News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

March 24, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Amid tragedy and chaos, the hopeful smiles of youth could not be repressed

TERRE HAUTE — The image jars the viewer.

On its own, the old photograph appears ordinary. Three kids, posing outside a Terre Haute neighborhood. A lanky boy playfully cocks his derby hat sideways on his head. He stands beside two girls, bundled in winter coats — a curly haired blonde and a brunette wearing a stocking cap.

And they’re smiling.

The setting provides the irony and significance. The picture is part of a collection by the Indiana Historical Society of the Easter 1913 tornado and flood that ravaged the state and, especially, Terre Haute. The other photos from Terre Haute depict grim scenes, mostly adults. A man in a black overcoat surveys twisted trees and mud water around a white farm house. More than a dozen men stand in muck behind their leaking sandbag wall, staring at the overflowing Wabash River. A factory nearly swamped.

And three smiling kids.

The photograph, housed at the Indiana Historical Museum in Indianapolis, doesn’t include the names or ages of the children. Their bright expressions are more important. Those grins — captured by a photographer 100 years ago this week — send a message from those youngsters to those of us in the 21st century …

Curb your pessimism.

That demeanor pervades the culture today. When any hint of optimism arises, a prepared, equal force of pessimism responds in kind. Last week, a survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that despite gains in the stock market and an upsurge in real-estate values, nearly 32 percent of Americans — the most in eight years — say the economy will get worse in 2013.

Maybe they’re right. Real problems exist. Rising gas and food prices concern more than half of the people Pew surveyed, particularly those in households earning less than $30,000 a year. Stocks and real-estate prices are not their worries. More than 1 in 4 have struggled to get or pay for medical care. A similar number had trouble paying rent or mortgages. Fifteen percent lost a job. The impact brings heartaches and sleepless nights. And remedies will continue to appear remote until Congress and the White House start attacking the problems instead of each other.

Still, it is worth remembering the troubles previous generations endured. The phrase “this is the worst ever” should not be used loosely.

This week marks the centennial of the broadest natural disaster in Terre Haute and Indiana history. On the evening of March 23, 1913, Easter Sunday, a fierce tornado cut a four-block wide path through the city, wrecking factories and hundreds of homes, toppling trees onto dwellings, sparking fires, and claiming 17 lives. The destruction continued in the form of a flood. Monsoon style rains sent the Wabash to a record 31 feet by March 27, inundating the northern section of Terre Haute, West Terre Haute and Taylorville. Houses floated off their foundations. With snow still on rooftops, bone-chilling floodwaters poured into the streets. Phone and telegraph services failed. Gas and electricity plants shut down. Highways and railroads turned impassible. Four more people died.

As a local newspaper put it, “Terre Haute is rapidly becoming shut off from the world.”

In fact, the system of tornadoes and flooding that cut through the Midwest became known as the Great Dayton Flood, according to some historians, because news of what had happened in Terre Haute emerged so slowly.

Here, it is remembered as “the most dreadful week in Vigo County history,” community historian Mike McCormick wrote.

Imagine such a catastrophe occurring today. What sort of reaction would children — such as that trio in that peculiar picture from a century past — see from us adults? Would we present any examples of hope? In us, would they see any reason for optimism in their future?

By comparison, they seemed to have little to smile about in 1913, aside from the tornado and flood those three kids had just experienced. Their life expectancies were a mere 50.3 years for the boy and 55 years for the girls. (Today, most of us live into our mid 70s.) Within five years, those children faced a worldwide influenza and pneumonia pandemic that killed more than 50 million people across the globe. (Now, the annual toll in the U.S. from the flu — still a dangerous concern — is in the hundreds.) Many homes lacked indoor toilets, and people walked through the elements to an outhouse. (How could anybody trudging through the dark and snow at 2 a.m. be optimistic?)

A 21st-century pessimist might say, “Yeah, but think about the state of government and the job market.”

In 1913, Terre Haute experienced a municipal election so fraud-riddled and corrupt that Chicago party bosses would be envious. Within a few years, a mayor, two judges and the sheriff were in prison. Also in 1913, after workers at a Terre Haute transportation company began efforts to unionize in November, managers hired thugs to quell their plans.

