Thursday, August 20, 2020

Real photo postcard: Flooded Sunbury, Pa., in 1936

This real photo postcard was never mailed. On the back, the AZO stamp box has black squares in all four corners, indicating it was produced between 1924 and 1949, according to More importantly, someone has written in pencil, "Market St., Sunbury, 1936." We'll just take their word for it that the time and place are correct. Sunbury is a small city along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania. It is notable for being the home of the headquarters of Weis, a regional supermarket chain.

As the Sunbury Municipal Authority's Flood Control website notes: "The City of Sunbury is extremely vulnerable to flooding due to its exposure to both the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River and the effects of flash flooding from Shamokin Creek." The website details the flood that occurred in mid-March 1936, in which the water continued to rise until it came "rushing in torrents down Susquehanna Avenue, North Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Streets, carrying destruction and misery in its course." Houses were rocked from their foundations and when the water reached Market Street, "nearly all the plate glass store windows were broken." People sought shelter on the second floors of buildings and boats were called for rescues. We can see some of that on this postcard, as a couple of people are standing out on a second-floor ledge at a business called Bittner's. Other signs are for Miller Bros. Shoes, Light Heat Power Electrical Appliances, and Fisher (?) the Jeweler. There appears to be a Coca-Cola sign near the town clock in the center of the photograph.

At the worst of the 1936 flood, parts of Sunbury were under 15 feet of water. The Flood Control website has many more details about this 1936 natural disaster, including this:
"Radio broadcasting stations throughout the Susquehanna Valley played a big part in the memorable flood of 1936. From Williamsport to Harrisburg radio stations WRAK, Williamsport; WKOK, Sunbury; WHP and WKBO in Harrisburg did much to alleviate suffering, direct life saving activities and send out news to an anxious world outside of the flood area. Short wave operators hurried to the scene of devastation to assist in sending messages for flood victims to friends and relatives in the unaffected parts of the country."1
In a 2016 article for The Daily Item of Sunbury, Jean Delsite vividly remembered experiencing the flood as a 7-year-old girl, 80 years earlier: "I don’t think I was scared. We knew the water would have to stop coming some time. Our concern was hoping it would go down so we could get food."

1. Speaking of the radio, I listened to a few minutes of AM radio on Tuesday evening for the first time in ages. It was a bit surreal and depressing. Boeing had an advertisement about its commitment to working with airlines to boost health precautions during air travel. News reports mentioned Donald Trump, Michelle Obama and Vladimir Putin. I caught snippets of the Orioles-Blue Jays and Marlins-Mets games, but couldn't find the Phillies on the dial. Another advertisement touted telemedicine, so that you didn't have to risk anything by going out. Static-filled ephemeral moments over the airwaves amid a pandemic. These are difficult times for advertisers and for media platforms that need advertising to support their operations. An article in Variety noted: "The bonds between advertisers and the media outlets that serve them have begun to fray." That's not great news, for many reasons.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the 1936 flood while living as a kid near Forty Fort. My dad was called to help evacuate his boss's house, moving furniture to save it, etc. Later a small book about it was published, "Lest We Forget." I remember it on our bookshelf. Forty Fort was badly flooded; people spoke of the coffins floating uprooted from the graveyard.