Journal-News, Wednesday, April 2, 2003
Courthouse assumed macabre mood during flood
By Jim Blount
The Butler County Courthouse -- often the scene of community celebrations in addition to serving as the area's legal center -- assumed a macabre role during the flood that devastated Hamilton in March 1913. At first, its elevated grounds and the sturdy structure were a refuse for people, animals and vehicles as the Great Miami River rose to a record height Tuesday and Wednesday, March 25-26, 1913. Then it became a morgue.
"The appearance of a hearse at the courthouse with a recovered body has become a sight as usual as the continuous throng crowding the morgue to identity the corpse," a reporter noted more than a week after the river had left its usual course.
Finding and identifying bodies was a complicated task. More than 200 people died in Hamilton in the first two days. No one knows exactly how many people died in the entire county. Unidentified bodies recovered here may have been carried from counties to the north. Many local people were reported missing and never found.
Two bankers directed the gruesome job of collecting bodies and managing the temporary morgue at the courthouse. They were Ernst G. Ruder, cashier, and John M. Beeler, assistant cashier, of the First National Bank Their volunteer assistants, who also provided their own equipment, included several Cincinnati undertakers and students from the University of Cincinnati.
Bodies, many of them without identification, were hauled to the courthouse lawn. Most of the mortuary work was done in the courthouse assembly room, where commissioners normally met. "The sight was a most appalling one," said a Journal reporter. "Scores of dead bodies lay about the room on temporary slabs, awaiting the attention of the embalmers, while as soon as this was done, they were placed in plain caskets."
Hundreds of people were attracted to the morgue during the 10 days it operated. Some visitors were curious; most were lifting the white sheets or opening the caskets, hoping not to find the lifeless form of a missing loved one, friend or neighbor.
Bodies were numbered and descriptions published in newspapers, including sex, race, approximate age, height and weight, color of eyes and hair, condition of teeth and other body marks that could aid identification.
Outside the courthouse, "piled high, were a hundred or more caskets shipped to Hamilton immediately after the flood from Cincinnati," a reporter noted. "Never will the sight that the caskets presented pass from the mind of one who actually viewed the spectacle," he said.
The courthouse was the scene of another grim experience Sunday afternoon, March 30, when a public funeral was held for 49 victims who had been identified by that date. March 30 was as soon as bodies could be buried. Until then, Greenwood Cemetery was under water.
"The solemn silence with which residents of Hamilton listened to the sermon at the funeral . . . was turned into awe that bordered on panic when the service was interrupted by the arrival of an auto bringing the body of another victim," the Journal said, "just as Rev. Sheridan Bell of the Methodist Church had finished saying: ‘The Grim Reaper has come to our midst.’ "
The newspaper said "the service was fraught with heart-rending incidents" as hundreds gathered on the courthouse lawn. "While the mourners bowed their heads in prayer, there came from the other side of the courthouse, facing Second Street, the monotonous rolling of the wheels of hearses which conveyed the bodies from the courthouse to Greenwood Cemetery."
"Mingled with this," the reporter explained, "were the moans of women and children viewing the bodies of two unidentified women and a four-month-old baby lying in an open basket on the courthouse lawn."
A week later, Sunday, April 6, a more uplifting event was held outside the courthouse. Religious denominations from throughout the recovering community combined for a hope service attended by about 3,000.
"People who are harboring flood refugees are requested to report their names at once," officials declared in mid April, three weeks after the flood. "This is necessary," the appeal said, "to get an accurate survey of the conditions of all flood sufferers and to find out those in distress and in need of assistance, either temporary or permanent." It was an attempt to locate people whose residences had been destroyed or severely damaged -- if they had died or were living with family or friends in another neighborhood or out of town.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 9, 2003
Fire department crippled by sudden 1913 flood
By Jim Blount
Hamilton firefighters were among the thousands displaced by the unexpected flood March 25, 1913. "During the high water, the men did great rescue work and were highly complimented for their efficient services," a newspaper reported. But firemen were helpless in combating fires in inundated neighborhoods. Protecting equipment and horses became a prime concern as high water forced evacuation of five firehouses that frightening Tuesday 90 years ago.
