Madison Remembers the Flood of ’51

Kansas is having some nasty flooding right now from all the rain. That prompted me to post my mother’s memories in the Facebook group that shares Madison, Kansas stories. It triggered many of the participants to tell about their own family experiences of that record-setting flood.

Mary Meyer, “I remember the flood of ’51 quite well. I believe it occurred in July. We lived about 1.5 miles north of Madison on the river. Dad was outside putting the cows in the barn, catching what chickens he could, and taking them upstairs along with the dogs and cats. I remember sitting on the cook stove while Mom grabbed what she could and sent the 3 older kids upstairs with it. To this day, I am deathly afraid of water!

We ate cold cereal up there for about 3 days until the water went down. Then the real work began. About everything we had, including the hogs, were swept down river. I’ll never forget that swirling dirty water in the house.

madison 51 flood

The Emporia Weekly Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 2

Lora Esslinger Meirowsky, “Dad talks about George and Dorothy Fankhauser’s home flooding where it was originally located just south of the highway right before the road curves to the east. After the flood, they moved the house across the Verdigris River to the hill where I remember it. Then a few years ago, the home again made the journey across the river to its current location just north of where it originally began.

Mary Beth Davies, “Mom, Dad, and Larry lived with her mom’s brothers’ family in a house just south of Fanestil’s in 99. They had quite a story about evacuating in ‘51. They could hear the roar of the water in the distance and just got out in time.”

Michael A. Paske, “Being much younger, I don’t remember the ’51 flood. However, I was told I created quite a stir. We lived in farmhouse my great-grandfather built just south of US 54 bridge over Verdigris near Toronto. The house set on a little rise in the flood plain and had a 3-foot high concrete and stone foundation. Dad had moved everything to the 2nd floor that wasn’t too heavy except for kitchen table and chairs and put refrigerator up on blocks even though the electricity had gone out the day before and they were using the old “icebox” fridge.
Seems someone did not put my diaper on snuggly enough. I, having turned one year old just a week earlier and not being quite as smart as the dog, was not housebroken yet. My grandmother who was staying with us saw a puddle of water at the door and screamed the water was coming in. The folks looked out and sure enough, water was lapping over onto the porch but the house door lips were another 4 inches high. It seems I had sat watching the water out the screen door and what will happen when you watch and listen to flowing water had happened.
The flood did cover the porch with about 1-1½” of water but stopped just short of really entering our house.
Dad did have to dig 2-3 ft of mud and silt out of the cellar/basement and of course, pump our well dry (it was totally covered by flood water) and pour in a couple of jugs of bleach as it refilled. He had moved all the chickens and geese to the hayloft of the barn which was also set on a raised foundation for the milk cows and the two old draft horses, and sheep.” 

flood of 51

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 12

Renell Schroeder, “I remember the 1951 flood like yesterday. I have pictures of water up almost to Main Street on 4th Street. I remember the Norman Harlans (mentioned in Gail Martin’s story) because Tim was a year ahead of me in school and Vickie married my husband’s cousin. So neat that someone would record what they went through during that time.”

Kristy Buckridge “My Aunt Sheila lives in the house close to the river and the floors in her house were ruined that year.”

flood madison 1951

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 26 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 9

Learn more about the 1951 floods with this 114-page report from the Weather Bureau (issued July 1952).

Many thanks to the individuals who shared their family memories. It’s good to preserve these. The flood happened almost 70 years ago so it’s rather amazing that word of mouth has preserved some of these stories.

Tangles with the Wind

Published in Capper’s Magazine, Heart of Home, 28th February 1990 by Cynthia Ross (Gail’s daughter)

Tangles with the Wind

Back in 1952, I had my first tangle with a strong Kansas wind. During a picnic out at the city lake, our family and cousins gathered in a shelter house for lunch. (In Kansas, if you don’t use a shelter house, your food will be blown right off your plate.)

As it sometimes happens, the children became wild as March hares after being fed. The adults usually just want to just talk or take a nap after a meal. I was about 2 years old at the time and had been watching older kids climb upon an arched window opening of the shelter, then jumping the short distance to the grass below.

Before long I decided to give it a try. With my short, baby fat legs, I climbed upon the ledge of the opening. All was going well until a strong northerly gust blew me right back down on the cement floor, breaking my arm in the fall.

Cindy Martin 1952

Cindy Martin, not yet 2.

I learned to respect our Kansas wind. Most of the time I count it as a friend, but I’ll always remember when we tangled some 37 years ago.

I’ve heard many pioneer women were said to have nearly gone crazy by the relentless wind…. but I find the wind rather soothing at times. I especially enjoy the changing seasons we have here in Kansas with the wind almost constant in early spring and fall.

The wind produced by a tornado is something totally different. As you probably know tornados come in all sizes, from a twisting rope to filling the whole skyline with its mass. The tornado that hit Andover Kansas was definitely a monster I hope never to hear or see the likes again in my lifetime.

tornado-pixabay

Tornado photo courtesy of Pixabay

Hot Times at the Ball Park

Baseball Memories of Gail and her family:

Ginger – I tried calling Mom one evening in July, but there was no answer. When I checked Facebook, I saw my sister’s status: July 8, 2012 – Karen was at McDonald Stadium in El Dorado.

Ginger:  Hmmm, that must be why Mom doesn’t answer her phone.

Karen:  We lost, badly.  It doesn’t help that Mom is always cheering for the visiting team.
Ginger: doesn’t she like the home team?
Karen:  She likes to be contrary.
Ginger:  I’m afraid we’ve inherited some of that too. Just wait until I’m 87.
87 year old Gail Lee Martin at the ballpark

At 87, Gail Lee Martin attended the Bronco baseball games frequently during a very hot summer.

