The Great Flood of 1903

It seems that many a great metropolis from Chicago West has had a rebirth from disaster. Fire usually was the culprit one notably an earth-quake but for Kansas City it has always been Water.

The first half of May, 1903 had seen above normal rainfall in Northeastern Kansas. According to the USGS ,"it rained daily between May 16 and 31. Salina had more than 17 inches of rain during the month, and most of northeast and north-central Kansas had more than 10 inches of rain". The soils along the Kansas and Republican rivers could take no more, so as heavy rains fell on the night of 30, May it had nowhere to go but down stream. On the Morning of the thirty-first of May it came to Kansas City bringing with it death and destruction of a kind never before seen. The Kansas and Missouri Rivers had flooded before of course as they had done since the beginning of time. What made this flood different was that there was now a major population and trading center in the path where there had been none before.

What must have seemed like an event of "Biblical" proportions to the people of the day sparked simpathy and interest around the country. Yet in three short years, the earthquake in San Francisco and yet more disasters coming in each succeding decade would cause the 1903 flood to fade in the memory of those who were not there. Finally, and perhaps rightly so, blotted out altogether by another even greater flood in 1951.

Fortunately, for those of us who are factinated by the past, there survives a photographic record of these events. I have been fortunate enough to have been allowed access to some of this material and will share it here. Thanks to Bill White and Dewey Fristoe, both of the Kansas City Area, I have been able to digitize these unique booklets which include some pictures I have never seen before. The pictures tell one story but the publications tell another of a time before nightly news and film at eleven when the art of still photography was the state of the art in visual media. Photographers, like modern day media producers, were always in search of content and nothing sold better than disaster...especially biblical ones.

The three books here are so similar that it amazing they are not the product of one mind. Each was printed in a different place, for a different customer but all are a not too subtle attempt at self promotion. Note the Alton's assertion that through the railways succesful efforts to keep the lines of communication open the Chicago and Alton was indeed "The Only Way". And so forth.

Views of the Great Kansas City Flood
from the collection of Dewey Fristoe

The Weekly Impliment Trade Journal
from the collection of Bill White

Chicago & Alton Commemorative
from the collection of Bill White