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Friday, September 30, 2011

Thousands Headed To Austin "The Town Too ToughTo Die" For Centennial Of Austin Flood

Austin, PA Makes News Around The World 100 Years After Dam Break Wreaks Tragedy

Newspapers around the world have had stories about Austin, PA in their pages this month. Stories by individual papers and a story by the Associated Press, circulated around the globe, have put Austin in the news again. This time it is a remembrance of the tragedy that happened 100 years ago "so that we never forget." Thousands of visitors are expected to show up in the tiny town for the events starting today and continuing through the weekend.

Austin, PA - One hundred years after a tragedy that would have destroyed a less resilient town, Austin, Pennsylvania is honoring the victims and survivors of the 1911 Austin Flood and celebrating “the town too tough to die.” The lessons of the delicate balance between mankind and nature, as well as corporate
responsibility, are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

100 Years Ago

At the turn of the 20th century, Austin, Pennsylvania was a booming town, home to nearly 3000 people. People of varying ethnicities came to "God's Country" to capitalize on the plentiful lumber and work in the area's many mills. One of the largest and most state of the art mills was the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill in Austin. The mill put Austin on the map and made it the hub of Potter County.

In 1909, after experiencing several water shortages that hampered production, the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company built a 50 ft. tall 534 ft. wide concrete dam to harness water from Freeman Run to power its mill, the town’s largest industry. To cut costs, Bayless ignored recommendations from the engineer to ensure the dam’s safety. While the many citizens of Austin who worked at the mill were grateful for their jobs, others questioned the stability of the dam and worried what would happen if it ever broke.

On September 30, 1911, Austin found out. Poor construction, coupled with torrential rain, resulted in the dam's collapse. Nearly 400 million gallons of water were released, destroying everything for eight miles. At least 78 people perished in the tragedy. News of the flood quickly spread worldwide.

It was the
second worst flood disaster in Pennsylvania’s history and sixth worst dam failure in U.S. history.

The tragedy came 22 years after the famous Johnstown Flood and sparked new legislation to improve dam safety. The Austin Dam was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

The town of Austin survived not only the famous flood of 1911, but several other fires, floods and natural disasters over the years. Despite the many challenges it has faced, Austin lives on and is now known as “the town too tough to die.”

Remembering the Flood

From September 30 - October 2, 2011, Austin will remember the 1911 Austin Flood tragedy. Events will occur in the town square, Austin Area High School and the Austin Dam Memorial Park. Austin will be decorated turn of the century style and visitors will be able to step back in time to get a glimpse of what
life was like in 1911.

A commemorative ceremony to honor the flood’s victims will kick off the weekend on Friday, September 30 at 1 PM. At the exact time the dam broke 100 years ago, a siren will sound and the names of the victims will be announced. Descendants and relatives of the flood’s victims and survivors, as well as descendants and relatives of those who aided in the recovery effort are encouraged to participate. Those in attendance will be given flowers to place in honor of their loved ones. Please contact Denise Owens at deniseh@zitomedia.net or 814-647-8358 if you would like to participate.

Following the ceremony, Austin will turn back the clock with food, fun and festivities 1911 style. Throughout the weekend, characters in costume will roam the town, music will reflect ethnic groups that comprised the booming lumber town and the 1911 time period, artisans will demonstrate 1911 crafts and trades and recreational opportunities will guide visitors through the grounds of the dam and path of the flood.

Friday’s highlight events include a 3 PM performance by Rich Pawling’s History Alive!, bringing the culture of turn of the century North Central Pennsylvania “woodhicks” to life. This program has been supported in part by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Federal-State Partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council inspires individuals to enjoy and share a life of learning enriched by human experience across time and around the world. Since 1973, the PHC has empowered local groups to offer high-quality public programs that have a positive impact on the everyday life of their communities.

At 4 PM, local historical researcher, Margaret Crosby, will share the life story of Cora Brooks, the madam that ran a “house of ill repute” on the hill overlooking the dam at the time of the flood. Cora saved many lives that day, as she alerted the phone operators in town of the dam's failure before the waters hit town. The operators then notified residents. When Cora faced charges for her illegal activity, the citizens of Austin testified on her behalf, and her punishment was lessened due to her good deed. Margaret, who is seeking an official pardon for Cora from the Commonwealth, will be in character and costume as Cora for her performances. There will be several presentations throughout the weekend.

Friday, at 5 p.m. at the Austin square there is going to be a program that includes dramatic readings of the flood witnesses memories and then a performance of songs about the flood from Jacob's Hollow


At 7:30 PM, Dr. Gale Largey will provide live commentary during a special screening of his documentary, “The Austin Disaster, 1911 – A Chronicle of Human Character.” Dr. Largey will share inside information on making the movie, meeting the survivors of the flood, and working with several well-known people, including Willie Nelson, Gerald Ford and Tom Ridge, who provide voice-overs in the documentary. The film will be projected on the remains of the Austin Dam.

Saturday is packed with activities, kicking off with the Gerald F. Duffee Scholarship Fund 5K Walk/Run at 10 AM. A registration form is available on the event website at www.austin2011.com.

That afternoon, a vintage baseball game will begin at 1 PM. Using 1860’s rules, locals will team up against players from the vintage baseball association. See how the game was played in its early days, when players did not use gloves and hurlers had to pitch the ball to the batter’s liking. Rich Pawling will give the play-by-play and perform during the 7th inning stretch.

At 4:30 PM, tethered hot air balloon rides at the dam will allow visitors a view of the path of the flood from 200 feet in the air.

At 8:30 PM at the Austin Dam, author Paul Heimel, whose recently published book “The Austin Flood – 1911” is being touted as the complete, authoritative story on the 1911 dam disaster, will present a dramatization of eyewitness accounts of the survivors and those who witnessed the flood.

Following the
performance, musicians Bob White and Friends and Jakob’s Hollow will perform their Austin Flood inspired songs, accompanied by a multimedia lightshow on the dam remains.

The weekend winds down Sunday, in collaboration with the Austin Communities That Care Fall Festival, with hayrides in Austin from 10 AM – 4 PM, a pet parade at 11 AM, additional performances by Rich Pawling’s History Alive! at 11 AM and 1 PM, bed races at noon and a vintage parade at 2 PM. Guests dressed in 1911 style attire are invited to walk in the parade.

Other events throughout the weekend include special promotions at Austin’s businesses, tours of the E.O. Austin Museum, geocaching at the Dam Park, a Straub Brewery closed container giveaway, guided historical tours of town, woodhick games, a visit from the PA Woodmobile, outdoor education activities hosted by DCNR and children’s activities.

Sponsors and vendors are still being accepted for the event. Information is available at www.austin2011.com.

Join us in Austin, "The Best Town by a Dam Site", as we remember one of the most important events in Pennsylvania's history. Don't miss Potter County's biggest event of the century - a once in a lifetime opportunity! Visit www.austin2011.com for more information and the full schedule.

16 comments :

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun weekend. Hope the weather cooperates. What happened to the programs Friday night at the town square at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the gazebo? Are they still going on? Will the balloon rides be happening if it rains?
Way to go Austin for putting this together.

Anonymous said...

BE CAREFULL !!! I pray no one gets hurt or worse around all the ruins!

Anonymous said...

Must be an omission in the schedule. Tonight, Friday, at 5 p.m. at the Austin square there is going to be a program that includes dramatic readings of the flood witnesses memories and then a performance of songs about the flood from Jacob's Hollow. This is going to be one of the highlights of the whole weekend and it runs again Saturday night at the Dam Park at 8:30. There is a list of the actors on Solomons' Words below.

Nittany80 said...

What fun! Wish I could be there! Congratulations to all the wonderful people who have worked so hard to make this an excellent local event. ENJOY!

Anonymous said...

Nothing like making a celebration out of tragic event that took the life of so many victims. Maybe we will someday begin having celebrations and parties at the site of the World Trade Center too.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with 7:09.
Why not just let the families and friends of those lost to that tragic event remember in silence and peace? It is the way it has been for decades. Now some want to make money off of others' heartbreak? Just doesn't seem right. Have a Fall Festival and leave the rest to the Historical Society.

Anonymous said...

7:09 and 1:36 why don't you talk to the families who attended this memorial observance in Austin this weekend and were so THANKFUL that their descendants were remembered and honored?
You negative people who sit on your arses and criticize others who are actually DOING something really stick in my craw!

Anonymous said...

Poster 7:09:
"Maybe we will someday begin having celebrations and parties ..."


I know we will when the Reps take back the WH in '12

Anonymous said...

2:45! 7:09 and 1:36 are right!I live in Austin and can say it really is all about making money!

Anonymous said...

2:45 7:09 and 1:36 and 4:19 are full of crap! I lived in Austin and can say it really is all about remembering the people who died in the flood and honoring the people who are doing something to keep the town alive.

Anonymous said...

For your information I DO have a distant relative that died in that flood and I do NOT appreciate other people making money off of his death. You speak for only a few and YOU are probably one of the ones making a profit from it. YOU , sir , are full of crap. I know a couple who are "cashing in" on it are not even from
Austin.

Anonymous said...

Well, 7:03, first off I am not a sir, nor am I a profiteer. I assume you detest funeral directors, casket manufacturers, newspapers that charge to run obituaries, crematoriums, floral shops and all others who "make money off a person's death." I, on the other hand, understand that this is America and our country was founded on the concept of a person who provides a desired good or service receiving compensation if somebody chooses to purchase that good or service.
I am going back home today with nothing but respect and APPRECIATION for the people who were involved in the Austin Centennial Celebration. I will be having our whole family over for dinner next Sunday to show our pictures from the weekend, to give out the T-shirts we bought to benefit one of the charities, and to tell everyone how thankful we are that great-grandpa was memorialized exactly 100 years after he died in the flood. If not for him we would not be here today and we will always remember the fitting way that the town of Austin remembered him this weekend.
Thank you, Austin, and do not let the misguided bitterness you read from 7:03 cause you to feel any angst. I am sorry that 7:03 was unable to shed the pettiness or jealousy or depression or insecurity or any other causes of such an attitude, but 7:03 definitely does not speak for our family.

Anonymous said...

I hope just as many people will be willing to celebrate the defeat of our Prez in '12.

Anonymous said...

why cant people leave others alone ,single and belittle people just for their own mentality level and to harrass people?

Anonymous said...

Not EVERYBODY was behind the celebrations in Austin. I am
glad you enjoyed it so much 8:31. And you ARE just speaking for your family, as I am mine. All are entitled to their opinions. So don't show so much "Angst". Of course I don't detest funeral directors, or casket makers, or flourists. How you do go on. Why would I be jelouse? That is just silly. Sure hit a sore spot with you though. Hmmmm!

Anonymous said...

1st Admendment - FREEDOM OF SPEECH