman and a little girl huddling for many hours in a tree, their garments wet and clinging, while cold rain and snow were piercing them to the marrow. A house floated down against their perch, and they climbed upon it. The men were seen to pound a hole in the roof and admit the woman and child to the attic, after which the men stripped off their clothing and passed it down to them. Next day, a rescue party in a boat took off the woman and child alive, but left two stark bodies of men naked and frozen.”
From the Dayton Journal of April seventh: “W.G. Sloan, a well‑known colored ballplayer, was in the rescue work continuously from Tuesday morning until Friday in the West Side. With Frank Thoro and George Crandall helping Sloan saved 317 people during the 68 hours of continuous work. He carried five cans of fresh water. Most of their rescue work was done with a steel‑bottomed boat, which they commandeered at the point of a revolver from a selfish owner at a handle factory, who was not using it himself and refused to allow it to be used by the rescuers.”
From the Dayton Daily News of April 12: “By making a bridge out of himself, Joseph Dowling, Superintendent of Memorial Hall, was able to save the lives of two elderly women who lived in the house next to him on Norwood Avenue … Their house is low, and the waters came dangerously over the second story. Mister Dowling secured a board from the wreckage and tried to place it across to the sill of the window of their home. It was not large enough. He then leaned out and placed himself face‑downward, with the board upon his neck. This made a bridge for the women, and they crossed over to his home after some little difficulty.”
An excerpt from the Evening Sentinel of Ansonia, Connecticut dated April 17, 1913 said: “The following letter received from A.H. Carley, formerly of this place but now living in Dayton, Ohio, explains itself: “Another case was where we saw coming down the stream at a rapid pace a bobbing barrel, to which clung the form of a woman. We managed to halt this and got the woman ashore, and a remarkably fine appearing young woman she was – one high in society, and a great worker in the church, and a strong temperance worker. The barrel that saved her was an empty whiskey barrel, which caused her to say that – in this case, at least – she obeyed the scriptural injunction to love your enemies.”
At Hamilton within two hours the flood had swept away three of the four bridges there, claiming the fourth several hours later.
In Piqua the flood was in full force by Monday evening, March 24. Two hours later in the western part of Troy, the water was 10 feet deep. Two suburbs of Piqua, Shawnee and Rossville, were for the most part populated by small dwellings, many of which had already flooded to the eaves. Off their foundations, some houses drifted downstream with the occupants still inside, struck a bridge and were smashed to pieces.
In Piqua Clarence White rescued people from trees and roofs. One, an old man in Rossville, had been in a tree for 60 hours, singing hymns to keep his spirits up. For 30 miles through driftwood, roofs and parts of bridges 57-year‑old Richard Batemen rescued 100 people with his rowboat, receiving a Carnegie Medal of Honor for his courage.
Walter A. Rentschler, a young boy in Hamilton at the time recalled the excitement of being sent home from school at noon and at six o’clock seeing eight feet of water in the street in front of his house. The water came up through the registers in the floor. At midnight, the water was almost four feet deep in his house and almost 12 feet deep in the streets in front. The downtown was completely flooded with four feet of water at Second and High Streets, the highest spot. Bridges were down along the river, which was estimated to have been 65 feet in depth at its peak.
Water wasn’t the only element threatening human lives. There were also many fires, the largest of which in Dayton started at the northwest corner of Third and Saint Clair Streets, jumped to the south side of Third Street, burned its way to the southeast corner of Third and Jefferson Streets, jumped across Third once more to the northeast corner and burned into Jefferson Street before being brought under control
131 women employees at the Ball Candy Company on Third Street formed a bucket brigade using buckets made from candy pails to fight the fire. 12 female residents of a tenement house tried to escape the fire through windows on the top story, grabbed onto a live high‑tension wire and dropped into the water, one after another, burning to death.