In 1913, the fire department was in the early stage of a major transition -- replacing horse-drawn vehicles with motorized trucks. The change, which had started in 1911, wasn’t completed until 1918.
The department also lacked the equipment to respond to a flood of the magnitude that struck the city in 1913. Before that year, the river had flooded lowlands a few times, but there had never been anything close to the 1913 disaster.
Nearly one out of three residents were homeless by the end of the day as water covered 75 percent of the city. Thousands of structures were destroyed or uninhabitable. About 300 buildings were destroyed by the rushing water and another 2,000 structures had to razed later because of extensive damage. Property damage in Hamilton exceeded $10 million in 1913 values -- or about $167 million in recent dollars.
In a three-day period, between nine and 11 inches of rain drenched the region. Within 48 hours, the Great Miami River in Hamilton rose from 4.8 feet to an all-time high of 34.6 feet. The full force of the flood hit late Tuesday morning. The river continued its climb until early Wednesday.
Two major fires hit the city overnight March 25-26. The Champion paper mill on North B Street burned to the water level and flames consumed the Martin Lingler coal yard and buildings at the northeast corner of South Fourth Street and Maple Avenue. High water limited efforts to douse both fires. By that time several Hamilton firehouses were under water and men and equipment had been relocated to higher ground.
Firemen of Company One, the only West Side unit, left their station on the west side of B Street between Main Street and Ross Avenue Tuesday afternoon and eventually settled on the George Barkman property at 216 Ross Avenue for a few days.
Company Two, located on the west side of South Third Street between Ludlow and Sycamore, moved most of its equipment and horses to the yard of the Butler County Courthouse.
Company Three left its quarters on the west side of North Third Street, near Dayton Street, at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, shifting to several locations on High Street before seeking shelter in the Hotel Howald at 140 High Street, opposite the courthouse. The horses were stabled in the hotel barroom until Wednesday afternoon when men, horses and equipment joined the Twos at the courthouse.
The North Third Street firehouse was heavily damaged, causing Company Three to operate from private stables in the neighborhood after the flood.
Water reached the firehouse on East Avenue between Walnut and Chestnut streets at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, forcing Company Four to flee to the safe quarters of Company Seven at the northeast corner of Shuler and Bender avenues in relatively dry East Hamilton.
The men of Company Five "were the heroes of the flood," declared the Journal. Their firehouse on North Ninth Street, between Greenwood Avenue and Heaton Street, was in a neighborhood hit hard by the earliest surge of water.
"While the waters were playing havoc," the newspaper said, "the boys of the Fives drove all over . . . in the raging waters, rescuing people and sending them to the infirmary hill" above present Garfield Jr. High School. "After the rescue work was over at 8 o’clock Tuesday night, the boys drove to the fairgrounds where they placed the horses and equipment in the stables and slept in the treasurer’s office."
Only the stations of the Sevens in East Hamilton and Company Six at the southwest corner of Laurel and Benninghofen avenues in Lindenwald escaped the flood.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Food shortages filled by neighbors after 1913 flood
By Jim Blount
After the initial shock and escape from the angry water, survivors of the March 25, 1913, flood faced hunger. Household food supplies had been contaminated or swept away. Most stores and restaurants had suffered the same fate. Fortunately, neighboring communities responded immediately while Hamilton leaders organized a program to distribute the food.
Charles E. Mason, cashier of the Miami Valley National Bank, was appointed chairman of the food committee. Nearly a third of its residents homeless and thousands displaced in the worst flood to ever hit the city.
Because the city was split by the flood, his initial efforts were directing the program east of the river. A separate plan was organized on the isolated West Side.
"From Wednesday night, March 26, until Sunday, March 30, the entire food supply had been sent from Cincinnati, Glendale, Norwood, College Hill, Mount Healthy and the surrounding districts," said the Republican-News. "The food and clothing, came by all means of distribution, and the motor trucks of the big department stores and manufacturing establishments of Cincinnati came up here loaded with bread and other provisions and clothing," the report said.
Starting Monday, March 31, the relief committee contracted with the T. A. Snider Preserve Company, 821 South Seventh Street, to supply pork and beans. An order for 5,500 loaves of bread a day went to local bakeries capable of operating.
