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A return to a flood of memories

March 25, 2013
By Lisa Swickard - Columnist , The Advertiser-Tribune

In the summer of 2009, I literally winced as I sat at my desk, sifting through four dusty, inch-thick file folders that contained the initial research for my book "Calamity and Courage: Tiffin's Battle During Ohio's Deadly 1913 Flood."

"Do you really want to do this?" I asked myself. The sheer volume of information was so overwhelming, I initially wasn't convinced I could do the story justice. I was acutely aware that the people whom fellow reporter, Nancy Kleinhenz, and I interviewed for The Advertiser-Tribune's flood tab 21 years earlier were long dead. Even so, I had kept written accounts of all of the original interviews. That day, as I again read the first-hand recollections from Catherine Beck, Helen Grill and Charlotte Leimenstoll, I found myself mesmerized by their words.

At that moment, I realized the people who survived that harrowing flood in March 1913 - and the 19 others who perished - deserved to be remembered. The trials, losses and ultimate triumph Tiffinites faced in the wake of the worst natural disaster in Ohio's history was a story that needed to be shared.

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The bulk of the next year was spent pouring over diaries, newspaper clippings, oral histories and anything else I could latch onto pertaining to the flood. I'll admit it got a little freaky when I had a recurring dream in which I was walking along Frost Parkway amid the devastation, having lengthy conversations with Irene Strong and Louise Schwaeble - the two women who, along with their children, were marooned in the Standard Garage, just east of the Perry Street bridge.

When a writer gets to that stage, it's time to seek out friends for some desperately needed social time.

Like any major project, the day came when it was time to stop researching, stop writing, publish the book and get on with my life. It wasn't easy to let it go. I always knew there would be stories I somehow missed. It particularly vexed me that I never was able to find out what happened Mary Klingshirn-Hostler. The flood was particularly wicked to her. It took the life of nearly everyone she loved - her mother, nine siblings, her husband and ultimately her baby daughter. I knew Mary had remarried in November 1915, but after that, the trail of her life went cold.

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Lisa Swickard is a former reporter for The Advertiser-Tribune and author of books and local history.

Recently, I've learned the rest of Mary's tragic tale. It's difficult to believe, but her life continued to spiral out of control.

The Klingshirn family history provides a dreary account of what happened after she married a Webster Manufacturing employee, Eugene Bolt.

"The couple, having no children, were both employed and lived in an apartment close to the center of Tiffin," it states. "One day when Mary came home from work, she found the furniture gone and learned that her husband had closed out their joint bank account. He left town, leaving her without a thing."

A short time later, Mary left Tiffin and went to live in the Toledo area. According to the Klingshirn history, "Emotionally scared by so much grief, she had a hard time settling down and sought excitement in a 'fast' crowd."

In 1919, it is believed that 31-year-old Mary got into an automobile with some of those fast friends. There was a crash in which the car was instantaneously engulfed in flames. The occupants were burned beyond recognition and were never positively identified. It's probable that's how she met her demise, because the family history states that Mary was never heard from again.

It was a heart-rending ending to a pitifully tragic existence.

Most Tiffinites, however, did persevere. Properties were cleaned, renovated or rebuilt. The river was widened, and a flood wall - that still stands today - was erected. For me, the most satisfying part of the story will always be that the people who experienced the Great Flood of 1913 will continue to live on in the pages of Tiffin's history.



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