Rural Missouri - June 2018 - 9
Left: Kenneth L. Kieser and Sara Wilson
helped assemble the Conﬂuence exhibit at
St. Joseph's Wyeth Tootle Mansion, based in
part on photographs and interviews from
Kenneth's book. Below: An interactive
exhibit explains how changes in topography
affect the movement of water. Bottom
left: Hartsburg farmer Clifton Nahler grew
soybeans, wheat and corn before the ﬂood.
His once-fertile ﬁelds were reduced to sand
and gravel deposits up to 10 feet deep and
hundreds of feet long. Bottom right:
Water rose to the stained glass windows of
St. John's Lutheran Church in Corning. Soiled
carpets, desks and other debris are piled
in front of the church, which celebrated its
100th anniversary in September 1993.
tanks and cofﬁns from washed out cemeteries.
The surge rendered pristine croplands into desolate river bottom beaches
affecting more than 1 million acres of agricultural ground in the Show-Me
State. Linemen had to trade their bucket trucks for boats in order to restore
power along miles of submerged poles. Whole towns were obliterated. Some,
such as Pattonsburg, were moved at the behest of FEMA, while others, such as
Cedar City, were erased from existence.
All told, 50 lives and thousands of homes and businesses were lost. Damages amounting to $20 billion were caused by the deluge in the summer of 1993.
But as is often the case, in the wake of such unbelievable destruction and tragedy sprang hope. Boaters formed ad hoc rescue brigades, with St. Joseph resident Tim Hatﬁeld later recieving a citation from President Bill Clinton for his
efforts. The European nation of Luxembourg, in a gesture of appreciation for
U.S. assistance during World War I and II, raised funds for rebuilding. When the
waters receded weeks later, the same folks who sandbagged riverfront downtowns would meet again, this time to remove waterlogged furniture and buckets of mud from swamped buildings. Despite the havoc caused by the ﬂood, it's
the recovery effort which the museum exhibit truly commemorates.
"We wanted to talk about the rivers coming together, but my big takeaway
was how communities came together to help each other," Sara says. "It was
tremendous. It really brought out the best in people."
From a third-ﬂoor window of the mansion, the Missouri River can be seen
gliding past downtown St. Joseph. Tranquil, as it is most days, the turbid water
teems with ﬁsh and most of the ﬂoating debris consists of sticks and snags. New
levees and early warning systems have eased some concerns, but the potential
for such catastrophe is never truly gone. Perhaps it's ﬁtting that this part of the
exhibit, with its view of the Big Muddy, was designed for kids. They can learn
how to wear a life jacket and what to do when the water is rising. Painted above
one window is the question, "How will you help your neighbors during the next
ﬂood?" evoking the idea that there is always someone else downstream.
"We are river people," Sara says. "We have a long history of coming together
for common causes, and we really want to train the next generation."
Copies of "Missouri's Great Flood of '93: Revisiting an Epic Natural Disaster"
are available from Kenneth L. Kieser, P.O. Box 901414, Kansas City, MO 64190.
Hardcover copies are $30 and paperbacks are $25. The Wyeth Tootle Mansion is
open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April through October. For more
information, go to www.stjosephmuseum.org or call 816-232-8471.