The book and the flood

You see it all the time in the movies — The historic researcher has to brave all kinds of traps and attackers before he gets his artifact. He manages to steal whatever item he’s after, risking his life to get it.

I admit, I’ve had a few of those moments, but in recent years, I’ve managed to develop a much more efficient method.

I’m sorry to tell Indiana Jones and Nicholas Cage, but I’ve found a much easier way. I’ve learned to just mention this stuff in the newspaper, and let the general public bring the artifacts to me.

This is how I got a visit from Jackie Lundy of Mill Hall. I’d like the thank Jackie for bringing me a book about Washington Irving, published in 1911. The book itself is nothing special; it’s just an old textbook. It’s the inscription that makes it worth seeing.

Inside the front cover, there’s a note in black ink, written in that odd handwriting that everyone seemed to have back then.

“This book was in the Lock Haven High School during the flood of March 17-18, 1936. The water was from 8 to 10 feet deep in the business section of the town. The entire town below the hill section was inundated. The water covered the lower side of South Jones Street. The 1936 flood was greater than the 1889 flood by 2.8 feet.”

There is no indication as to who wrote the inscription, but it’s pretty impressive. It sums up quite a lot of the most important facts about the 1936 flood, and whoever wrote it, I’m pretty grateful to them for writing a significant portion of my article for me.

There are a bunch of neat stories surrounding the 1936 flood. As the waters rose, families fled, some of them leaving behind a lot of items. One family had to leave golden retriever puppies in their attic, and when they went back, the puppies had escaped the attic, but didn’t get any further than the steps. They were kept by the family, and named “Flood” and “Mud.”

On the south end of town, one man lost his pet tropical fish, which apparently saw its chance during the flood and decided to make a break for it. It was found, alive, later, swimming around the flooded basement of Saint Agnes Church.

As a father and son ran from the rising floodwater, they had to leave their horse behind — its harness had caught on a post, and it was stuck. The father handed the son a rifle, telling him to not let the horse drown. The son pulled off an unbelievable trick shot, hitting the horse’s metal blinder. The bullet ricocheted, and startled the horse, which jerked its head and pulled free, running to safety.

I’m hoping PETA doesn’t read this, but just in case, let me get into a bit of the non-animal history of the flood. My personal favorite story is Mary Elizabeth Crocker, at the time the head librarian of the Ross Library. It was during this time that the boss lived at the library, as opposed to now, when she only seems to. Mary was in the library as the flood got deeper — A custodian tried to reach her, but was driven back by the water.

Mary spent all night running up and down the stairs, carrying armloads of books to the attic. She broke her shoulder in the process, and didn’t quit — She managed to save a large portion of the library’s collection.

An aid station was set up at the silk mill on North Fairview Street, largely run by Helen Selts, a visiting state health nurse, who organized a cadre of local volunteers. (Much of this information was discovered in an old 1936 copy of The Express, which was given to me by someone who correctly assumed I’d get some use out of it, so my method works.)

Meanwhile, down at Associated Gas and Electric, 11 employees realized that the water was too high, and they climbed onto the roof, and then onto one of the large gas tanks for safety. They grabbed a wheelbarrow floating past, and used some driftwood to build a fire and dry themselves out.

As some telegraph poles floated by, they gathered them up and lashed them together to make a raft that would fit four. The four men floated as far as Henderson Street, where they took refuge in a local home. The remaining seven men caught a ride with two guys in a boat the next morning.

The book that survived the flood reminded me of a lot of these stories, and basically inspired me to write about them once again. I’m keeping it, and giving it a place of honor on my shelf. After all, it survived one of the most fascinating floods Lock Haven has ever had.