Not exactly utopia.

In that setting, amid the rubble of a genuinely worst-ever disaster, three kids found a reason to smile for the camera. After all, like all children, they had dreams of a good life ahead of them. And, the adults around them probably weren’t trying to convince them otherwise.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion Columns
  • RONN MOTT: Shave

    I recently saw a television pitch man explain the virtues of the single blade in what appeared to be an old-fashioned safety razor. He was explaining we didn’t need three blades in a razor, or five, or six, and how many more are we going to get with the razor to get that perfect shave? He urged us to use only one.

    April 22, 2014

  • MET 081213 MILL TREES.jpg MARK BENNETT: Living the dream

    Earth Day receives its share of under-your-breath criticism.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • RONN MOTT: Spring activities settle into northside park

    Some say young love blossoms like the flowers in the spring. It must be spring, because we witnessed the first wedding ceremony performed in the Collett Park gazebo on a recent Saturday.

    April 18, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: They didn’t make it!

    The “One and Dones” done went and didn’t! (I know this is grammatically incorrect, but I want those folks down in Kentucky to read it.)

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Royce Waltman

    In recent days the papers have been full of good things about Royce Waltman. Not a lot of puffery, but more like Royce himself… straight, true and right at you.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Not much peace since war to end all wars

    My jaw dropped the other day when I read that this year, 2014, marks 100 years since the start of World War I. No, you wise guys, I wasn’t there personally.

    April 14, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: It’s (Not) So Easy

    Arctic air bled into the Wabash Avenue post-hippie-era diner-pub every time the wooden door swung open.

    April 12, 2014

  • ERIC SCHANSBERG: The 1040 tax form turns 100

    The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution brought us the federal income tax in 1913. A year later, the 1040 tax form was born.

    April 12, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Pondering our planet’s future

    I watched a TV show recently and the subject was global warming.

    April 11, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Bits & Pieces

    I don’t know about you, but I get a total sense of helplessness when I realize 239 people died in one airplane crash. And to make it worse, if that is possible, the loved ones left behind can’t close. Maybe this week.

    April 10, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Basketball and Done

    I guess I’m going to have to change my mind about the “One and Done” rule. It would seem the future professionals wearing university uniforms — national runner-up Kentucky is an example — has proven me a fool. Why should I care about the education they are getting, or not getting?

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Angling for a mate not fond of fishing

    While many little girls daydream about the dream man they hope to find, it seems to me that they concentrate on all the wrong things. I can’t discount the appeal of beauty, brains and virtue, but my dream man was one who was not dedicated to fishing.

    April 7, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: A fine mess for collegiate sports

    Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were a comedic team in the late 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

    April 4, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: The Angry Planet

    It is better to imagine an ocean as peaceful and calm.  The problem is, an ocean is very rarely, ever that way. I remember when a writer took his wife and family from New York to England in his sailboat. And later, his wife commented there was never a time she could have something cooking on the stove without the food spilling out.

    April 3, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Learning as you go

    I have always been a person who respects education. Education doesn’t always come to you in the orderly process of school and classroom. Sometimes, it finds you in work-a-day situations.

    April 1, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Words can take us on memorable excursions

    When The Tribune-Star recently asked the reading public to name “the best” in dozens of categories, I didn’t hesitate in naming Mike Lunsford as my favorite columnist.

    March 31, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: Volunteers’ cleanup efforts key to river’s future role in community

    People throw all kinds of garbage into and along the Wabash River, aiming to make their used-up stuff disappear from their lives.

    March 29, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Even NCAA floors pure Americana

    I noticed during the NCAA Tournament games I have been watching that all of them have identical basketball floors, regardless of where the game was played.

