Friday, November 19, 2010

Tsunami in Salem - The Pond

Spectators at Collapsed Wall
Tsunami is a stretch; however what has been described as a “tidal wave” struck Winston on November 2, 1904, shortly before the merge of the two cities.

In 1882 a high, brick walled, water reservoir was built on a hill near the current intersection of Trade and Eighth Streets to supply water for the rapidly expanding city. People living nearby had complained about water seeping from under the walls.

Disaster struck at 5:20 AM as people in the neighborhood were awakened by a loud thud and shutters "like an earthquake." The entire north wall of the reservoir had collapsed. An estimated 800,000 - 1,400,000 gallons of water rushed into the black rental neighborhood below, destroying houses, washing eight houses away, killing nine people, including the entire William Poe family, and injuring many others. The Poe family’s bodies were found near the foot of Trade Street. There were many miraculous stories of survival.

We honor and respect those who lost their lives, homes and possessions. Even in what has been described as "The Saddest Chapter of Our History" some resemblance of humor can be found. The only description of a survivor I have read is found in local author Hunter James rousing, raucous, hilarious book about our Salem “The Last Days of Grassy Fork”. Hunter shares, what he understands, of his white grandfathers tale of survival. If you were raised here and haven’t read this book you are missing out on many great escapades of our history!
The way it later came down to me, the old man and his paramour had been caught in the act by the crash of the reservoir and had leapt to safety from an upstairs window just as the house was going under. Lucky that a good sturdy maple and a clump of fig trees were just within reach of the roof as they crept out onto it in the cold of the November dawn.

For years people would tell stories of those who had miraculously escaped death in the Great Trade Street Flood: the roof that collapsed and formed a protective canopy over a sleeping child, the black man and his wife who rode their bed to safety on the crest of the raging tide. At least, nobody from the newspaper ever came out to interview him.

Could such a deed be left fester in silence?
Hunter JamesThe Last Days of Big Grassy Fork
Is Hunter James tale true? Without doubt it may be greatly embellished through the years however, the Baptists appointed a "committee of deacons" and proceeded to kick Hunters grandfather out of the church again due to the rampant tales of his miraculous survival. You really need to read this book!

It is said that a city official looking over the flooded area remarked that it looked "like a pond," and the name has been associated with this black neighborhood since that day.

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