Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 2, 2013

Will history repeat itself?

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — A century ago, there came The Great Flood of 1913 which has been the standard by which all other Hoosier floods have been measured.

In late March 1913, the rains came and stayed steady for five days. It swept across central and southern Indiana and Ohio. Indiana rivers, including the Wabash, White, Flat Rock, Whitewater, St. Joseph, Maumee and Ohio rivers and creeks including Gas Creek and Sand Creek had flooding. Larger cities and small towns all over Indiana were overwhelmed with water.  

Parts of Indianapolis were also flooded and some bridges and homes near the Whitewater were destroyed. The most badly damaged, though, was down by the Ohio. A hundred years later, you can still see many flood markers on buildings along the Ohio. In some areas, the floods of 2008 went higher than that of 1913.

Eleven inches of rain fell in the five days. Nearly 100 people drowned. At least 180 bridges were destroyed. Damage was estimated at more than $25 million statewide – and that was in 1913 dollars.

Smiley Fowler was an incredibly talented man whose writings were printed in several magazines, newspapers and books of the era. It has been 100 years since Smiley Fowler wrote the following poem about the ordeal of 1913. It tells us that there were advantages of being “an Inland town.”

Song of an ‘inland town’ (Apropos of the Flood of 1913)

If I could write a poem like Jim Riley ust to write, If I could ketch his rhymin’ scheme in which the words unite With a movin’ kind o’ music that’ll start your sluggish blood – I would sing a song o’ Greensburg where we didn’t have no flood. The scen’ry ‘long ole Gas Creek don’t compare with Brandywine, And we’re glad the bloomin’ Wabash and Ohio, broad and fine, And the other ragin’ rivers are miles and miles away – Ruther be an “inland town” ­- kind o’ like it thataway.

A little taste o’ trouble ‘mong our neighbors, left and right, Helps us ‘preciate our home town more’n oratory might. When the trains are kind o’ backward and we’re missin’ half our mail, When the juice is off the cable and the rust is on the rail, Then we realize the blessin’s and the comfort’s that we’ve got – There may be places just as good, but there’s heaps o’ them that’s not. We hev counted all our noses and we’ve called our little roll. And there’s nary one a missin’, not a single bloomin’ soul. Now the streams are in their channels and the trains are comin’ back, And the juice has hit the trolley and the rust is off the track.

Smiley Fowler was my friend. His picture has always set on my desk to remind me to try my best to follow his guidance. He was 30-years-old when he wrote the above poem and was 96 when he died in Feb. 1980. One hundred years was before the Great Depression, before World War I. J. E. Mendenhall was mayor. There was no YMCA, no hospital in Greensburg but there were 20 grocery stores, 16 attorneys, 10 insurance agents, five hat shops, six jewelers, 16 physicians, six barbers and – now listen to this – there were only three hairdressers!

One hundred years ago, Jim Thorpe was forced to give back the gold medals he won at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Thorpe won gold in the Pentathlon and Decathlon. He was a track and football star at the Carlisle Institute for Native Americans. He’s been called the greatest all-around athlete of all-time by many.  

The next year, in 1913, his medals were taken away by the Amateur Athletic Union because he had played for a minor league baseball team for money. Other amateur athletes had also played ball for money in those days but under assumed names. In 1982, almost 30 years after his death, Thorpe was given back his standing as a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Thorpe was a great-grandson of the Indian War Chief Black Hawk but Thorpe said, “I am not a full-blooded Indian. I am five-eighths Indian.” Records say he had three-eighths white blood from his Irish grandfather (married to Black Hawk’s daughter) and from his mother who was one-fourth French.

Do you suppose that 100 years from now somebody will write about Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France seven times? That in 2012 he was disqualified from all of his wins and banned from professional cycling for life? That in 2042 he was reinstated?