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Researcher of 1937 Flood
exchanges stories of the time

Ridenhour's lecture in Carrollton
part of Humanities program

By Jarrett Boyd
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. • The summer of 1936 was the hottest anyone could remember. On July 7, the temperature was 101degrees. On the 10th, people were sweltering in 108 degrees. By the 20th, area residents had endured 14 days of temperatures above 103 degrees. What would the rest of the year bring?

Temperatures in August ran 5 degrees above normal. And then it started to rain. Far above normal rainfall occurred in the Ohio River Valley during the fall, and as winter began, warmer than usual temperatures brought more rain.  
In January 1937, the rains came day and night, day after day. Louisville measured more than 19 inches. South of Madisonville, Ky., the official rainfall was measured at 22.97 inches.
Hugh Ridenour, a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau, on Jan. 23 shared these facts about the weather leading up to Jan. 24, 1937, known as Black Sunday, with a large audience at the Carroll County Public Library. A resident of Hanson, in Hopkins County, and a veteran teacher of 28 years in Kentucky's public schools, Ridenour has gathered the stories of his parents and others along the river and made them part of his presentation, "My Kingdom for a Boat: Memories of the '37 Flood."
One such story was of the old man from Louisville who reported that this was his first flood. "I've seen five high waters, but this is my first flood." High waters he may certainly have seen as the Ohio crested in Louisville in at 41.4 feet. In 1914, it was 44.9 feet; in 1933, 39.1 feet. And in 1937, high water in Louisville reached 57.1 feet.   
In Carrollton, the crest was 79.9 feet.  
Ridenour recalled that his mother said, "In those circumstances, you might as well laugh as cry."  
Indeed, laughter may have been the best medicine for the young bride who just two months before had moved from high ground in Breckinridge County to the banks of the Green River in McClean County. She watched as her husband used his horse that liked to swim, lead the cows from the barns to the higher ground. She had to move most of her belongings out of the house and into the unfinished attic of her inlaws' home with several other family members "and no facilities."
When, after three weeks, she was finally able to return home, she found that the large containers of varnish, molasses and bran had mixed with two dozen eggs, and the mess was dripping from the walls and ceilings of the house.
Some people cracked under the strain of the rampaging river. A woman in Louisville called radio station WHAS, pleading, "Please send a car to pick me up."
"But lady, you are surrounded by water," said the man at the station.
"I know, but I'm afraid of boats," was her reasoned reply. 
Another man was spotted on his roof taking down his chimneys, brick by brick. Each brick was thrown through an open window of the house.  A neighbor asked what he was doing.  "I figure if I weigh it down, the house won't float away," he answered.
Ridenour's father and grandfather, carpenters by trade, found some good news in the river. Lumber from a nearby chair factory floated right by their barn where they had set up shop in the loft. The two men would snag boards out of the river, make john boats, which they would launch out of the loft opening. Folks were right there waiting to get the free boats.
Damages from the flood were put at $300 million that's in 1937 money. "Today, that would be billions instead of millions," explained Ridenour.
Members of the audience had some stories to tell, too. Weegie Rice remembered how the teachers were organized to help. Ruth Atkinson and Pearl Booth were proud to help. They wore large badges with ribbons that read, "Privy Inspectors."
Carolyn Stout remembered that reports had gone out over the radio that "everybody in Carrollton was hanging in the trees, and drowning like rats." Her grandfather, who lived in Flemingsburg, sent his son with a car full of supplies and a john boat to save his daughter and grandchildren. When he finally got here, the trip being an ordeal in itself, Stout's uncle fell right into the water and had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Owen Harris heard from his grandfather about the ramp he built in the dairy barn. "He built a ramp so that he could get the cows up into the loft and milk them up there. The barn was surrounded by water, so the loft was the only place he could go with them. But the water didn't get that high, so the cows didn't have to be moved."
 Lula Mae Kyle was 9 years old at the time of the flood. Most of the people in Worthville, where she lived, were evacuated to Guy Tharp's house. "He had a great big basement, and it was full of dogs, cats and more people, and they all brought their Sunday dinner. Every day he would take us down to the store in Worthville and get us a sucker. All us kids would follow him like soldiers.
"I was having so much fun I didn't want that flood ever to be over. I just loved those suckers."
Stories such as these may find their way into Ridenour's repertoire. For folks along this stretch of the mighty Ohio, they help keep the memories alive.

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