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The Bridge Just as it Went Down, click to enlarge»

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Manchester, New Hampshire Flood

March 1936


Soldiers, Police and Firemen on duty as Many Are Rescued from Homes

Manchester is in the throes of the worst flood conditions in its history, surpassing the conditions prevailing in 1896.

All of the city’s bridges are closed with the exception of Granite and Queen City bridges.

The National Guard units were called out to assist in doing police duty.

All call men were ordered to their respective fire stations in the event of emergencies.

Police Effect Rescues.

Police effected several rescues from lowlands along the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers, the last one being a sensational rescue of the animal trainer and the feeder at the Manchester Zoo.

Patriotic civic and fraternal clubs and other organizations have thrown open their doors to flood victims. throughout the city. Members of Legion posts, the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, nurses of the Manchester District Association and others are standing by to aid in helping refugees.

Local telephone service is continued throughout the city but due to an unusually heavy number of calls, the service has been slowed up.

Mayor Issues Appeal.

Mayor Caron issued a statement urging all persons to keep away from bridges and banks of rivers and to remain at home until the flood dangers have subsided.

As the rampaging waters of the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers continued to rise this forenoon, Highway Department workers closed bridge after bridge as a precautionary measure.

With the water well over 12 feet at the Amoskeag dam and with indications that the river will rise still more, Amoskeag bridge was closed at 10 o’clock several hours after the Mcgregor was closed. Water is running across the lower level of this span but there is no immediate danger of its being carried away.

Two landslides at Kelley’s Falls bridge caused the Highway department to close this bridge shortly after 10 o’clock. Tons of sand rolled down into the river at the western edge of the Kelley’s Falls dam but officials of the Public service company expressed no anxiety. There was another slide under the bridge at the western approach and as more slides continued later in the morning, city officials feared it might undermine the supports at that point.

The Public Service company has some poles in the section of the slides at the bridge and men were promptly sent out to anchor the power lines in the event the poles should fall.

As the Merrimack rose to unprecedented heights, a long row of summer homes on the west bank above Amoskeag were submerged and it was feared that some of them may be carried down the river. There are more than 50 homes in that group and some of them are occupied the year around but their occupants moved out last night, according to reports.

The entire police force has been on duty since midnight and the National Guard units were called out this morning in order to give the police officers an opportunity to get much deserved rest. The men on the 4 o’clock shift had been on duty without a stop for 20 hours up to noon.

Police officers went to Wentworth street during the night and assisted in the removal of 30 persons from their homes. Last night they moved out one family from Groux’s island and this morning the other family living on the island was taken to safety. They also helped in the rescue of the animal trainer and his assistant from the Manchester zoo.

Thousands of persons were out this morning watching the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers. The police had no difficulty in keeping the crowds back. Hundreds obtained vantage points on the North Weare branch railroad overpass and had a good view of the flooded area south to the shoe factories. Granite bridge was crowded with pedestrians who watched the rise of the river. Hundreds more were on Amoskeag bridge until it was closed. A large crowd was at the South Main street bridge until it was closed.

In order to get an idea of the situation throughout the city, Mayor Caron left at 1 o’clock for a general tour of inspection in company with police and highway officials.

Manchester Leader and Evening Union, Manchester, NH 20 Mar 1936


Heroic Police, Volunteers Save 32 from Death in Piscataquog

Two Animal Trainers Trapped on Roof Snatched Just in Time and Groux Island Couple Has No Less Narrow Escape

One thrilling rescue after another, beginning last night and climaxed at noon today, took place along the banks of the raging Piscataquog river in West Manchester, until the lives of 32 men and women had been snatched from sure death by police and civilians.

Police at dawn enacted a movie thriller as they rescued Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Kemes of Cleveland street as they clung to the roof of their Groux’s island home in a last desperate effort to hang on.

Early this morning, two animal trainers, who handle the zoo family on Second street, became stranded on the zoo roof, and were rescued only after a desperate five hour battle with the currents by police and neighbors.

Shortly before noon, the two men, Capt. V. H. Walker, trainer, and his assistant, Boyd Arquette, both of 39 Winter street, jumped from their rooftop perch into a waiting boat and one at a time were landed on the “shore,” then located at Blaine and Second streets.

For close to five hours the men had been pacing back and forth on the roof, partly nervousness and partly to keep warm, as the branches of the raging Piscataquog continued to climb the sides of the building, and water, floating ice cakes and general debris battered the walls and kept the structure constantly a tremble.

Police Work Hours

Inspectors Walter C. Suosso and Joseph Pouliot had made a series of desperate efforts to reach the stranded men by the down current route, had come close and barely escaped with their lives, and were on another desperate dash, when two local men, battling the river from the lower route, suddenly smacked the boat against the tottering temporary zoo.