The provisions were available to citizens eligible for identification cards. More than 4,500 cards were issued, representing about 25,000 people.
Several stations were established, but the central distribution point was Central High School on the north side of Ludlow Street between South Front and South Second streets. (The school site has been a parking lot for decades).
Preparing food also was a problem. "Hundreds of Hamiltonians remember with pleasure the fine services to the hungry and tired of the Sisters of the Community of the Transfiguration," reported the Republican-News in its gratitude edition. The newspaper said the mother house in Glendale, which opened in 1898, "is for boys and girls."
The newspaper said 13 sisters and novices at the mother house in Glendale in Hamilton County came to Hamilton "a few days after the flood . . . and opened a temporary restaurant in the Martindell homestead on South Second Street" [at 210 South Second Street, according to the 1913 city directory].
For two weeks the sisters "served sumptuous repasts free of charge to anyone and everyone who stopped," the report said. "And there were hundreds who took advantage of those opportunities to get 'good square meals.' None of the tired and disconsolate ever left the Martindell home during that time without being served with a fine meal."
The newspaper said service continued "until the regular restaurants of the city were opened." Then the sisters moved to the Trinity parish house on North Sixth Street, where they were joined by several local women in distributing food, clothing and other necessities to needy families.
Other outside assistance agencies that provided a range of services to flood victims included the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The Republican-News also noted the contributions of "the small giver."
"Prof. Charles H. Lake, principal of the high school, and Prof. Howard G. Carter, of the manual training department, had every opportunity to see the people who brought their contributions" to the Central High School receiving and dispensing station.
The newspaper said "men and the women of the city and surrounding country, who had not suffered by the disaster, although unable to give much, brought in their little offering to the high school. One farmer brought in half a bushel of potatoes and a jug of milk. He rode in a shacky vehicle. 'This is all I can give,' he explained, half apologetically, to Mr. Carter, who received the goods."
"Many others brought in jugs of milk and potatoes and other supplies. They came in large numbers," the report continued. "Farmers came from miles around. Bethany and Monroe sent in wagon loads of supplies day after day, and also a large number of men to help the city in the work of 'getting together again,'" the newspaper said.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Families displayed blue star flags during world wars
By Jim Blount
The blue star flags seemed to be everywhere in Hamilton neighborhoods during World War II. Most residences and some businesses displayed the banners featuring a blue star on a white background with a red border. Some had more than one blue star. A few had gold stars rimmed in blue. Officially, they were United States Service flags. More frequently, they were called blue star flags or "sons in service flags."
The small flags in front windows honored one or more members of the family were in the U. S. armed forces. Some organizations and businesses flew larger banners for members or employees who were serving their country.
A blue star represented each family member in the military during a war or in hostile action. A gold star indicated a family member died while in service.
The custom began when American forces entered World War I in 1917. Captain Robert B. Queissner of the Fifth Ohio Infantry designed and patented the flag. The captain -- who had served along the Mexican border with the Ohio National Guard in 1916 -- devised the flag to show his family’s pride in two sons who fought in France during World War I.
An explanation in the Congressional Record in 1917 said "the world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother -- their children."
The service flag gained public acceptance during World War I, although U. S. military involvement was brief (April 1917 until November 1918). The symbol was widely displayed during World War II, 1941-45. Most were homemade flags, usually in a 12x16-inch format, including a red border one to two inches wide.
The flags were seldom seen during wars in Korea and the Vietnam because of the controversies surrounding U. S. participation in those conflicts. During recent wars, yellow and orange ribbons were popular expressions of support for men and women in the American military.
Official support for the blue star flag was revived after Sept. 11, 2001. Following terrorist attacks of that date, the Department of the Army authorized the manufacture and sale of the banners and lapel buttons.
According to congressional action, the service flag "may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of individuals who are members of the immediate family of an individual serving in the armed forces . . . during any period of war or hostilities in which the armed forces of the United States are engaged."
The legislation says "a license to manufacture and sell the approved service flag, or the approved service lapel button, or both," must be obtained from the defense department. The official blue star design is not supposed to be used in advertising or on other objects, including cushions, handkerchiefs, costumes or uniforms.
There is no official status for the yellow ribbon, popularized 30 years ago by a hit song.
