2011-10-01 / Daily Dose

HISTORY ALIVE

Actors will reinvent the real story about dam’s failure

Century-old spirits have returned to the Freeman Run valley in Potter County this weekend to tell people what happened when the Austin Dam failed on Sept. 30, 1911.

A highlight of the threeday Austin Flood Centennial Observance will be a special program, titled “Echoes From the Past,” that combines the authentic words of flflood survivors and eyewitness presented in dramatic fashion by almost two dozen actors and musicians.

The program goes onstage at 8:30 Saturday night at the foot of the broken dam in the Austin Dam Memorial Park.

It was produced by local historian and writer Paul W. Heimel, who recently authored the book, “1911: The Austin Flood.”

Highlighting the 45-minute program will be a brief debate between George Bayless, the industrialist who had the dam built to pool water for his massive pulp and paper mill, and T. Chalkley Hatton, a respected engineer who designed the dam under tight fifiscal restraints and warned of its shortcomings.

More than a dozen eyewitnesses of the flflood will also be heard, with their words recited by volunteers.

Heimel, who will narrate Saturday night’s program, introduces it with an invitation to audience members to “close your eyes and join us as we travel back in time to 1911 . . . We are reaching into history to magically bring back the central fifigures of the 1911 flflood. They are still very much with us in spirit . . . Everything you hear from this stage will be the voice of a survivor or eyewitness of the flflood, in their own words.”

Making “appearances,” in addition to Bayless and Hatton, will be Oscar Clafflfl in (Steve Quelet), who warned that the dam failure was imminent; Harry Davis (Terry Rivel), who watched the structure collapse; Grace Murphy (Eppie Bailey), who flfled to safety from the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill just below the dam; and William Robertson (Curt Weinhold), Weinhold), the town photographer who fell two stories when the flood toppled a downtown apartment building.


This design for the Austin Flood Centennial T-shirts was chosen by hundreds of visitors to the event’s website. Austin High School art students were asked to come up with a logo as part of a contest and several did. This one, drawn by Matt Rodich, was selected as the winner. The T-shirts with this design can be purchased during the Centennial. The contest was one of several ways the school, its faculty and students contributed to the event. This design for the Austin Flood Centennial T-shirts was chosen by hundreds of visitors to the event’s website. Austin High School art students were asked to come up with a logo as part of a contest and several did. This one, drawn by Matt Rodich, was selected as the winner. The T-shirts with this design can be purchased during the Centennial. The contest was one of several ways the school, its faculty and students contributed to the event. Mary Blaitz (Natalie Phelps) will tell how a man chopped off her leg to allow her to escape the rising waters. Matthew Young (Jakob Bailey) will tell of his father’s heroic bicycle ride through Costello to warn of the flood.

Authors Margaret Sutton (Julie Bailey) and Marie Nuschke (Autumn Solomon) will share their memories. Agnes Murphy (Tracie Gordnier) will describe how she barely survived. Thelma Stuckey (Lake Solomon) will tell how she always regretted not being more assertive when she noticed a flood victim in distress.

Jack Cooney (Blade Solomon) from Costello had some colorful memories of the flood. Bink Fowler (Rylee Hooftallen) will recall the tragedy from the perspective of an 11-year-old.

Also, Addison Beman (Bob “Smitty” Smith) will tell of a heroic act he performed after rushing to Austin from his job in the Galeton railroad shops.

The program concludes with Peg Rotello’s recitation of Dixie Ripple’s poignant poem, “Unbroken,” and a medley of songs based on the Austin flood by folk band Jakob’s Hollow.

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