Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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March 9 show

Flood of 1913, worst in state history

The Whitewater River during the flood of 1913 reached the second stories of homes in Brookville, Ind. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society."How could a disaster that claimed 1,000 lives be forgotten?"

So asks Trudy E. Bell, a science writer and author based in Ohio, in a recent blog post in advance of the 100th anniversary of what is generally considered to be the greatest flood in Indiana history. Almost every Hoosier town near water - whether a river, lake or even a pond - found itself overwhelmed by the catastrophic Flood of 1913, which occurred on Easter weekend in late March.

Even worse, Terre Haute had just been hit by a tornado that caused an estimated $1 million to $3 million in damage (in 1913 dollars), according to an article Trudy wrote for Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History magazine.

"Levees," she reports, "burst all over the state - on the Mississinewa River in Marion,  on the White River in Muncie, on the Wabash River in Lafayette, and on the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg - flooding the cities they were supposed to protect."

Wulf's Hall Relief Station on west side of downtown Indianapolis on March 31, 1913, following the Great Flood of that year. "You Are There 1913: A City Under Water," a 2013 exhibit with re-enactors at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, is based on this historic photograph. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.Indianapolis became "the single largest city ... badly devastated by the flood," Trudy notes.

She will be among Nelson's guests for this show about the natural disaster, which usually is remembered - if at all - because of the deaths of nearly 500 caged lions, tigers and other circus animals who drowned in Peru.

Others know about the horrific flood because of accounts about cadets from Culver Military Academy who undertook search and rescue operations in Logansport and other Hoosier communities.
In addition to Trudy, who will share insights by phone, Nelson will be joined in studio by Eloise Batic and Angela Giacomelli, two historical researchers with the Indiana Historical Society. They are helping put together an upcoming exhibit, titled "You Are There 1913: A City Under Water," that will open March 26 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.

Re-enactors at the exhibit will portray historic Hoosiers including Frederick Ayres, the president of the department store founded by his father; he was a key figure on the Indy relief committee for the Flood of 1913.

The south side of Peru, Ind., is pictured during the 1913 flood there. Eleven people died in Peru because of the flood. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.Another re-enactor will portray a bicycle-bound postal carrier on the city's west side who took photos of the flood that indicate he was in the middle of the chaos when a levee broke on the Morris Street Bridge.

Amid the torrential rain and flooding in Peru, according to Trudy's article in Traces, more than 3,000 "instantly homeless" residents tried to jam into the hilltop Miami County Courthouse. It became a relief center akin to the Superdome in New Orleans decades later during Hurricane Katrina. Inside the courthouse, 12 people suffocated to death from the overcrowding. Outside, other Peru residents endured a night of pelting rain as they huddled in hopes of gaining entry - and watched in terror as the floodwaters crept ever higher.

By the end of the horrific flood, about 200 Hoosiers had died, with 200,000 others left homeless. (The total fatality count of nearly 1,000 includes deaths in other states.)

A note about the description of the 1913 flood as the state's worst:

Trudy E. Bell.According to several sources, some areas of the state - particularly in central and southwestern Indiana - actually endured worse flooding in June 2008. For example, Columbus experienced a flood then that was more than 6 inches higher than the March 1913 record. The flood in June 2008 forced the evacuation of 250 patients and employees at Columbus Regional Hospital, where total damage estimates exceeded $210 million.

Even so, the consensus of most experts is that the Flood of 1913 (which occurred on Easter weekend) has been the worst statewide, particularly in terms of deaths, loss of homes and the extent of the impact on daily lives. In Indiana, the full devastation began on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in March of 1913, following what Trudy describes in her Traces article as a winter that had been "unusually warm and wet."

Angela Giacomelli.She writes that record, "hurricane-force" winds began sweeping across the state, blowing down barns, uprooting trees, whisking the roofs off buildings and downing power lines. Next came relentless, driving rains for days.

Gov. Samuel Ralston of Indiana appealed for help to the American Red Cross, which Trudy points out was rather small in 1913 and "still relatively unknown in the field of disaster relief." The governor's wife, Jennie Ralston, helped create a women's committee that provided relief for flood sufferers in Indianapolis.

