For about seven years, Sue Smith has been giving a presentation on the 1913 flood to students at Calvert Elementary School. For a week, she would box up historical artifacts she had gathered and take them into the classrooms. One of those items was a program from the original memorial service.
"I found that at a tag sale," Smith said.
When the 100th anniversary year arrived, Smith contacted author Lisa Swickard and Theresa Sullivan of Tiffin Tomorrow to see what kind of activities could be conducted in the community. Because the Klingshirn victims are buried at St. Joseph Cemetery, and John Canty lies in St. Mary Cemetery, they decided to approach Calvert High School students to help in planning some events. Margaret Bowers, Kayla Kirchner, Jared Thompson and Tyler Weber from the school's leadership class took on the project.
"The students are making a video on the flood to present to the high school students," Sullivan said.
Weber learned some of his ancestors were flood survivors. Bowers and Kirchner said Swickard's book, newspaper reports and other accounts they consulted painted a dramatic picture of the disaster.
"I think, after reading the book, I am amazed at how much safer our community is, because of the flood walls," Kirchner said.
"I never realized how terrible the flood was," Bowers added. "I read where guys were standing on top of the house and it broke away and went floating in the river. That would have been so bad to stand there and see that."
In her own research, Smith learned the river has 70 feet of fall between US 224 and the center of town. She surmised the water must have been rushing at high speed into downtown Tiffin, affording little time for riverside residents to evacuate.
Sullivan pointed out residents living along the waterways did not have the benefit of modern-day weather forecasts to warn them of the coming torrents. They had experienced flooding before and recovered. There was no inkling about the severity of the conditions about to develop.
"It's a gripping story that brings tears to my eyes every time I think of that," Sullivan said. "How horrific to watch your neighbors or family members drown."
During a brainstorming session, Swickard mentioned the baby daughter of Ray Hossler and Mary Klingshirn Hossler. The child died a few months after the flood. She was buried with her father, but the child's name is not marked on his stone. The Calvert students decided to raise money and purchase a grave marker for the baby.
"On April 9, we will have the blessing of a small headstone for Ray Hostler's daughter and a blessing of memorial wreath. That's going to be at St. Joseph," Smith said. "The grave marker idea came about from Lisa Swickard. As she was writing her book, she came upon the information about Ray Hostler's daughter but found no marker. She was always ... thinking it was sad that her name was not anywhere. She has always wanted to do that."
Bowers is preparing a slide show for the service at St. Joseph, and the four students will take wreaths to the two Catholic cemeteries. Their teacher, Tracy Innis, said her grandfather worked in a meat market and her great uncle Downey had a shoe repair shop on Washington Street in the vicinity of the current Bair Brothers store. The men survived but lost everything from their businesses.
"Their belongings were floating down the river," Innis said. "My grandmother was married with a one-year-old (child). She described it as the biggest terror of her memory."
Sullivan was awed by an account of the mother and small children stranded in the apartment building near Rock Creek. They kept climbing up to the next floor to avoid the water. Another story described a man who bound his children to him with a sheet and carried them to safety. Smith said at first she didn't understand the title of Swickard's book.
"I didn't quite get the 'courage' thing ... but think of these women who were told that to be saved, they needed to get out on a telephone pole, get into a cable car and then pull themselves across the raging river to the next building," she remarked. "Lisa's whole thing is to remember and honor the sacrifices and the courage and the commitment the community made so it wouldn't happen again."
Recently, Smith was able to contact John Klingshirn, who descended from the survivors of the family that perished. His copy of the Klingshirn genealogy book has a section devoted to the flood. Klingshirn told Smith he is planning to attend the memorial service April 14. Smith and Sullivan would be pleased if other descendants of flood survivors also could be present.