A flood of memories

The following are excerpts from the “John ‘Dud’ Chamberlain Memoir,” published courtesy of the Oral History Collection, Archives/Special Collections, Brookens Library, University of Illinois at Springfield.

Marietta native Chamberlain was interviewed in 1957 by John Knoepfle, when he was 65. Chamberlain spent most of his life as a “newspaperman.”

To view the entire interview, go to www.uis.edu/archives/memoirs/CHAMBERLAINJOHN.pdf

The Progress section of The Marietta Times focuses on the 100 year anniversary of the 1913 flood. For more photos and stories, see the March 23-24 edition.


I had very vivid experiences there in Marietta at the time of the 1913 flood. We will never-I have written this-we’ll never again have that kind of disaster at Marietta, or probably in any of the other river towns. That’s not so much due to flood control as it is to communication. The trouble in 1913, we were completely isolated. We were helpless. They could not get supplies in to us really. Of course, we had no telephone lines and had no railroads and no radio. We were just-when that water went down we were in miserable shape.


I still had my canoe and the boss told me, says, “Well, we can’t do anything more. We’ve done everything we could. Do you think you can find some whiskey?” I said, ” I can find it if there’s any anyplace.” Well, I got in the canoe and went to the one bar that was still open…He had about six inches of water on his floor. That was on Fulton Street. I went up through the old train shed in the canoe, tied up to the back door of his saloon, waded in and got a couple quarts of whiskey.


Some fellow that was working with us lived uptown and the telephones were still in. And his wife called him and a big old abandoned factory building on the upper edges of Marietta had cut loose and was coming down the Muskingum. And we knew what that meant. So we dropped everything and ran up to the roof. On the top of the third floor of a brick building right across from the Chamber of Commerce, across from the Post Office in that main block there, I ran out the parapet in front and there it came down the-this big plant down the-floating the Ohio like a steamboat, right down the middle of the Muskingum.

It hit that Putnam Street bridge and went through it just like it was going through pasteboard, picked up that central span and carried it a hundred yards downstream and dropped it down on the dam. And all that debris that was back of that rushed through there and piled up against the big railroad bridge below. That bridge had been weighted down. It was a better bridge, weighted down with a trainload of coal and gravel cars. And it held for perhaps not more than a minute or minute and a half, but to us looking down on the top of it, it seemed years when that Muskingum River dumped right up to the center-the center of it at the time that bridge went out in the middle of the Muskingum River. I’ll bet it was two feet high. When that railroad bridge went the whole thing went, just like that. The whole stretch of it just laid down (laughs). I said, “Well, that is the end of it. No point in going ahead and doing any further work or anything else, we were lost anyway.” So we just sat there in that bright sunlight and watched that Muskingum go out. She was something to see. She really was something to see.


Right near the crest, there was a relief boat that came down from Pittsburgh with some medical supplies and blankets on it. But by that time, we had things under reasonably good control. We didn’t want the boat to come into Marietta, because of the waves from the paddlewheel that break windows and so on. …We told them to keep on going…Well, as it passed under the big Ohio River bridge at Marietta some thoughtful person grabbed a roll of Pittsburgh newspapers and tossed them up on that bridge. They were close enough that they could make that toss. Anyway, the roll of papers landed up there. They had a bunch of refugees that were living up on that bridge and somehow or other I got ahold of that roll of newspapers. I don’t know how I first heard about it but I did, and I got them and that was the first communication from out of town that Marietta had for days.