Connecticut Farmington River Flood of 1955 | The Nightmare That Was True
It was raining and three o’clock in the morning, August 19, 1955. The sudden roar of a truck in front of the house jarred me awake. I plunged my head deeper into the pillow to smother the sound, but the roaring and grinding got louder. Exasperated, I pounded to the window. What I saw, I did not believe. There was water in the street—everywhere—as far as the eye could reach.
The truck I’d heard was a car. The grinding quit and a man jumped out, not bothering to close the door. He swept his small son up into his arms, grabbed his wife, and the three, clad in night clothes, started up the street in water above their knees.
Through the night came the cries of women and children, and terse, barked commands from anxious men. The Farmington River was flooding.
My mother came into my room. “I can’t believe it. What are we going to do? We can’t walk out into that.” Even as she spoke, I could see the river rising. Already two feet high in the street, the black, fearsome water began to course briskly as it swelled. The street lights gave away the presence of black objects, tumbling along with the current. The rain kept falling.
At 3:30, a fire alarm blared and a fire truck swam down our street almost to our house. A voice shouted through a megaphone, “There’s 27 feet of water coming! The dam’s broken. Get ready to leave immediately. We’ll send a boat to pick you up.” The truck churned slowly back up the street.
It never occurred to us that 27 feet of water would swallow our house. The imminence of such a wall of water seemed unreal. We seemed unreal. Yet, stunned as we were, we knew the trouble was real. It is a paradox that strength and calm can sit upon fear in time or crisis. That strange acceptance of our peril came to us.
Doing something is better than waiting. Up the attic stairs went clothing, scrapbooks, picture albums, jewelry, canned goods—in case the boat didn’t come after all. The attic became the place of refuge. Once I pictured the two of us standing in the attic with water up to our necks while all around the steadfast house the waters raged.
The apartment where my mother and I lived was on the second floor of a large, white, frame house with a double front porch. As its former inhabitants grew in number, the house had grown too, mushrooming out in two rear annexes on the first story level. Around these sections of the house and the shed beyond, the climbing water now swirled.
An hour passed. 4:30. Still no boat. I picked up the phone and called a friend who lived on a hill in another part of town. In minutes I had cleared her head of sleep. She at once offered her home to us. Encouraged by her voice, I hung up and continued to watch for the boat.
Daylight came, blurred by the wind and the rain. But the dark at the bottom of the stairs was deepening. The water was stealing steadily up. Soon the front door would be hidden. And then? I turned from the hallway.
6:30. If only the boat would come!
“Here it is!” I shouted. My mother and I ran to the living room. An aluminum tank of bottled gas hissed as it floated past, a few feet below our upstairs front porch.
Then a real boat did go by—a shining new motorboat, captured by the runaway waters. We existed in a vacuum. We couldn’t talk. We tried not to think about the boat.