After the Flood by Don Croke
We all know that the flood of 1955 was a tremendous disaster and we have seen countless photos of the devastation but I, for one have heard or read very little of what happened after the flood. I have heard many stories by mouth but almost none of them have reached print. In my case let me start by saying that I live in the “Flat” section of town. In fact, the most famous high water mark was on the side of one of the buildings at the American Optical and I would say that this mark wouldn’t be too far from where I was living at the time.
Our home was on the first floor of a six – decker tenement owned by Romeo Bonnette. Our address was 121 North St. and it was situated where the American Lanes Bowling Alley now stands. I was 18 years old at the time and had just graduated from Wells High School that June. When we got the word from the Police Department that we would have to evacuate the area because there was danger that some dams might not hold, we left and went to the Town Hall for the night. There was my father and five of us children, of which I, at 18, was the oldest. I eventually spent the next several weeks living with a school mate, Paul Sfreddo at his house. Fortunately, everything that I needed in the way of clothing was not a problem because all of his clothes fit me, including even his shoes.
I don’t recall that we were allowed back until two days later. Now me, being a high school graduate and obviously knowing it all, simply considered that we would have to wait a short while for the water to dry out and everything would go back to normal. The thought of mud never entered my mind. When we did go back I was astonished at the devastation! ---and the mud! Everything was covered in mud!. I’ll never understand how someone could reclaim a car and yet I saw the pictures of Normand Desaulniers car at the presentation on Friday the 4th of April and it could be done!
When I went into my home two days after the flood and saw what was left of our belongings, it was incredible. I remember that an upright piano had fallen over and was just destroyed. I recall that there was a bureau that was lying on its side. I grabbed hold of one leg and tried to pick it up to put it on its feet and it simply came apart in my hands. All the glued joints had just dissolved away and it fell all to pieces.
Then I went into my bedroom and took note that there was a ring of mud around the room that was about 5 feet high. In the closet, all the hanging clothes were mud from the chest down while the shoulders were still clean. Everything in the closet was coated with a thick layer of mud. Anything in the bottom of the closet was under a thick layer of it and was just not worth even bothering with.
The most amazing thing had happened, however. The night that we had evacuated, we realized that with the Quinabog River in our back yard, if the waters did come we would probably get high waters in our house. Therefore, we took special care of the only really valuable thing that we owned which was our television set. It was a console floor model as all sets were in those days. We carried it into my bedroom and laid it on the bed figuring that it would be about a foot and a half higher than the floor level and maybe we’d be lucky and it would be spared if the worst happened. When I first entered the room that morning and was assessing the damage, it appeared as if nothing in the room had been moved. The television set was right in the same position, on the bed, where we had placed it. Nothing was the least bit disturbed as far as the bed was concerned. It looked like nothing had been moved. And yet, the television set was absolutely dry! It was incredible! How could that be? The water line was well above the entire set and this was undeniable by the thick layer of mud that was all over the room and the very obvious high water mark. Only the pictures on the walls had been spared.
The only explanation that makes any sense is that the mattress must have floated up with the water and when the water went down, it happened to come back down exactly in the spot where it had been before---right on the bed, just like it had never moved at all!
All I know is that we were able to take the television set to our new house that the Red Cross helped us to locate, and plug it in. And it played! Our home, incidentally was later torn down, as was the one just behind us. Two other houses adjacent to ours were later moved down to the old AO Field where they are today.
I have to commend the cleaners in town because all of the clothes that were hanging in our closets were cleaned by them, free of charge. Of course, anything that was in the bottom was gonzo!
As I recall, it was Like-Nu Cleaners who did our stuff but I believe that there was at least one other cleaning business who did the same thing for anyone who needed it.
Another recollection I have is that while I was at the Town Hall, I heard at least one man come in and say that he had lost everything---his house, his car, -- and all he had was the clothes on his back. I knew of another man who had built his house almost entirely by himself using to a large extent, scrap lumber from the AO ( he was a janitor). It took him several years to complete and finally move in. He had been there about two years when the flood came and lifted it off its foundation. It was a total loss. I’m told that almost no one had flood insurance.
In the midst of all this misery and devastation people started pulling together. I recall that Lippe’s Market gave away everything that was usable in their grocery store. The electricity was out for quite a long time; at least two weeks for most people. I and my friend, with whose family I was staying, had a job for most of that time driving around town delivering dry ice to keep food from spoiling. We drove an old pickup truck that a Mr. Staves had been using to maintain Dresser St. Field. It was a four speed truck with a floor stick shift but most of the time it refused to go into first gear so we had to start from second gear. And when first gear could be gotten into, second gear seemed to disappear. It was so hard to shift that, while I drove and operated the steering and the floor clutch pedal, my friend had to use both hands to try to get the darn thing into whatever gear we were hoping to use at the time by jiggling and forcing the stick shift. . It was a riot! It’s a shame to say this, but we had a grand time doing this in spite of all the misery and loss around us.
It wasn’t bad enough that the truck was so hard to shift, but in addition it had virtually no power. We had to drive up Page Hill and on to Clemence Hill in order to get around the fact that the Central Street bridge was out. Everyone had to use this route to go from the “Flat” to the stores on upper Main St. One time as we were going up this hill, we had to stop because of traffic conditions and were sandwiched in, among a long line of traffic going both ways. When we tried to start again, and put her into gear nothing happened for several seconds because of the hill and our load of dry ice.
We just sort of hung there. We really began to sweat it because there was no place for us to go. Finally, she started, very slowly to move just the least little bit and gradually got up enough momentum so that we could make it the rest of the way up the hill. For a while we didn’t think the old girl was going to make it.
Some days later, when I was going up the hill on the shuttle bus that the authorities were running for the townsfolk to go back and forth to do their shopping, the bus was about to pass another vehicle coming down the road. Our bus moved over to the edge of the roadway to make room for us to pass one another. The grounds were still very water logged and as the wheels of the bus went off the road onto the shoulder on the right side, the bus started sinking into the soft ground. It went down a considerable amount. Enough so, that I thought it was going to roll over onto its side, but as fate would have it, there was a mound of dirt built up along that short stretch and the bus laid right against it briefly. As people stepped to the left side of the bus, it popped back over into an upright position and the driver was able to get us back on our way.
These are some of the memories that I will always carry with me about the
great flood of 1955!
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