Saturday, January 22, 2011

Black Sunday and an Engagement

In January 1987, my Grandparents (Charles and Bessie Daniels) were preparing to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in the early part of February. As we planned venues, food, invitations and gifts for a grand party, something else was also on my Grandfather’s mind: the 50th anniversary of ‘Black Sunday’ and the 1937 Flood.

For those of you not familiar with the history of the Greater Cincinnati area, the 1937 flood was the worst flooding seen along the Ohio River in modern recorded history. Up and down the shorelines of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, the waters inundated entire communities and rendered one million people homeless. The rains came for several days and on top of several inches of snow, allowing the river to continue its slow but persistent rise. By ‘Black Sunday’, January 24th, the river was almost at its peak at 80 feet, which is 28 feet above flood stage. The term ‘Black Sunday’ was used for two reasons. As the river rose and caused barges to crash and sink, and as oil storage tanks broke loose, the floating oil collected in the Mill Valley area. At some point, on Sunday, the floating oil caught fire and raged for hours, destroying several large businesses in the city. Grandpa always said the other reason they called it Black Sunday was because as the river rose, each city was plunged into darkness as electric plants were flooded. The people were forced to wait in the dark, knowing the waters were rising and wondering if their home would be next.

Back in 1987, the city of Cincinnati was commemorating this 50th anniversary with numerous newspaper articles and memorials of various forms. Grandpa Charles sat down to record his own memory of Black Sunday, and his unique role in this tragic chapter of American History.
His typed account as transcribed:

“A half century ago we experienced a great happening in this valley and in my life. I felt that I should put down on paper the following events as they happened. This also has a special meaning for my wife and I as we are preparing to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary on 6 February 1987.

I was a young man of twenty five years of age and was employed by the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company and a First Sergeant of Company C 147th Infantry Ohio National Guard. On Wednesday night prior to Black Sunday the National Guard had a drill and our Colonel held us at the Freeman Avenue Armory until one o’clock in the morning as he had gone to the City Hall to offer our services and vehicles free of charge to help move people out of the danger areas. The city at that time said they didn’t need our help.

On Friday night, the water started to back up onto Freeman Avenue near the ball park and around the Union Terminal. All activity stopped at the Mail Building at the Terminal and I was left there to watch the property. I was in the basement of the office and just outside of the door the lid blew off the sewer and water started to bubble up into the street. I called the Master Mechanic and suggested he get some people to start moving the material up stairs. He laughed at me and said I was just being excited. Soon the water got so deep I went upstairs on the first floor. I went to the water fountain for a drink and there was no water. I tried to use the telephone and it was dead. Then the rising water in the basement hit the generators and the lights went out. I then started down the platform toward the Coach Yard. When I reached the end of the platform I could see that the water was several feet deep. So I turned around and went toward the passenger station. I was able to get to the station and stayed there until my time to quit at 7AM. The water by this time had backed up in front of the Terminal and it was necessary for a high bed truck to take us out. I was told not to report to work that night.

On Saturday night I and the young lady I married went to a party. I had fallen head over heels in Love and at about ten o’clock had asked her to marry me. We planned to marry in two weeks from that night. About thirty minutes later an announcement came over the radio for all National Guardsmen to report to their Armory for flood duty. I took my wife to be home and reported to the Freeman Avenue Armory to help mobilize our unit.

Approximately seven o’clock the next morning we were moved to the Fifth District Police Station which at that time was on Colerain Avenue. The first thing we did after arrival was to get fed at the Red Cross Kitchen in the garage as we had not eaten since being mobilized. As soon as we were fed we were assigned various duties. Some went on the river to help people stranded and some were used to guard flooded areas to keep looters out. The kitchen personnel of our unit set up a food kitchen and had hot coffee and soup available twenty four hours a day for those working in the flood and for those whose homes were in the flood.”

Apparently, Charles took along his camera to document some of the scenes he encountered during the clean up effort. Below are some of his shots, never before seen outside of our family. I was fortunate enough to bring a scanner to their house one year to scan some of these priceless images.
Charles with his fellow officers loading up.....front left.....I would imagine that smile had nothing to do with the flood, but his head being in the clouds at the realization that he had just become engaged to the love of his life.
View from the top of the Freeman Avenue Armory - Union Terminal in the distance - where Charles' first encounters the flood waters.Another view from the roof of the Armory - looking North.

North of Saylor Park.

One of the mobile kitchens they set up.

One of the mobile work stations set up by the WPA.

Ruins of the Crosley Fire.

The remainder of the images are just outside the Armory as the boats and trucks reload supplies.

This was just the adventurous beginning for a young couple who then lived through two wars, European domestic life, raising four of their own children, and then caring for over sixty foster babies.....makes my life feel VERY boring in comparison.....but then, boring is good.

CD 1/23/11


Barbara Poole said...

What an amazing couple, I don't know which of the three things I liked the most: the photos, the narrative or the fact they had 60 foster children. They led a full life, and thanks for sharing them.

Kathy Reed said...

I read about this post on Greta's bog. I, too, have ancestors affected by the '37 flood in Cincinnati. My father was living on Eastern Ave. (now Riverside Dr) directly across the street from the river. I've got several pics, etc. in a file, just waiting to write up. Loved reading this.

Cheryl Palmer said...

What a blessing you have the story your grandfather wrote! It is a great post, love how you put it all together and the pictures were fantastic. Thank you for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story, Cheri - lucky your granddad took the time to write his account of the happenings and take some pictures. Love the photo at the top - "love's young dream"! :-) Jo


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