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.’”

SpaceX launches rocket from historic NASA pad

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2017 @ 11:26 AM
Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2017 @ 7:35 AM

A SpaceX rocket soared from NASA's long-idled moonshot pad Sunday, sending up space station supplies from the exact spot where astronauts embarked on the lunar landings nearly a half-century ago.

It was the first flight from NASA's legendary Launch Complex 39A since the shuttle program ended almost six years ago, and SpaceX's first liftoff from Florida since a rocket explosion last summer.

The crowds at Kennedy Space Center watched eagerly as the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket took flight with a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. They got barely 10 seconds of viewing before clouds swallowed up the Falcon as it thundered skyward.

As an extra special treat, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral several minutes after liftoff, a feat accomplished only twice before. Most of the company's booster landings — rocket recycling at its finest — have used ocean platforms. As they did during the shuttle era, sonic booms heralded the booster's return.

Flight controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Southern California cheered as the 15-story booster landed upright at its designated parking spot at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk celebrated the successful touchdown via Twitter.

"Baby came back," he tweeted.

The celebratory roar grew when the Dragon cargo ship successfully reached orbit a few minutes later. It will reach the space station Wednesday, delivering 5,500 pounds of food, clothes and experiments.

It was SpaceX's second launch attempt in a row. Saturday's effort was foiled by last-minute rocket concerns. The repairs paid off, and even the clouds parted enough to ensure a safe flight.

Musk said he's honored to use Launch Complex 39A. The company hopes to launch astronauts from this very spot next year, bringing U.S. crew launches back to home soil after a longer-than-intended hiatus. SpaceX Mars missions, first robots then people, could follow from here.

Kennedy Space Center's director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander who flew four times from 39A, is thrilled to see the pad used for commercial flights like this "instead of just sitting out there and rusting away." It's a stark contrast, he noted, to the depression that followed the final shuttle mission in 2011.

"It's just really an exciting time," Cabana said minutes before liftoff.

It was a momentous comeback for SpaceX. The last time SpaceX had a rocket ready to fly from Florida, it blew up on a neighboring Cape Canaveral pad during prelaunch testing on Sept. 1. Although the company successfully returned to flight last month from California, the focus was on getting leased Launch Complex 39A ready for action given that the pad with the accident was left unusable.

Built in the mid-1960s for the massive Saturn V moon rockets, Launch Complex 39A has now seen 95 launches. Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins left Earth from here on July 16, 1969, on the first moon-landing mission. The very first space shuttle pilots, John Young and Robert Crippen, soared from here on April 12, 1981. And in a grand shuttle finale, Atlantis took off from here on July 8, 2011.

NASA signed over 39A to SpaceX in 2014 under a 20-year lease.

Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned the commercial crew launches by SpaceX and Boeing are at risk of slipping into 2019. "The hell we won't fly before 2019," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters in response.

In a tweet Saturday, Musk said the company has already "retired" so much research and development risk on the crew Dragon capsule "that I feel very confident of 2018."

As for the second-stage steering issue that cropped up Saturday, SpaceX hustled to replace an engine part before Sunday morning's try. Musk said he personally called Saturday's launch off, saying he was unwilling to risk something going wrong.

SpaceX has spent tens of millions of dollars to make 39A Falcon-ready. By the time astronauts climb into a Dragon capsule for liftoff, Shotwell said, pad renovations will exceed $100 million.





Successful liftoff for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket heading for ISS

Published: Thursday, May 26, 2016 @ 9:36 PM
Updated: Thursday, May 26, 2016 @ 9:38 PM

            Successful liftoff for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket heading for ISS

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday morning after it abruptly scrubbed the planned launch on Saturday.

The rocket lifted off at 9:39 a.m. in the first launch from NASA's historic moonshot pad launch since 2011

>> Read more trending news  

This is SpaceX’s tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The private space flight company is owned by billionaire investor Elon Musk who tweeted out that the dragon spacecraft is due to dock with ISS on Wednesday. 

Sunday’s launch marks the first successful lift off for Space X following two separate disasters. An explosion on the launch pad last fall destroyed a rocket and another attempt in June of 2015 ended badly when the rocket exploded shortly after takeoff.

Spring-like temps, rain returns this week

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2017 @ 7:26 AM


  • Mostly sunny skies return
  • Warmer than normal well into next week
  • Chance for rain Tuesday and Thursday


Today: Another mild start to the day with temperatures hovering in the middle 40s. A light breeze at times early, as morning clouds break for more sunshine again this afternoon. Highs will climb into the low 60s. Temperatures today will fall short of the record high of 70 degrees set in 1939, but still well above our seasonal average of 39 degrees.

Tonight: Mainly clear tonight with lows around 40 degrees.

Monday: A very pleasant start to the week with mostly sunny skies. A cool start for the kids at the bus stop in the 40s, but quickly warming after sunrise with highs expected in the middle 60s for the afternoon. The record high for the day was set just last year in 2016 at 69 degrees.

Tuesday: Clouds increase quickly on Tuesday as a cold front approaches. Scattered showers to push through the area during the afternoon and evening. A bit breezy at times though still mild with highs in the lower to middle 60s.

Wednesday: Morning clouds will give way to afternoon sunshine on Wednesday. Highs for the day in the middle 60s.

Thursday: Mostly cloudy with the chance for showers Thursday. Highs in the middle 60s. 

UD police to crack down on underage drinking this weekend

Published: Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 1:36 PM

The University of Dayton on Friday sent an email to students warning them there will be an “increased staff and police presence” in student neighborhoods on Saturday to better ensure safety.

The heightened police presence is in response to recently increased instances of “high-risk drinking, lack of civility with university staff, police officers and each other, damage to property, disorderly conduct and personal injury,” according to the email obtained by this news organization.

RELATED: Naked intruder incident is 2nd in 5 months at UD

Police will be dispersing large crowds, citing underage drinking and enforcing occupancy limits, according to the email, which was signed by vice president for student development William Fischer and UD police chief Rodney Chatman.

“We ask for your cooperation as we work to provide a safe environment for all community members,” officials said in the email.

TWEET: Follow reporter Max Filby on Twitter for more higher ed news

The email also asked concerned students to contact the department of public safety at 937-229-2121.

The email to students comes just two weeks after 23 UD students were arrested for underage drinking in a sting by the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.


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