At the Indiana History Center, the "You Are There" exhibit will focus on Wulf's Hall Relief Station, a saloon on the west side of downtown Indy that was quickly converted into a relief center. A re-enactor will portray the head rabbi of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, which also was heavily involved with relief efforts.

Eloise Batic.On Trudy's website, she recounts how Indiana Reformatory inmates became heroes by helping save the town of Jeffersonville. Temporarily granted freedom by the reformatory's superintendent, the convicted felons battled "night and day for more than a week" to bolster two levees against the Ohio River's surging floodwaters. After the ordeal, Jeffersonville residents honored the prisoners with a lavish banquet.

In addition to the upcoming exhibit at the History Center, other exhibits related to the Flood of 1913 include:

Roadtrip: Historic New Carlisle on Lincoln Highway

Public historian Glory-June Greiff will be Roadtripping for us this Saturday. Her pick is New Carlisle in northern Indiana. It was established in 1835 on the Michigan Road and is also crossed by another scenic byway, the Lincoln Highway, so this trip will get take you to two historic roads for the price of one.

The downtown streetscape in New Carlisle, Ind.The Old Republic on the hill is the town's signature home and is headquarters of Historic New Carlisle, Inc. The home also houses a small museum of local artifacts and displays. New Carlisle also boasts a historic district of six blocks, including a picturesque downtown, and offers a great variety of historic styles of architecture.

Glory-June also tells us that New Carlisle has a slew of interesting restaurants, including Moser's Austrian Café, a real Irish pub, Millers Home Cafe for old fashioned comfort food, or The Diner for, well, your basic diner.

Our Roadtripper tells us if you're looking for more vigorous walking or communing with nature, nearby is Bendix Woods County Park (which formerly was the Studebaker Proving Grounds!) or the lovely Spicer Lake Nature Preserve. Enjoy!

History Mystery

In March 1913, just before the great flood that overwhelmed the entire state of Indiana, the town of New Castle was the setting for a tragedy that became a national media sensation for years and remains a mystery to this day. A vintage postcard shows the Henry County Courthouse in Newcastle, Ind. A 9-year-old girl suddenly vanished in a mystery that some have called Indiana's equivalent of the case of JonBenet Ramsey in a subsequent era.

The disappearance of the girl in New Castle in broad daylight - at about noon on March 20, 1913 - resulted in a national search, far-fetched theories about who might have abducted her, suspicion against her parents and massive media coverage.

Her mysterious disappearance even inspired two popular songs of the era. For decades, many parents would warn their children to take precautions while walking to school, playing outdoors or running errands - or else they could end up like the girl from New Castle who was never found.

Question: Name the girl who vanished in March 1913 in New Castle.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is two tickets to the Indiana Wine Fair on Saturday, April 27, in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn, as well as two tickets to You Are There, where you can see the new 1913: A City Under Water interactive exhibit, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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March 16 show

Birds across Indiana

Have you heard birds chirping?

Anticipating the arrival of spring, Hoosier History Live! will swoop into all things related to birds across the state. Our show will feature the return appearance of a guest who is making his own history.

Don Gorney visits with a hyacinth macaw, a species of parrot that is native to South America, at the Indianapolis Zoo. Don Gorney, a longtime volunteer board member of Amos Butler Audubon Central Indiana who is known for his bird hikes that often are based at Fort Harrison State Park, has just become the first full-time staffer in the 75-year history of the nonprofit.

Don joined Nelson in studio to share insights about our bird heritage in late November 2009 for a show that primarily focused on winter-related aspects of our feathered friends. This time around, with spring imminent, there will be much more turf to cover. It's also a golden opportunity for you to phone in and ask any bird-related question under the sun.

In his new post as Amos Butler Audubon's director of bird conservation and education, Don will be an advocate for bird conservation and lead the Lights Out Indy initiative designed to prevent the nighttime deaths of birds as they migrate over the Hoosier capital. He also will oversee a Wings Over Indy project that's designed to benefit - hold onto your hat - chimney swifts. In addition, Don will be working with the city of Indy and Butler University to increase awareness of the Indianapolis Birding Trail.

Amos Butler Audubon describes itself as a "grassroots chapter" of the National Audubon Society. Don, a naturalist who has worked as a bank examiner, has served as the chapter's board president since 2009.

Our guest also recommends www.ebird.org as a convenient way to keep bird checklists and provide important data to researchers.

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