Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Great Pumpkin Flood

A pumpkin flood? Is there really such a thing? Why yes, apparently so.

"...In the year 1811, the inhabitants on the banks of the Ohio were subjected to still another flood. The inhabitants of Wheeling were greatly agitated by reason of the rapid rise of the waters after the prevalence of a long and severe storm. The river was filled with all sorts of drift, such as cabins, corn cribs, fences and outhouses of various kinds. The waters bore of their surface thousands of pumpkins which had been washed from the vines, and from the number of this vegetable borne away on the current, it received the name and was always spoken of afterwards as the Great Pumpkin Flood." From the History of Wheeling City, by Hon. Gibson Lamb Kramner, 1902.

I heard about this flood from the Director of the West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, and to say I was intrigued would be a huge understatement. Can you imagine thousands of pumpkins riding on the tide, and when the river receded, being left scattered in drifts in the city's streets? It defies the imagination.

The New Orleans, artist unknown, published in 1889 in
50 years on the Mississippi by EL Gould

What also occurs to me is that 1811 was the year of the first steamboat trip down the Ohio when Nicholas Roosevelt and his wife Lydia guided the New Orleans downriver to the city of New Orleans, right through the incredible New Madrid earthquake, when the Mississippi River ran backwards for three days! But that is another story. 

There was another such "pumpkin flood" on the Ohio in 1861, just at the start of the Civil War, when again the river was a-bob with pumpkins, squash, corn shocks and other debris.

Wheeling Intelligencer
October 1, 1861

The Great Pumpkin Flood.—The flood which came upon us so suddenly on Sunday, and which is now receding as rapidly as it came, towards Cairo and the Southern Confederacy, is called a pumpkin flood. There has not been such a flood at this season of the year for twenty years. Consequently, nobody anticipated it, and nobody prepared for it. The water crept up like a thief in the night, wound around the low places in the cornfields, and carried away the shucks and the pumpkins, the squashes and the gourds, of which the river was full all day Sunday. Everything within thirty feet of the river, on Saturday night, was gone on Sunday morning. There is no estimating the immense damage sustained all along the river. For at least twenty-four hours, the river was black with rafts, sawed timber, coal flats, barges, and valuable property of every conceivable sort. Hundreds of enterprising men labored all day in their skiffs, and succeeded in saving a great deal that is valuable. Often a raft or boat would pass with only a single person aboard—the owner, perhaps—who stuck like grim death to his “prop,” and received hearty cheers from those upon the shore who gloried in the spunk. Some of these persons floated ten and fifteen miles before they could succeed in landing their crafts or in gaining any assistance. The river dropped down yesterday to its usually reasonable dimensions. From

Camp Carlisle, the Union encampment on Wheeling Island, was inundated by this flood, which was reported by the camp's Commander to the Wellsburg Herlad on October 4th. 

Camp Carlile, Sept. 30, 1861.

Mr. Editor:--All is bustle this morning, the notes of moving and preparation are being sounded, blankets are drying, clothes washing, tents pitching, etc., etc.,--the river having unceremoniously invaded our camp and spread its elementary self over more than half our surface, penetrating every nook and corner, rudely rushing upon the ground set apart for our muslin domicils, causing the occupants thereof to speedily seek higher and dryer ground. It came up yesterday, but is now gradually receding, hence the work of renovation and re-occupation this morning.  Ibid.

The Ohio was not the only river to see a pumpkin flood. There was one on the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania in 1786, and another reported in 1903 on the Delaware river. There were probably others, too, since any flood in the autumn was bound to bring a bounty of fall crops downriver from the farms in the bottomlands.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Mac n' Janet said...

That was so interesting, trying to imagine a river full of pumpkins.

Michelle said...

That sounds so crazy! It is hard to imagine so many pumpkins. I love them!

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