Jules Chapdelaine and Arthur Carreau of 50 Cleveland street were the boat’s pilots. Keeping cool and counting every move carefully they foresaw the danger of overloading the small craft and ordered the men to come down singly. Captain Walker was the first rescued, after he had jumped down two shed roofs and was shortly on “shore.” With the smile of victory on their faces Chapdelaine and Carreau, then sure of their route, heroically dashed back to the zoo and shortly had Arquette too, on land.


The rescued men were taken by police to the office of the Manchester Dairy System, Second street, where the office girls soon had hot coffee ready and made their guests comfortable otherwise. Captain Walker, interviewed by a Leader reporter, said he and his pal had worked all night in a desperate effort to save the lives of the animals and in doing so found themselves in turn imprisoned by the flood.

They helped each other to the rooftop at 7:30 this morning and for the next four and a half hours paced about the roof. As the water rose, other buildings in the area gave way, their own perch trembled and they figured it only a matter of time when they would go careening down the river atop the building, heading for sure death.

Both men expressed deep grief over the probable fate of their animals. All night they had worked to save them. Monkeys and other small specimens had been brought across the road to a building then considered safer.

Two bears and two leopards were lifted bodily by the trainers early this morning to the tops of their cages, here they are loose at the present time, but safe from the flood. In the building are four bears, two leopards, four ponies, elk, buffalo, three lions, four coyotes and other animals, many of which probably drowned. Captain Walker said at noon, however, that sounds from below led him to believe that many are still alive.

Water Still Rising.

With the Piscataquog’s water rising constantly and the situation getting more dangerous hourly, every policeman in the city was called to duty, working all night while the city generally slept soundly, unaware of the flood dangers.

Deputy Police Chief James F. O’Neil personally directed the rescue of an aged couple from Groux Island and more than 30 people residing on Wentworth street along the Merrimack.

The sensational tale of heroism on the part of Inspectors Walter Suosso and Joseph Pouliot and Lt. Walter Guiney was told at headquarters this noon as Deputy O’Neil related how the men had rescued the marooned Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Kemes of Centennial street. Both about 60 years old, were found on the roof of their home on the island. A previous attempt to rescue them late last night had failed but at dawn today, the police were back on the scene.

Caught In Air.

Inspector Suosso made the woman and man lie flat on their backs on the roof and told the woman to slide down. she dropped 10 feet and he caught here [sic] in his arms, balancing himself in the boat which threatened to capsize on more than one occasion. The same procedure was used to rescue the man, the big husky inspector succeeding in catching both persons.

Not satisfied with this work, Inspector Suosso did his share of the rowing back to land. Inspector George Welch and Thomas Armstrong waded waist deep half a mile to help rescue people on Westworth avenue. Included in the group were eight children, a sick woman and a man crippled by injuries. Two trucks of the Highway Department were of invaluable service to the officers.

Inspector Thomas D. Kelley and Sgts. Romeo Harbour and Thomas Austin were other officers who did yeoman service last night and this morning.

Police Marooned.

Inspectors Welch and Armstrong became marooned in Amoskeag last night when they came upon a washout big enough to hold a house. The station, through radio, gave the men instructions and they were finally able to make their way to this city.

“The radio has paid for itself since last night” Deputy O’Neil said today. All police officials were of the same opinion and it was stated that the police never would have been able to accomplish what they did without the aid of the shortwave system.

From an early hour last night, police were warning residents along the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers to flee their homes.

About an hour before police attempted to rescue the Kemas, Sgts. Mortimer Shea and Harbour succeeded in rescuing another family living on Groux Island. Mr. and Mrs. Michael Leinsing of Christopher street.

Local police sped to Goffs Falls this afternoon answering an urgent call from the Elms where Mr. Coldwell, injured sometime ago in a skiing accident, was marooned in the house and in danger.

Manchester Leader and Evening Union, Manchester, NH 20 March 1936


Bear on Ice Cake, Two Leopards Cling To Menagerie Roof

Two hundred animals of the Manchester zoo have perished in the flood waters of the Piscataquog but three remain alive and are facing certain doom.

The three are a pet bear and two leopards. The bear is on a cake of ice, jammed against one of the flooded buildings in that vicinity while the leopards are on the roof of the zoo crouching in fear and terror. The animals will either drown or die of starvation as access to them is impossible.

Leandre Charbonneau owner of the zoo was refused permission to make an attempt to save them. To do so would bring almost certain death to himself, he was informed.

Manchester Leader and Evening Union, Manchester, NH 20 March 1936

Articles submitted & transcribed by Helen Coughlin.  Thank you, Helen!


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