The yellow ribbon -- although sometimes traced to the Civil War, 1861-65, or earlier -- emerged in the 1970s. The top selling single record of 1973 was "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Tony Orlando and Dawn. The lyrics were based on an incident involving the release of an inmate who had served three years in prison. He reportedly was looking for a yellow handkerchief on a familiar oak tree as a sign that he was welcomed home.
Yellow ribbons were transformed into symbols of loyalty and hope Nov. 4, 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries took over the U. S. Embassy in Teheran and held 52 American hostages for 444 days, until Jan. 21, 1981.
Another revival came in 1991 during the short Persian Gulf War. This time the ribbons were more than a reminder that loved ones were prisoners of war or missing in action. They stood for all men and women who were away from home, risking their lives in the U. S. armed forces during war.
After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and with U. S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, yellow ribbons have made another comeback, although the blue star flags remain the official symbol. A California congressman recently urged display of the blue star standard. "When our young soldiers return home," he said, "these banners will let them know that we appreciate the sacrifices they have made on our behalf."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Railroad pay train commanded attention
By Jim Blount
For several decades a welcome sight on the railroads of Butler County was a small train -- a single steam locomotive pulling what appeared to be a passenger car. It usually stopped at every railroad station, shop, yard and company property along the line. Its most important passenger was the paymaster.
When the pay train arrived, a parade of engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen, car and track inspectors, section crews, stationmasters, freight clerks, baggage handlers, telegraphers, signal operators and other railroad employees climbed aboard the pay car to collect their wages.
One railroader recalled that it wasn't unusual to see "wives and the installment collectors gathered around the steps" of the pay car, waiting to get their share. Local merchants and landlords also were aware of its arrival, which was usually only once a month.
"Payment by bank check, now almost universal, has taken away from the paymaster some of the aura of adventure and romance which was his when he traveled 'special' with his pay car full of cash, stopping wherever there were men waiting for their wages," said railroad historian Robert Selph Henry.
"Paymasters in those days were just about the best-known individuals on the railroads," Henry said in his 1942 book, This Fascinating Railroad Business.
Early railroader earnings depended on the job. Some employees were paid by the hour, some by the day, some by the trip or mile and others by a combination of time and distance. For freight crews, according to one source, a normal day was "100 miles or less, eight hours or less." Runs exceeding 100 miles or eight hours earned additional compensation.
Most railroad pay cars were converted passenger coaches or parlor cars -- some grandiose, some plain -- refitted with tables, chairs, cashier's cage or counter and a safe and other security devices to protect the payroll.
The car's personnel included one or more clerks, a paymaster and possibly an assistant, who distributed the bills and change, and at least one armed guard. Some reports say an additional guard rode on the locomotive.
An accident Friday morning, Sept. 18, 1896, disrupted the pay routine on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis Railroad, a part of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
Four railroaders were killed when a freight train, involved in a switching operation, and a CH&I pay train collided about 9:35 a.m. on a curve west of Connersville, Ind.
The freight crew -- realizing its entire train too heavy to be pulled up a grade at Longwood hill -- had put half of its cars in one siding and the remainder in another siding. The locomotive and tender were running backward at about 30 miles an hour when it collided with the pay train traveling at about 55 mph.
The engineer on the pay train was propelled out of the cab of the steam engine and crushed when his locomotive overturned. His fireman also died in the crash about 45 to 50 miles west of Hamilton. The conductor on the through freight jumped from the locomotive before the collision, but was killed when the pay car toppled on him. The fireman on the freight suffered a fatal skull fracture.
Six other railroad employees were injured, including the paymaster and assistant paymaster.
Paymaster John Jansing suffered a cut over his eye and two fractured ribs and was taken to his home in Cincinnati. His assistant, John P. Scallan, had a leg cut, but remained at the crash site and guarded the payroll until a railroad superintendent arrived four hours later.
Newspapers agreed that the pay car overturned, but seemed to differ on the extent of damage. One account said the car "is not much injured" while another reported it "was most greatly damaged."
Not reported was how long railroad workers on the Indianapolis line had to wait for their pay because of the accident. The CH&I line -- extending west from Hamilton through Oxford and College Corner -- was closed about 15 hours while crews cleared the wreckage and repaired the track.