Great Dayton Flood: fire followed waters ‘second only to Noah’s’

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 @ 5:38 PM
Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 @ 5:38 PM

To learn more about the flood:


Watch WHIO-TV chief meteorologist Jamie Simpson and reporter Jim Otte’s special report on the Great Dayton Flood of 1913 at

Watch hour-long 2005 Think TV documentary, Goodbye, the Levee has broken, at


“A Flood of Memories,” published by The Miami Conservancy District, with modern photography by Andy Snow, 2013

“Washed away:How the Great Flood of 1913, America’s Most Widespread Natural disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed it Forever,” by Geoffrey Williams, Pegasus Books, 2013

“The Great Dayton Flood of 1913,” by Trudy Bell, 2008, published as part of the Images of America Series

“Through Flood, Through Fire: Personal Stories From Survivors of the Dayton Flood of 1913,” by Curt Dalton, 2001

“A Time of Terror,” by Allan Eckert, 1965, Little Brown. A non-fiction retelling of the flood that is written like a novel.

“Promises in the Attic,” by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood, 1960, a young adult novel about Ginger O’Neal and her family, who are stranded in the attic during the 1913.

Follow the series: 100 years after the Great Dayton Flood

Sunday: An overview of the causes and events surrounding the historic flood.

Monday: The Dayton Daily News follows the events of March 25 through the written accounts of survivors, including the story of 104-year-old Margaret Kender, now living in Florida.

Today: Flood survivors face new dangers as gas explosions rock the city.

Wednesday: Survivors remain stranded in their attics and on their rooftops, not knowing when rescue might come. Snowfall is a blessing because it extinguishes fires throughout the city.

Thursday: The water starts to recede and some victims are able to leave their homes and begin the massive task of rebuilding.

Timeline for the Great Dayton Flood

March 26, 1913:

2 a.m.: the Great Miami River crested at 29 feet.

9 a.m.: The Steele High School Tower at Monument and Main collapses into the water.

10:20 a.m.: The first telegraph lines open at NCR. The first telegram is sent to Gov. James M. Cox from his secretary, George Burba: “Situation in Dayton very bad.”

Noon: Ruptured gas lines spark fires across the city.

Midday: The river begins to drop slowly from its 29-foot crest.

6:55 p.m.: Col. Charles Zimmerman arrives at NCR with 100 National Guardsmen, the first of the 1,000 who will see duty under martial law.

In her own words

Dayton librarian Minnie Althoff described a sleepless first night in the library, plagued by “the intense cold, the boom and roar of the water, greater than Niagara it seemed.” Even less conducive to a good night’s sleep was the constant fear of fire, especially after the building was nearly struck by an immense oil tank Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, Althoff wrote, “another terrific report shook our building, until it seemed every window must be broken. Another corner had collapsed, the drug store, and a tiny flame not larger than a candle light was noticed. Immediately we saw men rush to the edge of the adjoining tall building with ropes, which they threw over. Seven people scrambled from the fallen building, deftly caught the ropes and were hauled to the roof. The fire spread and waged wildly, burning its way for two blocks to the water’s edge. The contents of the wholesale liquor stores, paint stores and drug stores exploded, burned and sent the flames higher. Our second night was light as day.”

Daytonians spent a fearful first night after the flood only to face, the day after, a terrible new menace: fire.

On Wednesday, March 26, gas main leaks sparked fires all over the city, forcing hundreds of survivors to flee across rooftops.

“The flood was second only to Noah’s,” lamented Bishop Milton Wright, father of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville.

At 2 a.m., the Great Miami River crested at 29 feet. But the worst was far from over.

The gnawing hunger wasn’t the worst of it. The relentless cold and damp weren’t the worst of it. For survivors, the worst part was the waiting — not knowing when or if they would be rescued, or if a rescue attempt itself would prove fatal.

That was the tragic fate of 4-year-old Mary Bova, who lived with her parents at 626 East First Street, near Requarth Lumber. Just as her father, August Bova, attempted to place her in a rescue boat from the second-story window, a large piece of lumber floated by and knocked the child out of the boat. “She was dumped in the water, and they never saw her after that,” said Ray Brun of Kettering, who married little Mary’s younger sister, born 10 years after the flood. The heartbroken parents named their second daughter Mary in honor of her lost sister.

