The media coverage of last week’s devastating tornado outbreak back east carried descriptions that are eerily familiar to me as a local historian. People reported having no warning. They suddenly heard a deafening roar and felt their walls shake. They had seconds to decide where to run, where would be the safest place in their houses as their homes exploded to splinters around them. Those that survived the few seconds of complete terror crawled out of the wreckage to find their neighborhoods unrecognizable and strangely silent.
I hear these exact same words from old timers that survived the 1934 New Year’s Flood, compounded by the added complication that it was the middle of the night and dark.
The flood came down at midnight on New Year’s Eve in the form of a 20 foot high wall of mud and rocks that roared down unexpectedly out of several canyons above the Crescenta Valley, clearing paths hundreds of yards wide, just like a tornado would. Many fatalities came from the American Legion Hall, which had been set up as a refugee center, unknowingly directly in the flood’s path.
Most of the survivors of the ’34 Flood alive today were children on that horrible night, and some were traumatized by the event. I became aware of that fact when the Historical Society held a dedication ceremony a few years ago for our Flood Memorial at Rosemont and Fairway. We invited those who had survived the flood to come forward and tell their stories. They were all in their 80s and 90s, except for one who was much younger. When the microphone came to him, he told us that he was there representing his father. He told us that his dad, as young child, had been orphaned that night in ’34, seeing both his parents swept away before his eyes. He then told the crowd that his father had told him that story for the first time the night before this dedication, and couldn’t bear to face the ceremony himself, still torn apart by the trauma 70 years later.
Along that same line, I received a message this January from a Marcia Warfield Flannery. She said she was a flood survivor and had a story to tell. The name sounded familiar and when I glanced through my files I found a front page L.A. Times story from 1934 about 11-year-old Marcia Warfield. The headline read: “Child Heroine of Montrose Recovering, Eleven-Year-Old Girl Saves Unconscious Father and Brother,” and the photo below it showed a young girl in a hospital bed. The accompanying story told a horrific tale of a family torn apart, and a child’s instinct for survival pushing her to amazing feats of strength and determination.
I set up a meeting with Marcia at her home in Oxnard. The tale she told was incredible! She had been washed into the flood waters not once but twice, and, as reported in the Times, had single-handedly saved her father and brother.
Even more amazing, she is the only one alive today who was actually inside the American Legion Hall when the wall of mud smashed through the wall and pushed the refugees out into the maelstrom of destruction.
But here’s the kicker to this whole tale: After she and her family were released from the hospital, she never returned to La Crescenta. She hid her dark memories away, not even telling her husband and kids. Now at 88, she wants to come back to CV for the first time since the flood.
Please help us welcome her back. Marcia Warfield Flannery will give a public talk on her memories of the 1934 Flood at the La Crescenta Library on Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. She’ll tell us what happened inside the death trap of the Legion Hall, and how she survived. We’ll also put out a special invitation to other flood survivors to join us and be honored. Marcia says she wants to meet others that survived that night 77 years ago.
You’ll always remember the story Marcia will tell us, even though she spent her life trying to forget.