Sunday, June 24, 2007

Remembering A Tragedy

Looking at the hometown newspaper online, I found this article on the disaster which was Hurricane Agnes, which struck the mid-Atlantic region on this date in 1972. We moved to the area shortly thereafter, and shortly after my grandfather had moved his inventory of automobiles from his home on the hill back to Schreffler Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac in downtown Sunbury, Pennsylvania.

Yes, that picture shows the raging Susquehanna River, just six inches from the top of the flood wall in Sunbury. Other places were not so lucky; virtually the entirety of the rest of the Susquehanna Valley from Wilkes-Barre (where the levee system failed) to Harrisburg suffered billions of dollars in damage from the waters of the river. Even the Pennsylvania Governor's Mansion was flooded. For decades, the Sunbury wall had been quite controversial, since it spoiled the view of the river of those homes you see in the background.

For many years thereafter, there were two pieces of graffiti on the wall, saying "I love you wall!"

And a word of complaint about the wall's aesthetic damage was never heard again.


Charles said...

Sunbury -- home of the world's largest "fabriDam". My family is from Sunbury on my mother's side, and we were supposed to visit the week of Agnes, but of course had to cancel.

Sunbury planned the "wall" after one flood, but didn't get it built until another flood. When Agnes hit, they were debating tearing down the wall because it obstructed the view of the river.

They had just built the "fabricated Dam", which had big balloons which could be inflated and deflated. They had also built a multi-million-dollar marina in the lake formed by the dam -- the marina was wiped out by Agnes.

In addition to the wall, there were also large earthen levees. What was really cool was these metal temporary walls they had for where bridges across the river passed through the wall.

My relatives lived up on the hill and were in no danger of flooding. My Father's family came from Selinsgrove, which is right across the river from Sunbury but a little higher and saved from the flooding.

We had a bit of flooding in Maryland from Agnes as well, and I remember riding a plastic boat down a very overflowing stream by my house.

As soon as I saw your picture, I knew exactly what it was. Thanks for the memories.

James Young said...

I either didn't know that about you, Charles, or forgot. I was actually raised in Northumberland, though my grandparents had moved to Sunbury a few weeks before the flood, and lived there until their deaths in 2000 and 2002. My mother and brother live there now. Didn't have too much contact with Selinsgrove, 'cept of course when Shikellamy played them in football. However, my mother went to Susquehanna.

Drop me an e-mail with your mother's family's name. 'Bet I know 'em. Or someone in the family.

Charles said...

Actually, the Reichley family was from Sunbury, and my mother's side of the family was from Selinsgrove.

I'm too young to have my brains old and scrambled. My mother's mother was actually a union leader over in Selinsgrove, can't remember what company.

My father's family owned a flower shop called "Reichley's Flowers", and there was also a barber in the family on both sides.

I loved Sunbury. I used to ride bikes all over, and sneak out onto the train tressles (don't tell my folks, they'll try to ground me :-) )

We never lived in Sunbury, of course, but my mother's sister lived their so we had relatives on both sides of the family to visit, which we did a few times a year. All of my Thanksgivings were spent with 20+ relatives, followed by a tag football game played while listening to the Pitt-Penn State game (they used to play each other on thanksgiving or the day after, or at least that's how I remember it :-)

James Young said...

I must confess: I know Ralph Dillon's Flowers, on Market Street in Sunbury (he bought cars from my grandfather, just up the street), and I vaguely remember a few Reichley's when I went to school. My grandfather also used to get his hair cut just about a block down Market Street from his dealership, so perhaps there's a connection there.

And you're right about the Pitt/Penn State game. Thanksgiving weekend, every year.

Did you ever sled in Sunbury? I'm willing to bet that, if you did so after 1972, you did so on a hill owned by my grandfather (now, by my brother) just up off of Mile Hill and Packer Street. Best sledding in Sunbury.