Again and again, the people of Dayton were traumatized by the sight of their fellow citizens struggling to reach safety, often only to disappear from sight. A family of six was wiped out when they left the rural lowlands seeking safety in Dayton. Jim and Ida Porter rode their wagon into Old North Dayton on Troy Street at the exact wrong moment on March 25, when the Steele dam broke, sending a huge foaming wave down Troy Street. The couple perished along with their children: Flossie, 17, Goldie, 12, Harold, 12, and Shirley, 8.

Irvin Bieser and his brother, Carl, sneaked away — against their parents’ strong admonitions — to watch the rising flood waters from the Monument Avenue bridge. “At one point, they saw two people clinging to what appeared to be a broken roof and saw them disappear under the bridge, never to be seen again,” said Irvin Bieser Jr., a Dayton attorney. “It was a horrible memory which remained with my father his entire life.”

Raising water and fears

In her detailed, daily journals, Sister Helen Foran wrote of another horrific scene: “A boat containing five persons was seen to capsize near the Emmanuel School. The chaplain gave them conditional absolution.”

Sister Helen, who was stranded at Notre Dame Academy at Franklin and Ludlow streets, had witnessed a litany of horrors: a gas explosion on Washington Street and the collapse of the 12-foot convent wall. “Water rose steadily until one o’clock but, contrary to expectation, when it stopped rising it did not begin to go down. Oh, the length of that awful night, all over the city intense darkness, with here and there the gleam of only a candle. Away over the hill the electric lights from St. Mary College and from the National Cash Register only made the darkness over the stricken city darker still. The rain poured, the wind blew, the cold intensified, and the weary hours wore away.”

Yet she also tells of spirituality rising above concerns of basic survival. Moving the Blessed Sacrament to safety seemed paramount, perhaps even more so than preserving the lives of the sisters. “Father Kassmann brought our dearest Lord to the senior classroom, and placed it into the little Tabernacle,” she wrote. “Father Kassmann advised the sisters to make an act of perfect resignation, as resignation to God’s will is the most perfect form of prayer. All the sisters made an oblation of their lives into the hands of God.”

Mary Louise Breen, 10, and her brother Eddie heard an elderly man on a nearby rooftop playing “Nearer My God to Thee” on his trumpet. Their father, John Breen, managed the Phillips House Hotel, which had been relatively empty because of the Easter holiday, but was soon packed by flood refugees. Mary Louise later wrote that her father hardly slept during the week of the flood. Fire was his greatest fear, and she never saw him angrier than when he found four men trying to heat water over some candles so they could boil eggs.

Fire was the greatest danger on this second day of the flood as gas lines ruptured over the city. Historical accounts differ about the reason that Dayton Power & Light left the gas on during the flood. It was widely reported that DP&L President Edward Hanley decided to leave on the gas so that Daytonians could have food and warmth. But local historian Leon Bey said it may not have been a decision at all. The flood waters may simply have risen too rapidly for anyone to turn off the gas.

Whatever the reason, the gas remained on, and gas main leaks fueled fires that destroyed whole city blocks. The two-block area between Jefferson and St. Clair streets and between Fourth and Second streets was hard hit, and was later designated by the National Register of Historic Places as the Fire Blocks Historic District. A spectacular explosion left the Lowe Paint Company ruin on the southeast corner of East Third and Jefferson streets.

There was a reason for John Breen’s vigilance, in other words, which only intensified when a guest raced toward him shouting, “The Beckel House is on fire!”

The children watched the blazing hotel at Third and Jefferson streets, only a couple of blocks away, as Breen stationed bell boys, armed with long poles, at every window to push flaming logs from the Beckel House away from his hotel.

NCR had already started to deliver food baskets to those stranded in their homes. A basket of sandwiches was given to Martin Kelly’s grandmother, Ida Louise Kelly, who was so grateful she preserved pieces of bread crusts as mementos. “They kept it in Thanksgiving for the first food they received,” said Kelly, who still lives in the same house on South Main Street built by his great-grandparents in 1876. When Kelly stripped the wallpaper in the parlor recently, he found that it still bears the black water mark from the flood.

Kelly’s father, Louis, and his siblings were ordered to stay in bed, but they jumped out of bed and rushed to the windows as soon as the adults left the room.

