‘The Story of the Dayton Flood’ by Richard Reese from Industrial Worker. Vol. 5 No. 8. May 15, 1913.

‘Northward view of flooding taken from the Hickory Street School, formerly located at 501 Hickory Street in Dayton.’

Every single line of this article could be written about one of today’s innumerable ‘natural’ disasters caused by greed, poverty, and capitalists messing with nature. March, 1913 and the modified banks of the Miami River in Dayton, Ohio overflow leaving over 350 dead, 20,000 homes destroyed, 65,000 people displaced, nearly 3,000 horses and other animals killed.

‘The Story of the Dayton Flood’ by Richard Reese from Industrial Worker. Vol. 5 No. 8. May 15, 1913.

The beautiful city of Dayton, proudly called the “Gem City” of Ohio, offers today a sorry picture of destruction and chaos. One of the causes that led to the great disastrous flood was the greed and avarice of the real estate sharks, who for years past had been engaged in filling in the river banks, thus narrowing the channel to about half its original width in order to create new real estate values. A new street, called Sunset avenue, was added to the city, but the people of Dayton paid a fearful price for it.

When with the advent of spring the snow began to melt on the mountains and, augmented by heavy rains, unusual volumes of water rushed down into the Miami river, the latter burst over its narrow confines and with a terrific current that nothing could withstand inundated the city of Dayton to a depth of six to 40 feet. The flood entered the city on March 25th about 6 a.m. in less than two hours the business section was eight feet under water.

It rose steadily all that day and while the flood was at Its height fire broke out in several sections of the city, thus completing the work of devastation and endangering the lives of thousands of people. Rescue parties were busy all night, but could proceed only slowly on account of the raging current. On Wednesday the water began to recede and by Thursday the people ventured out on the streets again. A citizen’s committee sent a call to the governor for the militia and upon their arrival martial law was declared.

It is being rumored that several men caught looting were shot to death.

As In every other calamity, the working people suffered the most.

The number of the dead isn’t known yet and will probably never be known; officially it is stated that 87 bodies were recovered, but most residents of Dayton believe that 500 would be a very conservative estimate. The homes of the poor were swept off their foundations, reduced to kindling wood or thrown together in a vast heap of debris. Many a poor worker, after coming back to ‘what he formerly called his home, found only a big hole in the ground, while fragments of his “home” were dangling from the surrounding trees. During the first week after the flood most of the streets in the downtown section were impassable on account of the wreckage and mud, which reached up to the second story. One thousand four hundred twenty-seven dead horses and 2000 head of other cattle were removed from the streets during that time. The government took charge of the street cleaning department and sanitary department. Several thousand men were shipped in from Chicago to help clean the streets. Tents were erected in the outskirts of the city and the laborers were and still are housed and fed by the U.S. government. Tho pay Is $2 a day for eight hours work. The papers state now that beginning next week the street cleaning and sanitary department will be turned over to the city again.

It seems that the business element of Dayton is very much wrought up against the Chicago laborers for not working themselves to death. Every day the newspapers publish long articles about the “lazy, indolent bums and other undesirables.”

Hundreds of men have already been arrested and shipped to Chicago, no matter whether they came from that city or not Money found on their persons was pooled and used to pay for the fare. No man was given a chance to collect his wages.

As a result of these high handed cut-throat methods Dayton will experience a very serious labor famine this summer.

The men that were shipped out of the city and those that got scared and left of their own volition have spread the news of Dayton’s infamy country wide and the scarcity of labor is already apparent all over town. The business men sowed the wind and will reap the whirlwind. Wages are altogether too small, 20 cents an hour being the price agreed upon by the masters.

In the midst of all this turmoil a new local of the I.W.W. has been started here with temporary headquarters at 6 South Market street. All rebels coming this way are invited to drop in and help us build up a powerful organization in this home town of the Manufacturers’ Association.

Nowhere has the inability of the capitalistic system to cope with a disaster of vast proportions been so well demonstrated as In Dayton.

While appeals were sent broadcast for relief and nearly every city responded liberally with money, clothing, food and furniture, the poor of the city received very little of it. Where all the money went to nobody seems to know, but regarding provisions, I wish to state the following facts: On my way from Indianapolis to Dayton I found several carloads of bread and clothing billed for Dayton flood sufferers on the sidetrack, which had been there for over a week. The Red Cross society of Columbus stated through the press that 40 carloads of perishable goods were in the railroad yards of Columbus and if not asked for soon, would be a total loss. The upshot of the whole matter is that the cockroach business men of Dayton didn’t want the flood sufferers to get the goods from sympathizers free of charge. They had millions of dollars worth of salvage to get rid of and so in less than a week after the flood they had their shingles out: “Open for business,” and offering their rotten, mud-covered goods for sale.

I hope the lesson the great flood of Dayton teaches to the working-class will be heeded and result in a great economic organisation to overthrow this damnable capitalistic system.

The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/industrialworker/iw/v5n08-w216-may-15-1913-IW.pdf

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