My Parents' Story
The inspiration behind A Winter's Flood
On Friday evening, January 22, 1937, Jack Fogarty, a junior in high school in Jeffersonville, Indiana, sat at the supper table with his family while they all listened closely to the news on the radio. After two weeks of continual rain, the Ohio River had swollen to the top of the levee that protected the town.
An emergency announcement came over the radio. The levee was eroding, and people who lived near the river were advised to evacuate within the hour. The Fogarty home on Watt Street was two-and-a-half blocks north of the river.
Jack’s dad, who worked across the river at the South Louisville Shops of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, made a quick decision. He would take his wife and two of their daughters to Louisville and stay with family in Parkland, a neighborhood in the West End. He instructed Jack and his fifteen-year-old brother to remain in Jeffersonville with their married sister who lived ten blocks farther north.
Their sister's husband, the only member of the family who had an automobile, drove the boys' parents and other sisters to Louisville, making it back to Jeffersonville just before the Municipal Bridge (now the Clark Memorial Second St. Bridge) was closed. In the meantime, Jack and his brother gathered a few toiletries and hurried to their sister’s home in the cold and dark.
Their dad, who planned to return the next day, had told the boys to meet him at the house and help him move what they could up onto tables. The next morning, the boys could not get within two blocks of the house because of the floodwater.
As the river continued to rise, the National Guard forced Jack and his brother, their sister's family, and a maiden aunt and bachelor uncle to move nine times to higher ground. They slept on the floors of strangers’ unheated homes. Food and water were provided by commissaries hastily set up by the Red Cross.
During this time, Jack and his brother-in-law took a motorboat ride to the Fogarty home on Watt Street. All that could be seen above the floodwater was the peak of the roof.
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In January of 1937, Anne Peak was living with her family on Osage Avenue in western Louisville. By Saturday, January 23rd, Louisville had flooded to such an extent that, when the river rose a few more feet, the entire West End was expected to be underwater. A hundred thousand people fled that day, loading trucks and cars with their belongings, but the Peaks stayed home.
Anne’s youngest sister was scheduled for surgery on Monday at Sts. Mary and Elizabeth’s Hospital. A heavy downpour on Sunday forced the floodwater to back up through the storm drains, rapidly filling basements and streets. The water climbed the knoll in the Peak’s front yard and reached the floor of their front porch. Two boats came to rescue the family.
Anne’s mother and sister were taken in one boat to the hospital where her sister had surgery the next day, performed by candlelight. Since the second boat had no room for anything but the remaining family, Anne slipped a toothbrush and bobby pins into her pocket, and the boat took them to her aunt’s home in Old Louisville. For weeks, they ate endless bowls of Corn Flakes and scrambled for a place to sleep.
When the residents of the West End were finally allowed to return to their homes, Anne’s father went back to Osage Avenue ahead of the family. He cleaned the house and basement and nailed down the buckled hardwood boards on the first floor.
* * * *
After the rain ended and the river started to recede, Jack took a job shoveling cinders out of railroad boxcars to shore up the levee in Jeffersonville. One afternoon, as he was finishing for the day, he heard his dad yell his name. A month had passed since they’d seen each other. Neither had known if the other was okay, and Jack had turned seventeen. They rounded up his brother and headed for Louisville.
At one point during the flood, the family in Parkland had been forced to evacuate, but they were back by the time Jack and his brother arrived. The boys slept on the floor on blankets for two months until their dad could rent a house in the neighborhood.
To earn extra money for the family, the boys worked for the W.P.A., a government agency helping with the flood relief. They reported to work each morning at a firehouse in the West End then were taken to the hardest hit areas to remove debris from the neighborhoods and hose and brush mud from the streets.
As soon as conditions allowed, Jack and his brother took a bus to Jeffersonville to see if anything in their home on Watt Street could be salvaged. After forcing a swollen front window open, they found eighteen inches of mud on the floor. Hardly anyone had insurance in those days, so all but the home was a loss. The whole family pitched in to clean and repair the house, and the maiden aunt and bachelor uncle moved in. Jack and his immediate family remained in Louisville.
* * * *
St. Benedict’s Church, across the street from Anne’s home on Osage, was heavily damaged by the flood and closed a time for repairs. One Sunday after her family had returned home, Anne walked to Mass at St. George, the closest Catholic church open.
That same Sunday, Jack attended Mass at St. George with his cousin. Standing outside afterward, he spotted Anne coming down the steps in the crowd. He asked his cousin if he knew that beautiful girl. His cousin told him he was in luck – the girl was a friend of his sister – and he would make sure Jack got an introduction.
Jack and Anne were married sixty-six years and had seven children -- their "silver lining" as Mom called it.
I'm getting sentimental over you.