After the flood, his grandmother found a baby in the gutter across the street. “She never wanted to talk about the flood,” Kelly recalled. “If you asked her about it, she would get a solemn look on her face and just say, ‘That was a terrible time.’”

Burglary suspect caught, arrested in Greene County

Published: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 12:12 PM

Deputies in Greene County tracked down a burglary suspect this morning in the 1400 block of U.S. 68 North.

A homeowner called to report a burglary and responding deputies were able to make an arrest, according to Sgt. Sean Magoteaux.

There was a short pursuit through the woods and a creek, but deputies caught up to and arrested the suspect, Magoteaux said.

No one was hurt in the incident.

The suspect’s identity has not been released. The incident remains under investigation and further details are not being released at this time.

Police: 'Movie money' being used to defraud Florida retailers

Published: Saturday, May 27, 2017 @ 1:16 PM

The “money” looks real and feels real, but to the right of Benjamin Franklin’s head, the $100 bill reads, “For motion picture use only.”

Despite the warning, a manager at Forever 21 at the Treasure Coast Square in Jensen Beach was fooled Wednesday by the $100 bill someone used to pay for $93.81 worth of women’s clothing and accessories, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said. It was the fifth recent case of the “movie money” being used at county retailers.

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See who’s been booked into the Palm Beach County Jail

Deputies arrested the teenager suspected in the Forever 21 fraud case when managers at another chain store contacted authorities and said he tried to purchase $400 worth of merchandise with the fake bills.

A manager at the Forever 21 store told the Post on Friday that another manager took the counterfeit money. She said the scammers, a young male and  young female who looked to be about 16 or 17 years old, were purchasing items such as a bodysuit, fake eyelashes and an eyelash curler.

She said the bill appeared to be real, aside from the label saying it was for movies only, and she hadn’t seen the “movie money” used previously in the store.

The store has a machine to check for counterfeit money, but it wasn’t working at the time of that purchase, the manager said.

Deputies withheld the name of the teen apprehended in the fraud cases at the mall.

Other cases include using fake $20 bills as well as well as $100s. 

The Sheriff’s Office encouraged retailers in the area to make their employees aware of the fake bills being circulated.

Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart shows off new baby

Published: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 11:46 AM

Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart is pictured here in an appearance on the ‘Today’ show in 2013. Smart and her husband, Matthew Gilmour, have welcomed a new baby boy to their family.
NBC NewsWire/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart has posted photos of her new baby boy on Instragram.

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The photos feature her husband Matthew Gilmour, daughter Chloe, 2, and newborn son James.

“These people are my whole world,” Smart wrote in a caption of a family portrait. “Whenever I look at them I realize how fortunate I am. I hope I never forget what a blessing a safe, healthy, happy family is.”

Earlier this month, the proud parents took baby James to get a “special blessing.”

“The sunshine made today the perfect day for an adventure with great Granny and Grandpa, and great uncle Neville!” she wrote in a photo caption of the family visiting with Gilmour’s parents in Scotland, where he’s from.

Another photo shows Chloe and James snuggling.

“Nothing better then seeing my two babies love on each other!” Smart wrote.

Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in her home in Salt Lake City in 2002 when she was 14 by a homeless man, who her father had employed as a handy man, and his wife. She was rescued nine months later by police just 18 miles from the family home. 

Suspect, Brian David Mitchell, and his wife, Wanda Ileen Barzee, were eventually convicted in the Smart kidnapping and assault case. 



Fire ravages historic building near bike trail in downtown Loveland

Published: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 11:23 AM

A massive fire overnight damaged a historic building in Loveland in a popular part of the city for shopping and outdoor activities.

West Loveland Avenue near the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail is closed to pedestrians and motorists as Loveland-Symmes firefighters continue working after responding to the fire call around 1:30 a.m., according to our news partner in Cincinnati, WCPO-Ch. 9.

Flames spread from one end to the other of a mixed retail and residential building that has been renovated several times, according to WCPO’s report.

Everyone escaped the building and there were no reports of injuries, although a firefighter was overcome with exhaustion while fighting the flames, according to WCPO’s report.

Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder told the media outlet the part of the building that sustained the most fire damage did not have a sprinkler system, and the side that did have sprinklers sustained water damage.

The cause is under investigation and the city engineer’s office has been called to determine whether the building is structurally sound.