Cj Garriott – As I recall, July 2012 was the host of those 100+ days that I arrived in time for a full week of? I remember thinking, how in Hades could it be HOTTER 700 miles north of where I was coming from.

Karen –  That was one hot summer, too, but Mom loved going to the El Dorado Bronco games in the stadium there at the fairgrounds. She flirted with all the good-looking college players when they came through collecting for the 50-50 drawing.

Mom and I were going to a lot of ball games that summer. The notes below were from the previous evening at the ball park.

kk fb rain at ballpark 2012

Virginia – I hope it did rain then.
Mom: We are living right! 3/4 of an inch right. Oh so sorry we missed the last inning when Dodge City beat the Broncos
July 8, 2012 at 3:10pm 

 

Karen: haha. I see what you’re trying to do, Mom–get me riled up because you always root for the visiting team! We won and we would have still won if we’d played that final inning!

July 2012 Rain at the Bronco ball park in El Dorado KS

Karen Kolavalli’s photo of the lightning and rain clouds at the McDonald Stadium (where the Bronco’s played in El Dorado, Kansas.

Kansas Heatwave

A family memory from 6 years ago today.

It gets pretty hot in Kansas but Gail and Clyde were adamant about not using their window air conditioner. Summers could reach 105 degrees during the summers when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2011, knowing that Kansas was suffering through a heatwave even hotter than usual, I asked Mom how they were faring.

melting fan (artist unknown)

Melting Fan sculpture. I don’t know who the artist is.

July 10, 2011, Gail Lee Martin: “Depends on where you are in Kansas! We almost got rained on, which would have cooled us off. We have all the ceiling fans going and of course, we do have the great big pecan and oak trees on the south side of the house that cools the house. A cool shower now and then or a wet towel around our necks helps us get by. One of the benefits of being retired is we don’t have to get outside. Sitting on the porch swing is nice in the mornings.”

Apparently, my sisters were badgering them as well about turning on their air conditioner.

Mom sent us all an email on July 13, saying, ” OK, we give up. Tonda cleaned the wall-mounted air conditioner plugged in the unit. When it seemed to work, the girls shut all the windows. If Clyde throws a fit when we get the next bill, you will have to handle him. Mom”

Tonda and her daughters cleaned the folks’ house every two weeks. I’m guessing that consideration of their comfort while they worked overcame Mom’s scruples about using the air conditioner. 

I sent this message that day, “Well, good! Don’t save your money for your kids to inherit while you die of a heat stroke. Be comfortable and we’ll survive without anticipating getting your life savings. Ginger

PS – got so hot here in New Hampshire, that we even had our air conditioner on yesterday. We avoid using it but finally gave in.”

Her daughter, Cindy, messaged too, “We’re thinking our grandson may have gotten a touch of heatstroke from walking to the Park City pool, staying in the heat with the sun reflecting off the water & then walking back again.  To say the least, this summer has been hot-hot-hot.  Leaves are already falling off the trees.  The excessive heat makes me major grumpy & tired.

So Mom, don’t think of it as giving up, think of it as being wise.  Just know your kids are concerned for you especially after all the warnings we’ve heard on the news lately.  And if you/ dad think your electric bill is too high, then I’ll offer to trade you my bill.”

 Gail answered her daughters’ concerns with this message, “Thanks, everyone, but I think we will manage. Clyde is afraid we will lose our economy rating with the electric company.

One thing I miss is hearing the birds singing. Probably won’t miss hearing all the kid noise or the speeding cars. The unit does make a noise that I don’t like.

We were cold during the night, but Clyde is learning to adjust it to not be so cold. Yeah, I have socks and slacks on this morning. The kitchen and the writing room are the warmest places, but fans will take care of that.

We ate ham salad sandwiches from Susie’s last night, had Jerica go get them for us. We have lots of tater tots left over that will make good hashbrowns to go with fried eggs.”

The month of July 2011 averaged 102 degrees in the Wichita, Kansas area. The hottest day was 111 degrees. The heatwave continued on into August. Kansas was just one of many states suffering the excessive heat. According to Wikipedia, “The heat was blamed for at least 25 deaths across the Midwest and the Northeast.”

T is for Tornado Memories

Gail Martin saved not just her own memories of early days, but collected memories from her aunts and extended family as well. This is one she inspired her Aunt Bertha McGhee to write and send to ‘The Golden Years‘ magazine for East Central Kansas for Aging.   She was so pleased they published this March 1994.

In 1932, when they had the WPA, I worked for a year as a caseworker in Chase County. Once I was caught in a tornado and got stuck in a ditch.

The tornado, whose funnel cloud we could see north of us, picked up a farm house and set it back down on the other side of the barn with the lady of the house inside.

She said that when things settled down she found herself under the dining room table, in shock but unhurt. Her husband was in the barn and he and the animals were all OK. Outside the trees were stripped of all their leaves till they were as bare as December
even though it was summer.

Down the road about a quarter of a mile, an old rural school building, that was being used for hay storage, was blown away and only fragments could ever be found.

The ditch where I was was an unbridged ravine that only had water when it rained.   The WPA did put a cement crossing there later but not a bridge because it was a
back road that didn’t carry much traffic.

gail and mcghee cousins aunts

Gail Martin in the blue shirt. Her aunt, Bertha McGhee in front of her. A McGhee family reunion.