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Opinion | Charles Burdick: Recalling the Flood of 1947
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Opinion | Charles Burdick: Recalling the Flood of 1947

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Burdick Charles

Charles F. Burdick.

In a report, The Daily Independent, for Saturday July 5, 1947 said, ”Record Flood Waters Menace Highest Places In Grand Tower Today. 600 People Remaining In Town After Thursday Night Levee Break.”

The situation at Grand Tower was declared the worst in the history of the town today, with the Big Muddy still rising and backing more water into the town after Thursday night’s levee break.  The river gauge at Grand Tower fluctuated between 40.1/2 and 40.6 today.  The latter mark was 0.7 foot higher than any previous recorded reading, according to then-Mayor Jesse Grammer, who said he did not expect the water to begin receding until early Sunday. 

The Daily Independent reported a shift in the emergency relief transport was supplying Grand Tower by means of Coast Guard boats with the pick-up point at Aldridge.  A supply of foodstuffs was unloaded at Gorham, where there was 18 inches of water in the Missouri-Pacific depot and the town was all afloat. 

At Grand Tower, for the first time, the Keith store was flooded, like every other store in town.  The Red Cross reported the situation both at Grand Tower and Gorham “in hand.”  Dr. Hughes, with the American Legion Post at Grand Tower was one of the busiest men in town.  A Red Cross nurse was sent in.

The Independent reported that the Red Cross announced that rehabilitation quarters will be set up in Murphysboro. Personnel to direct this work will be from out-of-state.  Persons who have sustained losses in the flood districts will register at this headquarters and list their losses and needs.  Case workers will then investigate all claims looking to their satisfaction whenever they are found just, it was explained.   

The water throughout the great basin from Big Muddy River north to Cora continued to rise today, as much as an inch an hour in the early hours in the Grand Tower area nearest the Big Muddy.  The fear remained that great damage has been done to railways, telephone systems, highways and bridges, and the land itself by lashing currents.

Water inched toward the highest points of the town today and the mayor’s home, situated on one of the highest elevations near the grade school, was being surrounded.  At Hale’s Restaurant, opposite the high school, the water was from six to eight inches deep in front of the establishment.     

Mayor Grammer estimated 600 people, including residents and evacuees, remained in Grand Tower.  He said about 10 homes were all that were not surrounded or actually flooded.  About 35 tents were pitched on highest points in town and as many people as possible were housed in the school.

The Mayor voiced high praise of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for the accuracy of their predictions on the river’s rise.  He said the engineers had kept in constant touch with him, advising him of expected rises. 

“Just about every time they hit it square on the head,” Mayor Grammer said.  He also stated that he wishes to clear up misunderstandings that resulted from the engineers’ dynamiting of the levee near Big Hill after the breakthrough in the Degognia and Fountain Bluff District. 

Mayor Grammer credited the act with lowing the water in the flooded area by one foot, and said that much more water would have come around into the Grand Tower district from the north and east had not the levee been blown out.

The people remaining in Grand Tower were obtaining their water from pumps located in the highest sections of the city. The typhoid menace was being met with shots given through the state health department. 

The breakthrough, at Grand Tower occurred at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 3 of that year, at the exact spot where one of the pumps were operating.  The force of the breakthrough knocked the pump from its base.

Some of the town’s citizens were forced to flee in such a haste that they were unable to take bedding and belongings with them.  The lower section of the town filled in about two hours.  Just that morning practically all of the workmen were in agreeance, if the levee held during the rising waters of today, they would be able to hold the flood waters back from Grand Tower.  But this wasn’t to be. Not only was flooding here, but it extended far beyond our shores throughout the great Mississippi Valley.   

This was the last of the big floods seen in Grand Tower and the upper bottoms.  In the early 1950s, a levee was constructed and has protected this area since. 

We pray that the Lord will continue to hold back the flood waters, as he has so graciously done in the past.  Even with the levees, we still need his help.

Thanks be to God. 

Charles F. Burdick is a lifelong resident of Grand Tower. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and then went on to a 42-year Maritime career including 35 years as Master Pilot. He has been retired for 27 years and enjoys local history and writing poetry.

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