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1913 Flood in Tiffin Revisited: Part 2

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The following is an excerpt from the two-time award-winning book "Calamity and Courage" available at

From the author: "It was 102 years ago this week that Ohio was rocked by the worst natural disaster in its history. Throughout the week I will be offering excerpts from my book about the horrific trials Tiffinites experienced — often in their own words — that fateful, deadly week."

The flood started Easter Sunday, March 23. Two days later, large sections of Tiffin were inundated by the floodwaters. Today’s excerpt from Lisa Swickard’s book “Calamity and Courage” reveals the tragic loss that went far beyond personal property.

MARCH 25, 1913

It seemed the clay-charged waters were in control of many people’s destinies that Tuesday. Before the day was over, the havoc was almost inconceivable.

When George Klingshirn got off work at about 6:30 a.m., the water was so treacherous, he could not make it home. Throughout the previous night, as some of those residents on East Davis Street packed their belongings and fled the danger of the rough currents, Theresa Klingshirn remembered her husband’s instructions to “stay put.” By morning, it was too late. They were marooned in the middle of a violent cataclysm …

Author's note: There were 12 people trapped in the Klingshirn home, including nine of George and Theresa's children. In the house that sat next to the Klingshirns’ nearest the river, Jacob, Clarence and Wilson Knecht, along with Jacob’s son-in-law, George Swab, were experiencing a similar fate. They, too, were stranded. Eventually, they sought refuge on the roof.

… At about 4 p.m. a mass of onlookers watched in horror when the Knecht house cracked away from its foundation. One of those who witnessed the ensuing carnage was Preston Werner …

According to the Advertiser, “He (Werner) states that the house swung out in the current with the four men on the roof. Almost immediately, the building collapsed and the peak roof flattened out. Slowly, the now-nothing-more-than-a-raft swung around the slight bend and out of sight, the men calling and screaming for help …”

Author's note: Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered to watch as the water continued to lap against the Klingshirn house. Repeated attempts to reach the 12 people inside by rowboat proved futile.

As the hours ticked by and the daylight faded into dusk, then darkness, witnesses could only stand helplessly by while they listened to the family’s desperate cries for help. Some people knelt in the mud, praying. Others sobbed as they witnessed one outbuilding after another uprooted and carried away.

“No hope, no rescue,” observed a newspaperman. “Darkness covered the raging stream. There was no light in the house. From time to time, Ray lighted a match in the upper window to show that they were still there. The water had reached well above the second floor, and the family was standing on furniture placed on the bed, trying to keep their heads above water. The last flicker of light outlined Ray, William and Mrs. Klingshirn holding little Helen …”

… George Klingshirn and the Rankers stood among the crowd, powerless to help. They could only listen to their loved ones’ agonized cries and watch as — even through the dark of night — they could see the house begin to rock on its foundation …

… All through the night, the pitiful cries and pleas for help by those trapped in the battered houses and buildings could be heard from Mechanicsburg to East Davis Street. Exhausted rescue workers never gave up the fight. By morning, however, it looked as though their rescue attempts had barely made and impact.

© 2015 Virgin Alley Press. No part of this text can be reproduced without permission from the author.

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