Flood of 1943

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbookThe river is still rising at Cape. The crest was pushed back a day. They’re predicting it will hit 42 feet on Friday and stay there for about a day before going down fairly quickly. That got me digging for one of Dad’s scrapbooks where he had posted photos from the Flood of 1943, when the river crested at 42.4 feet in May of that year.

Was 1943 flood higher than 1844 flood?

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbookMinutia is important in a small town. The December 8, 1943 Missourian had a fascinating debate about whether or not the Flood of 1943 beat out the Flood of 1844. The convoluted way it’s written signals to me that the reporter didn’t quite understand what he was writing about. Here is the account:

Some facts about high stages of the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, including determination that the May 1943 mark was higher than the 1844 flood have been established. There was some contention shortly after the 1943 record flood that the water did not set a new mark.

1943 was 9/100ths of a foot higher

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbook

City Engineer John R. Walther and T.E. Bliss, division engineer for the Frisco Railroad, went into the matter on a mathematical basis recently and came to the conclusion that the 1943 flood was 9/100ths foot higher than the flood crest of July 4, 1984.

The engineers determined tht the 1844 mark was actually 42.31 feet for Cape Girardeau and that the high mark for May 1943 was 42.4 feet, which was the U.S. Engineers’ record.

Went looking for nail

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbookMr. Walther and Mr. Bliss checked the actual height of both a mark and a nail in the former Houck building at Independence and Main streets, which have long indicated the previous high crest, and found them to both show the 1844 mark to have been 42.31 feet.

River gauge established

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbookThis was arrived at from the city datum, which was established officially long ago for the purpose of fixing levels. It is officially described as being 50 feet below the high water mark of 1844, government records state. They city river gauge later was established through city ordinance. The gauge’s zero is 7.75 feet above the city datum.

The mark for 1844 was commonly known for some years as 42.5 feet, but the engineers say this was an approximation and was not correct. Until a few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had published the 1844 Cape Girardeau mark as 42.5. In more recent years, the government mark referred to in reports was the 1927 stage of 40.04 feet.

“This settles argument”

Photos of Main Street during 1943 Flood from LV Steinhoff's scrapbookThe engineers, when making the check on river marks, notched the 1943 peak for the water on an east wall of the Frisco passenger depot. The plan is to place a marker there, showing how high the record flood – set on May 27, 1943, actually was.

Referring to the engineering checks recently made by himself and Engineer Bliss, who also resides here, Engineer Walther said: “I believe this settles any argument about the 1943 stage of the river being a record.”

The Firestone building today

Main Street building that once housed Firestone 04-05-2010Well, not EXACTLY today: this photo was taken April 5, 2010. Even though the river is about at the same stage as it was in 1943, the floodwall is doing a good job of keeping Main Street dry.

Floodwall and downtown

Aerial Downtown Cape 04-17-2011This is the general area that flooded. Firestone was at the southwest corner of Main Street and Independence.

 

Jerry Ford’s Gordonville Grove

My old high school campaign manager, Bill Hopkins, said I needed to read Jerry Ford’s new book, The Gordonville Grove: Tombstones, Tambourines, & Tammany Hall. I didn’t know if Bill really liked the book or if Jerry was giving him a cut of the sales, but I headed over to Amazon anyway. The book arrived in the mail this morning and I knocked it off in a couple of hours.

Jerry was a few years older than my crowd, so I knew him by name, but not really in person. His family ran Ford & Sons Funeral Home, so I mostly knew him from chasing his ambulances.

Funeral homes provided ambulances

See, back before cities got fancy, it was customary for funeral homes to run to wrecks and other unfortunate happenings because they were about the only folks who had a vehicle large enough to carry a patient.

John Carpenter, left, and Walter Joe Ford remove Dale Smith from a car in which he was a passenger when it struck a pole in front of the Montgomery Ward store on Main St. in 1966. Smith had a broken jaw. John “Doc” Carpenter eventually became Cape County Coroner. Even though he was from Sikeston, he and I were good buddies from Scouts and debate. As early as his teens, Doc said he wanted to work in the funeral industry. He died of colon cancer in 2000. Walter Joe Ford, was author Jerry Ford’s older brother.

“Swoop and scoop”

I was on a rescue squad in North Carolina with some guys who used to work for funeral homes doing ambulance work. “Tell me, Red,” I asked one of them. “Isn’t in the best interest of the funeral home for the guest of honor to arrive not alive at the hospital? Were you ever told to take it slow on the way to the E.R.?”

Red, a linthead from one of the town’s dying textile mills thought for a while (they always had to pause to figure out what to say, me bein’ a Yankee and all), then replied, “There was always two schools of thought about that.”

“Most folks would let the funeral home that picked up the body keep it, but there was always the danger that your competitor might pick up one of the survivors and sell him a funeral on the way to the hospital. I was always of the ‘swoop and scoop’ school, myself.”

Jerry Ford’s book illustrated by Don Greenwood

Cape artist Don Greenwood illustrated the book. I’ve been a fan of his for years, particularly after he was kind enough to let me use one of his illustrations for my bike blog logo.

Gordonville Grove may not be for everyone. You almost have to be from the area to appreciate many of his stories. On the other hand, I found myself putting names to some the characters he left nameless to protect the not-so-innocent.

I may have to steal the disclaimer in the front of the book: “The opinions herein are solely those of the author. …cannot warrant any of the information in this book and can make no guarantees as to the accuracy of the situations and dialogue expressed. Certain physical characteristics and other descriptive details in this book may have been embellished for the sake of storytelling.”

Integration comes to the funeral business

The chapter titled The Deal made the whole purchase of the book worthwhile. I learned something I had never known about Cape.

Up until the mid-60s, no white funeral home had ever buried a black person in a traditional funeral setting, Ford writes. The only exceptions were one or two private burials of domestic workers employed by some of Cape’s wealthiest families. Sparks Funeral Home was the only option for most blacks.

At the request of a respected member of the black community, Jerry’s father agreed to see if the color barrier could be broken.

The funeral industry is fiercely competitive, but all of the local funeral directors brokered a deal: the first black family that wanted a funeral in one of their establishments could pick the one they wanted. After that, all of the homes would go into a rotation so that¬† no one establishment would suffer the “stigma” of dealing with blacks.

As it turned out, it was a non-issue. Cape Girardeans had no apparent problems with formerly white funeral homes holding black funerals.

Jerry Ford’s swing band

Jerry’s Ford’s 13-piece swing band has played throughout the Midwest for over 50 years. He writes about playing in all of the local clubs like The Purple Crackle and The Colony Club.

He’s performed with or watched most of the big names of the era: Henry James, Harry Ranch, Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd, The Blue Rhythm Boys, Bob Sisco and Jack Stalcup.

The Fords, the Limbaughs and the Rusts

The Fords, Limbaugh and the Rust families were the big political movers and shakers in the Cape community. The Fords were Democrats, and the latter two were Republicans. Jerry writes about how politicians from the different parties could work together for the common good without the partisan gridlock we see today.

Ordering the book(s)