Do you remember ’37 flood?

By Regina Villiers. Originally published April 2, 1997 in The Suburban Life, added April 16, 2018.

Fran Wirthlin, front left, lived in Ludlow, Ky., during the 1937 flood and had to leave her home in the middle of the night. Elma Mueller, front right, who now lives in Mason, lived on Madison Road during the 1937 flood. Alice Craig has a 1937 flood scrapbook, made by Dr. E.A. Craig.

Whenever the Ohio River floods, as it did recently, all of us here in Madeira stay high and dry, thanks to topography formed by ice from glaciers back in the Ice Age.  The huge chunks of ice carved out Cincinnati’s hills and left us here in Madeira as dry as a camel’s tongue.

When my brother called a couple of weeks ago to ask about my well being, I told him if a flood ever reaches Madeira, the entire state of Ohio will be searching for the plans to Noah’s ark.

But Doris Burton remembers that the flood of 1937 did affect people in Madeira.  For one thing, her family had to boil their water for a time afterward.

She also remembers that her grandparents, who lived on the other side of Cincinnati, had to be rescued in the middle of the night from their flooded house and brought to the home of her parents on Southside in Madeira.

Frances Wirthlin, who now lives in Madeira, went through the 1937 flood and remembers it vividly.

She and her husband, Al, lived in Ludlow, Ky., in 1937.  Al’s father was staying with them for a time, because his wife had just died.

Al and Fran both worked in Cincinnati, and both managed to get home before the road closed.  Fran worked the lunch shift at the Sinton Hotel.  Those who worked the dinner shift were stranded in Cincinnati and had to stay at the hotel till the flood subsided.

That night, as the flood came closer and closer, Al and his father persuaded Fran to go to bed, saying they would stay up and watch the house.  During the night, they woke Fran and told her they’d have to get out of the house immediately.

They left, in the dark of night, and went to the home of Al’s brother, who lived in Devou Park.

A week went by before they could get across the Suspension Bridge to go back to work.  Then they had to go to a doctor to get shots before they were allowed to work again.

After they got back in their house, they had no heat or utilities for about a month.  Al’s father cleaned out the furnace and rigged it so they could build an open fire in it, where they cooked their meals over this open fire till the gas and electric service returned to their house.

They also had no water for about a month.  They would get water from a sister’s house in Independence, Ky., going by a back road to get there.

Fran remembers that they also were hampered by a big snow that came and covered everything up.

One of Fran’s memories is of people who would salvage things floating by in the flood.

“People would throw hooks out in the water and pull things out,” she said.

She also remembers seeing an entire house going down the river.

Elma Mueller, who now lives in Mason, was a teen-ager at the time of the 1937 flood and lived with her family on Madison Road in Cincinnati.  Their home was not flooded, but the inhabitants there increased by six during the flood-a mother and five children, friends of Elma’s family, whose home was flooded.

The father of this displaced family never did come there to stay.  He was a police officer, Elma explains, and officers never went home during the flood.  They stayed on duty all the time to keep an eye on looters.  Looting was a sad side effect of the flood, she says.

She enjoyed having her friends there during the flood and recalls that they’d go up to Ault Park for a panoramic view of the flooded city.

Alice Craig passed on to me a scrapbook, made by Dr. E.A. Craig during the 1937 flood.

Now fragile and crumbling, it contains pictures clipped from Cincinnati newspapers in January 1937.

When compared with news photos of the flood just past, many views are almost the same.  There are the crowds gawking at the flood from the Suspension bridge.

There are pages of photos of pathos and destruction in the East End.  A story and photos showed Newtown to be desolated and inundated.

And the Red Cross was at work then, as now.  Workers were shown packing food at schools and shelters.  Boy Scouts worked, packing food to be distributed by Coast Guard cutters.

An Enquirer photo showed U.S. Coast Guard cutters lined up at Third and Vine for a 138-mile trip to Louisville Ky., to aid people there.

A photo showed Crosley Field, flooded and available for water polo, but not baseball.

One picture showed Union Terminal, which the cutline described as the “new Union Terminal, Cincinnati’s pride.”  The terminal sat high and dry, but surrounded by water, looking much like Cinergy Field (old Riverfront Stadium) in pictures of the recent flood.

One picture in the scrapbook, which brings it home to me, shows a picture of the 1937 flood in Louisville, Ky., one of my hometowns.  The scene is identified only as “Broadway in Louisville,” but the corner is most familiar to me.

I recognize the corner as fourth and Broadway and the building as the Heyburn Building, where 20 or 30 years later, I made regular visits to my doctor’s office on the eighth floor.

In the picture, water is lapping over the top of the first floor windows, which I remember as Walgreens.

I have always liked living on a hill, and the flooding of the Ohio gives me still another reason to be glad I live in Madeira, snug and dry, thanks to glaciers in the Ice Age.