    March 28, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Guns and Schools

    I guess I just don’t get it. Perhaps I’m not smart enough. Those who don’t agree with me very often probably think that is the problem — me not being smart.
    The idea that children will be safer if you have a gun in your car in the school parking lot, or somewhere on school grounds, leaves me with the traditional “Duh!” I don’t wish to poke fun at those honest citizens who “pack” and hope they will be able to do something good in the way of helping family or neighbors in the event of a crisis, but often in those situations innocent people get shot.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: Flight 370

    Not too many days ago, I heard a reporter refer to Flight 370 as an accident. It wasn’t an accident … it was, most likely, murder. If this aircraft went down in the Indian Ocean, we will be extremely fortunate to find the remains of the plane and any of the people on it.

    March 25, 2014

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Memories stir desire to collect new ones

    I was talking with a friend the other day, a much younger friend. Somehow the conversation turned to early memories. One of her earliest memories had to do with 9/11 and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers.

    March 24, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: Dues Paid, change under way

    In the 1940s, Dorothy Jerse sat in a University of Illinois accounting class, listening to a guest speaker.

    March 22, 2014 1 Story 1 Video

  • RONN MOTT: Catching up on the here and now

    Oh my, write down the date, underline it, and say, “The guesswork in Ronn’s column the other day was wrong!”

    March 21, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: The Russian Bear

    As I’m writing this, the official word from the Crimean election is not yet in. It doesn’t have to be … Putin would not have an election for the Crimea to ask itself out of the Ukraine back into Russia because he does not want to be embarrassed. 

    March 20, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Thank you, NCAA

    The MEAC, the MAAC and the MAC. Do you know? And how much do you know mixed with how much do you care? Now we know the MAC, they’re practically home boys. That’s Northern Illinois, Ball State and a handful of teams in Ohio. But you get reacquainted with some of these schools because of the NCAA Tournament.

    March 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Spreading news from one ‘Liz’ to another

    I received a letter the other day from a Yorkville High School classmate. It wasn’t snail mail, it was written in cursive writing and although it required more than the 3-cent stamp of my youth, it found our mailbox within a couple of days of posting.

    March 17, 2014

  • KIEL MAJEWSKI: Sexual violence demands the world’s action

    I have a lot to learn in life, but I am convinced of this: The day men share power equally with women is the day we will see true peace in this world. The day women and girls are valued as much as men and boys, and are treated with the same respect as their male counterparts, is the day we will finally see healthy societies.

    March 15, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: All aboard!

    Find me a George Mason University basketball T-shirt in Indiana.

    March 15, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: One and done, 2014 style

    Hoosiers, this time of the year, turn their minds and emotions to the grand old game of “hoops.”

     

    March 14, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Ukraine 2

    The situation in the Ukraine should let us know plainly, and openly, the old saying about a leopard never changing its spots is true. Vladimir Putin is a KGB officer, grew up a communist and, from all appearances, still believes like a communist.

    March 13, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter Raw: Man Fatally Shot During Police Standoff Hagel Gets Preview of New High-tech Projects Pipeline Opponents Protest on National Mall New Yorkers Celebrate Cherry Blossom Blooms Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers Stowaway Teen Forces Review of Airport Security 'Miss Meadows' Takes Holmes Back to Her Roots Raw: Royal Couple Tours Uluru in Australia New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named Raw: Tesla Delivers First China Cars SCOTUS Hears Tv-over-Internet Case Obama to Oso: We'll Be Here As Long As It Takes Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener Hong Kong Residents Help Create Green Roofs Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye'
NDN Video
Stephen Colbert Tells David Letterman His Plan for 'Late Show' Georgetown police officer filmed tripping students Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Recycling Highlights for Earth Day Peeps Launched into Outer Space NYPD's Twitter Request For Photos Backfires New HBO Go Commercials Capture Awkward Family TV Watching Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Rise of the Milkbots Jenna Dewan-Tatum Strips Down TRENDING: Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice' on ‘Tonight Show’ Middle School heroes rescue students from burning bus WHOPPER OF FISHING STORY: Florida man catches massive Mako shark Maks Chmerkovskiy's "DWTS" Meltdown The many faces of Mike Woodson Ape Builds A Fire And Toasts Marshmallows In Amazing BBC Video Manchester Utd sack manager David Moyes "RHOA's" Dramatic Brawl High school, College Drug Ring Busted In Montgomery County High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity