Last Friday, the first named storm hit the north east. The rain was not terrible, but it was bad enough for the city of Boston to request commuters take the train rather than drive to work. The expected flooding never materialized, but there was enough rain for me to cancel a planned trip to Newport to meet up with some friends. Cozy and dry at home, riding out the storm, I thought about storms and floods which affected my ancestors. In my research so far, I have come across two major storms, one in Vermont, the second in Houston, which affected my family. Amongst the rubble and devastation, I've gathered valuable information about my relatives. Today, I want to share the heroic story of Barney Kenet and the Vermont 1927 flood.
Who is Barney Kenet, you ask? Barney Kenet was Max Blumenfeld's brother-in-law and longtime business partner. Barney's sister Leah Kenet was Max's wife. Max, my great-grandfather's—William Bloomfield—second oldest brother, used the name Blumenfeld. (To this day, I have not reach a definitive conclusion why he was the only one of the seven Bloomfield brothers to use the Blumenfeld name. I do know, they had an uncle Harris Blumefeld who predated them in the United States). In order to refresh your memory of Max and Leah, and the Springfield flood, you might want to look back at two earlier posts: Which Ancestors to Research? and Springfield Vermont, Home of the Simpsons and the Bloomfields).
Last summer, I was fortunate to meet one of Barney Kenet's daughters. I found her on Geni.com, and she happened to also live in the Boston area. Barney's daughter was the first person I met who knew Max personally. She had many fond memories of uncle Max and aunt Leah and was excited to share them with me. I told her about the roots trip I took earlier that summer where I visited her hometown of Springfield, Vermont. She told me about the experience of growing up Jewish in rural Vermont. I wanted to know how the Bloomfields fared during the devastating 1927 flood. I was curious to know if their grocery store was flooded. Born in 1926, she was too young to recall the events first hand, but to my delight, she pulled out an article from the Boston Globe about her father's harrowing tale. Barney's daughter explained that Barney, did much of the peddling in the partnership. He delivered supplies to farmers in the surrounding towns while Max manned the Springfield store. This division of labor, was at times, a source of dispute amongst the overall peaceful partnership. The Kenets were are large clan while Max and Leah were childless. Bertha Kenet, resented managing the home front alone for extended periods with eight small children, while Barney traveled. Imagine how they all worried about him, the day of the flood.
|View of a flooded Clinton Street, Springfield Vermont 1927.|
Max and Barney's store was located at 26 Clinton Street
Barney Kenet Flood Hero in Wrecked Town
November 6, 1927
How Barney Kenet, Springfield merchants, saved the lives of scores of people in the little village of Cavendish, Vermont was graphically told in the Boston Globe of Monday morning by Louis M. Lyons, one of the Globe reporters, who, with scores of his fellows, worked his way into the stricken area from the Hub, when the first news of the disaster that had struck the Green Mountain State, came to the outside world.
Mr. Kenet, well known around this section and a familiar sight as he peddled goods about the countryside, told a reporter representative his story Monday morning, after he returned from a harrowing a journey as it is every man’s experience to live through.
The Globe story written on the spot where Mr. Kenet’s heroism saved scores of people, tells better than this overworked scribe, the scenes that followed the Springfield man’s entrance into the town. The story follows:
By Louis M. Lyons
Cavendish, Vt, Nov 6- The thriller of the flood is the story of Cavendish that lay a lovely hamlet on a hillside above the Black River, much of which lies now a mass of kindling wood at the bottom of a gulch.
Disaster stuck it in the black of the night. A chasm 150 ft: deep and half a mile long marks the site of its principal residential street. Yet there is not a soul lost in the village.
All were asleep in Cavendish. The rain pelted on roofs as it had for two days steadily. The roar of the river was a lullaby to the tight little village. Floods frightened them not for they had been forehanded and ran a penstock right down the village street last fall to care for any surplus water. It would keep their cellars dry.
Peddler to the Rescue
Long after Midnight a dry goods peddler from Springfield named Kenet, who makes the round of these Green Mountain villages with his wares, floundered through the mud in Cavendish and stalled his car as he had a hundred times in the hours that had delayed his return through the storm.
He wrestled with the ruts, but his wheels sank deeper. He felt the bottom go out of the street. By good luck his car was jolted out of the hole, clear. But the bottom was dropping out of the road. He heard water rushing as though beneath his feet. But the river was far away. What tricks was his tired head playing on him.
But it was real. He backed his car away from a great gaping hole and he remembered he read of earthquakes. The hole spread. He saw the street disappear, and the sidewalk. There stood a house beyond the sidewalk, a customer of his sometimes.
Cries Rouse Tony
The peddler got to the house of Tony Prokulevicz and told him of strange things, warned him to fly flee from his house. Tony felt safer inside and drier. The peddler, pleaded. His excitement won the argument. Tony and his wife were prevailed upon to flee into the storm in their nightclothes.
They had barely cleared the threshold when the house slid into emptiness in the inky blackness of the night, they saw nothing where their house had been. They fled. Soon the church bell rand alarm and terror though Cavendish.
The peddler cried out as he had never cried his wares, to wake Tony’s neighbors. Did they think they had all night to escape? Did they suppose this was a slow thing like fire? Would they never believe their danger?
After age-long moments they came streaming into the night, family after family. And pell-mell as they slipped into the dark without, their homes behind them slipped into nothingness beneath them.
There were no lights. The power line was broken. In the rain and the dark the neighbors gathered about the crater that had opened and where friends had lived.
Where was Fred Perkins? His house had gone. Here was Fred and his folks, too. All safe.
“Ina Butler’s house isn’t there, either. Anybody seen Ina get out?” “Yes, Ina’s in our house.”
“Where’s Harry Bemis? Yes, his house is gone too.” “Here’s Harry now”.
“Anybody seen old Mrs. Bill Sperry and her sister? No. Aren’t they out? Their house is going to go next.” “Can anybody get round there? Look out there isn’t any bottom to it. Harry Bemis gone to get them out. My God, there goes Cornell’s house. They all right. Y’know Fred ain’t saved so much’s his front door key.”
One by one the homes on Cavendish’s main residential street were swallowed up in awful nothingness.
Eight Homes Vanished
When morning came after the horror of the night, eight homes had vanished and a crater 250 feet across and deeper than any dared to peer into yawned beyond the doctor's house.
The home of Richard Minch slid away before their sight after daybreak. They heard it splinter against the Whitesville Bridge, a mile below.
After Tony’s home, the houses of Harry Bemis, Ina Butler, Fred Perkins, Mrs. Spafford, Mrs. Sperry and Minch, besides Earl Bates’s garage had dissolved in the flood.
Mrs. Cornelia Bemis’ house hung over the edge of the crater, that dropped as perpendicular as Bunker Hill from the back steps. Across the street James Fuller’s house straddled a crevasse.
Cavendish, Vt., November 1927 from the Vermont Collection at Middlebury College http://middarchive.middlebury.edu/cdm/ref/collection/vtpostcards/id/941
The district school that had stood back 76 feet from the street now stood dizzily avoe the straight wall of the chasm. Hugh Eliot’s house beside it was perched onthe edge of nothing. Dr. W R Kitson’s house is habitable. It is a lovely house, the finest house of the village. The doctor refused $6,000 for it only last spring. The lawn swing stands hospitably out front. The comfortable furniture is still in the rooms. But after the horror of that night, the things she saw by lantern light make that street too terrible for the doctor’s wife. She never will live there again, she says. The doctor is looking for a little place on the other side of town.
Raise $8000 for the Homeless
All the homeless ones were alive and whole with neighbors and a reverent village gave thanks for that, all divided the burden of providing for the stricken neighbors.
**.......today a truck load of clothing came from the Salvation Army in Boston. The local members of the Red Cross put on their white caps and insignia and passed hats among the sightseers from the country round. They had raised $3000 this sum to be divided among those whose homes are gone.
Besides the houses that are piled and indistinguishable pile of splinters on the river banks below Cavendish, dozens of other homes in the tiny village are untenable. Guards are stationed all about the wide hole to protect the inhabitants and visitors against the menace and the hole that the river gouged out of the hill town.
The river bends around the village of Cavendish. The dike and penstock laid last fall provided for carrying the overflow through the center of the town, as a sewer pipe runs down a street. The penstock that tied into the river again on the lower side a mile away.
What the gods of wrath played with the hills and valleys of the Green Mountain State Thursday night, as Rip Van Winkle’s friends played .. their nine ... , the hill of Cavendish was chosen for a ten ...strike worthy of mythology and the hillside that was there in the ....at dawn.
............ Cavendish lies back off the side road, two miles from Proctorsville on the road to Ludlow from Springfield, Vermont. When the receding floods made it impossible to get through from White River Junction to Ludlow, the tragedy of Cavendish was the grimmest mark left by the flood in all that countryside.
But at Cavendish, when you seek their story, they tell you of the fate of Ed Jurras, who had brought a load of apples to the cider mill from Springfield that Thursday afternoon. He started back late over the road that the rain had softened for two days. He never got back and swirling black waters tell no detail of the story of the man or the truck that he drove.
So differently did the gods of wrath deal with the two who drove into Cavendish that stormy night, the peddler who is the hero of Cavendish and with the cider seller who left no trace.
(**Note: ... represent areas difficult to read on the xerox copy of the article I have).While this historic flood brought much devastation to the region, as a genealogist, I am grateful for the insight it provided into my family's history. Next week, I hope to share another flood related story, this time in Houston. This second story is more serendipitous than dramatic. Both stories point out how important it is to research the natural disasters which most likely affected our forefathers and may teach us about them. Have you come across a natural disaster story in your research?