A flood of memories
The Flood of 1957 will always be remembered by Marshall area residents who lived through it. It cost the life of a Minneota man and millions in property damage.
It was only one day of rain, but it came down in “sheets,” area residents said, and ended up delivering 8 inches of water June 16, 1957. On June 21, 3.52 inches of rain fell, making a total of 14 inches for the month.
According to “At the Headwaters,” edited by Joseph Amato and Janet Timmerman, the flood of June 1957 inundated 88 percent of Marshall” and “was Lyon County’s worst flood up to that time.”
A Minneota man, Melvin Benson, drowned when his car plunged into a ditch near Ghent, according to the June 19, 1957, edition of the Lyon County Independent. The Lyon County Independent also was affected by the flood. Its “casting room, dark room and much of the supplies in the basement of the printery was completely filled with water just like everyone else in this flooded city.” Another note on the front page explained the dearth of advertising in that edition: “…much of the city’s merchants are in the process of cleaning up damage done by the flood.” The Lyon County Independent’s main headline blared: “multi-million dollar flood leaves hundreds homeless.”
The Marshall Daily Messenger also was flooded. The newspaper was considering shutting down because “by Monday morning at 7 a.m. water in the basement had reached the four-foot level, only inches below the motor that runs the newspaper press.” The press was saved by a drayman who arrived with a big pump.
One of the photos The Messenger had on its front page was of Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman touring Marshall with Mayor George Abrahamsen. The governor’s party arrived via two Navy helicopters, one of which landed next to Louis Weiner Memorial Hospital.
Another photo showed what was “probably the deepest water in Marshall,” the Moberg gas station. The gas pumps were covered to the globes.
Don Klein of Marshall lived in Tracy at the time and remembers Moberg’s, which was located on West College Drive where Ampride is now.
“You could just see the tops of the gas pumps,” he said.
Jerry Moberg of Marshall owned Moberg’s with his father, John, and brother, Harvey.
“It was devastating,” he said, when contacted by phone. “We lost the motors, the pumps, the garage, warehouse.”
The governor wasn’t the only politician to tour the aftermath of the flood in Marshall.
“Senator Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, came by in a boat and the wave came and hit our windows and I heard ‘ping,’ ‘ping,’ ‘ping.'” The windows broke and water rushed in, destroying everything inside. “Thanks a lot,” he thought back then.
Moberg said yes, his station was among the deepest spots in Marshall.
“Near the Coast to Coast Store and Wetherbee’s, where Wells Fargo is now, it was knee-deep and waist-deep in some spots,” he said.
Klein was in the National Guard in 1957. He had just gotten back from Camp Ripley and was called into action in Marshall.
“We stayed at the high school,” Klein said. (The high school became Marshall Junior High and is now the site of Heritage Pointe.)
“Between 6th Street and the Catholic church was a river. The water was flowing like crazy,” he said. “Cars would come down there and tried to cross on 6th and Main, but couldn’t — the current was so strong. We did a little salvage work. We helped get a mail truck out and a few things like that.”
Klein was one of a group of area residents who spend time at the Adult Community Center and came together Wednesday to share memories of the flood. Also present were Barb Lipinski, Adult Community Center coordinator; Jennifer Andries, Lyon County Historical Society director, Alex Peterson from Studio 1 Community Access TV filmed the interview for later viewing. Andries has a project going where in July she will interview people about the 1957 Marshall flood and the 1968 Tracy tornado.
The Adult Community Center group said there were a lot of people using boats to get around the streets during the flood.
Klein said the basement of the Red Owl building (now the site of the Marshall Independent) on 6th and Main was flooded. After the flood, Klein worked for Alex Polfliet and they cleaned out the basement and try to salvage the canned goods stored down there.
“It was all underwater,” Klein said. “Cans were floating and the labels came off. It was a muddy mess.”
Frank DeSleer said Polfliet was his cousin and brought some of the cans home. “He said it was a surprise every day as to what was in them.”
DeSleer, who was farming 6 miles north of Marshall at the time, said the summer of 1957 had been dry. When it started to rain, he said, “boy, this is just what we need.”
Three Mile Creek, which the locals pronounce as “Crik,” plays a big part in the Flood of ’57 story.
Two friends had been visiting, a husband and wife, and they and the DeSleers went to Marshall. “‘Let’s see if they got any water over there.’ We drove to Marshall and it didn’t look too bad then. We went home and the Three Mile Creek was just roaring. My friends tried to get back to Ghent, and they got about half-way to the Three Mile Creek but they had to turn back and stay overnight.” The next day they drove to Marshall “to see the damage and it was unbelievable.”
Loryn Stelter had just graduated from high school that spring and was home. His parents were Walter and Lydia Stelter who had a farm west of Lynd and also his grandfather’s acreage was near Three Mile Creek.
Stelter remembers the rain.
“All of a sudden it came down in sheets,” he said.
The Stelter family rolled up towels and stuck them against the doors — “the wind was blowing the rain in. Water was coming under the door.”
In the Three Mile Creek area, they had cattle in one pasture and “it took out the fence. Me and my brothers, we waded in chest-high water,” he said.
“A lot of real estate changed hands without any money that year because of the topsoil washing out,” he said. In addition, “It was tough to cultivate corn the next year because of the gullies in the cornfields.”
Ray Noyes lived in Ghent at the time and was on leave from the U.S. Army just before Father’s Day. He and another fellow were driving around south of Marshall with their girlfriends near the Starlite Drive-In on Country Club Drive when they noticed “a wall of water” in the nearby field. “We thought ‘we better get of here,'” Noyes said. “We made it home, but just barely.”
Fran Andrzejewski lived at 425 N. 6th St. at the time — “the river came behind our house and we were surrounded by water,” she said. She remembers her family hanging on to each other’s hands as they walked in the water to Red Owl, which was on 6th and Main, for groceries. Her brother worked at the Messenger at the time and stayed there all night long to keep watch for floodwaters.
Cheryl Wyffels was 12 years old and lived by Ghent in 1957. She remembers her Grandma Karen had just died. She was buried on Saturday and on Sunday they were in Marshall to do sympathy cards.
Her parents, Harry and Donna Boerboom, were told, “‘if you want to get home, you better go now.’ You had to cross four creeks to get to our place.” They drove around, trying to find high ground, but we “finally just drove through it.” It was “four or five days” until the road was passable again.
She remembers hearing her great-aunt and great-grandmother who lived across from Holy Redeemer remarking that they saw baby-sized caskets floating down the street from Rehkamp Funeral Home, which is on Lyon and 5th Street.
“Their (Rehkamp’s) basement was a mess,” Wyffels said. “We helped clean up down there.”
Bill Drown worked at McLaughlin & Schulz in 1957. The city made use of the dispatcher radio.
“They would call our office and we would help out. We would pick people up,” said Drown. “We would get them out of their house.”