Triumph over Tragedy

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It’s sophomore year of high school in AP American History class. Amidst our discussions of women’s suffrage and prison reform, Ms. Hess announces to the class an opportunity to participate in National History Day. There may have been some scoffs, but the 10th grade versions of Torey, Michael, and Ruth somehow saw this as a chance to win the awe-inspiring title of National History Day Champions.

With iMovie on my mom’s computer in hand, we set out to make a 10 minute documentary on protest music of the Vietnam Conflict era. And, oh my goodness, was it the best documentary ever. It was such a success, we swore we’d participate in History Day until we graduated. So we did.

Junior year was more of a challenge with our crazy class schedules, college visits, and general teenage angst, but somehow we churned out another (slightly poorer quality) documentary on Loving v. Virginia. Wouldn’t you know, we made it through the Ohio competition. This really got us going, so we had big plans to win it all our senior year as a retirement present to Ms. Hess.

The theme for that year’s History Day was “Triumph over Tragedy” and as Dayton fanatics we had the most perfect topic: The Great Dayton Flood of 1913.

The tragedy: Easter week 1913, it rained for 3 days in Dayton, Ohio. The protective levees broke and 20 feet of water covered the Miami Valley, trapping people in their attics and on rooftops. John Patterson, the founder of the National Cash Register Company, organized for their assembly lines to produce boats instead of cash registers to aid in the rescue effort. A ruptured gas main meant fire accompanied the flood, and it’s estimated that over 420 people lost their lives.

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The triumph: As a result of the flood, Daytonians raised over $2 million to create what is now known as the Miami Conservancy District, the first system of interconnected dams in the United States. It was then used as a model for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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Needless to say, our documentary was awesome. Unfortunately, the judges just couldn’t appreciate its brilliance, and we didn’t win the National title. The three of us still talk about that documentary, how much we loved it, how devastated we were that it didn’t win, and how often we make our friends watch it (pretty often).

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Great Dayton Flood. What started as a casual interest in winning a National History Day competition grew into a great respect for the people of Dayton who went through that tragedy and had the foresight and dedication to plan for the future. For my future.

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