This video is a little late in coming. I did this as a final project for a class called The Politics of Natural Disasters in my second-to-last semester of college in 2012.
My hometown of Paducah, Ky., was built on the convergence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers and has suffered its own natural disasters at the mercy of these waters over the years. The most notable occurrence was in 1937. One thing I didn’t include in the video was my own personal connection to the famous flood. My grandparents–who were, unfortunately, not still living to contribute to this video–were directly impacted by the flood.
My grandma, 19 years old at the time, had to stay a few days on higher ground away from where she lived and worked in downtown Paducah, which is where the riverfront is. My grandpa was 21 years old and, if memory serves me correctly, helped evacuate people from the downtown area. Gram-ma and Pa didn’t even know each other yet at the time of the flood, but theirs is another story entirely that I’m sure I’ll tell at a later date.
As you’ll see in the video, there is a photo of one of the floodwall murals that has a cow standing on a balcony. That story has gained infamy in Paducah because the man who lived in that house owned the cow and had to keep her from drowning. As the water rose, he took her inside the house. When the water started seeping into the first floor, he had to get her upstairs. The story goes (or so it did to my first-grade classmates and me about 15 years ago) that he roughly twisted her tail, forcing her up the stairs and to safety. A photo was taken of the cow stranded on the second-floor balcony and was used for portion of the floodwall, painted by Robert Dafford.
Pa actually saw the cow while it was on the balcony, and my mom had always heard him tell the story before she ever saw a picture of it.
If you’re ever in Paducah, the address of the Stranded Cow House is 527 N. 6th Street if you’re interested. There’s some sort of outdoor cow ornament to indicate that it’s the right place just so you don’t get it confused for another house.
The ’37 Flood prompted construction of the floodwall beginning in 1939. A photo of the monument dedicated to the people who helped evacuate citizens and get the city back on its feet is also included in the video. Again, if you’re curious, the monument is on Jefferson Street in Paducah.
Thanks in part to the floodwall, Paducah has never seen anything like the ’37 Flood since then. However, the rivers rose and heavy rains caused water to start spilling over the floodwall a few years ago. I was away at college at the time, but I remember feeling a twinge of panic because most of us Paducah natives had assumed it could never happen again.
As you’ll see from the video, that’s an ignorant, naive way to think.