Randy Chapman: Scrapbook keeps 1978 flood stories alive

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Post-Bulletin Publisher Randy Chapman looks through Donna Solem's scrapbook of clippings on the 1978 flood, which has been deemed the worst flood disaster in Rochester's history.

A peculiar attribute about community newspapers: Readers crave to keep bits and pieces clipped from pages forever.

"Forever?" Well, for as long a time as news clippings can be posted on refrigerator doors, tacked to office cubicle partitions, folded into purses and wallets, slipped into family Bibles, photo albums and scrapbooks.

Regional news editor Brian Sander recently stated it cleverly about the long-established reasons for the publication of people's personal milestones. Sander said, "Hatched, matched and dispatched." That is to say, count on your name and perhaps a photo published when you're born, when you're married and when you die.

Those newspaper mainstays are the meat and potatoes of community newspapers. Yet, a lot of life happens between birth and death. There is joy to have your name published in the newspaper — unless your name happens to be found in the police blotter.

Newsworthy opportunities to have one's good name bandied in print about town include Scouting achievements, athletic prowess, scholarship awards, military honors, club officer announcements, civic volunteerism and shooting a hole-in-one.


There's more: Feature stories and photo galleries about hobbyists, hunters and fisher-folk, travelers, cooks and bakers Church, temple and mosque and the people who worship therein. Heart-warming stories about those who beat the odds or narratives about others who tried and tried, yet could not.

Community news stories of ordinary folk who, for the life-span of one edition — and thus forever — have the ability to resonate with and inspire readers.

Collected clips

Every now and then, a reader finds an ancient, yellowed edition of the Post-Bulletin when cleaning the attic and basement or breaking up a relative's household.

It's a funny thing. There is reluctance to toss old newspapers away. One wonders why a particular edition was saved in a trunk, box or dresser drawer. We carefully turn the now-brittle newspaper pages, seeking reason for the keeping.

Often, the answer is found right on the front page, a momentous occasion of local, national or global significance. Sometimes, the occasion is so momentous, so significant, the news is carried over several editions, over days and weeks.

Such was the case, I conclude, when Donna Solem, of Rochester, created a scrapbook of Post-Bulletin clippings way back in July 1978.

Does anyone remember what happened of local significance back in summer of '78? With the rain pelting my office window as I write this column Tuesday morning, you have a clue.


Ding-ding-ding! Yes, the worst flood disaster in Rochester's history. With a flood crest of 23 feet, five people lost their lives, and property damages was estimated at $40 million to $50 million. In a single, devastating act of nature, the face of downtown Rochester was changed forever.

Looking back

Donna loaned me her Flood of '78 scrapbook. The operative word is "loaned." Do you understand? Clippings carefully — meticulously — pasted onto 88 pages of sturdy scrapbook stock bound with a brown cord into a handsome brown leatherette covered book.

No, Donna Solem is not ready to give up the book. But she was ready to share it with someone — a Rochester transplant like me — whom she thought would appreciate two things: First, learning about an important life-altering event in local history, and secondly, how then-editors of the Post-Bulletin covered news of the day. The scrapbook does not disappoint.

In my first pass through the book, I sprinted. That is to say, I turned page-after-page quickly, eyeballing headlines and scrutinizing the photographs. All in black and white, the photos seemed suitably somber.

Photographs of people, faces grimly stalwart in cleanup. Vehicles half-submerged or upended from rushing waters. Homes and buildings flooded beyond imagination. Roadways washed away. Flood water up to the canopy of the Kmart, for goodness sake!

There were lighter photographic notes. Raccoons perched in refuge upon sign posts; rabbits huddled on porches. A woman was shown holding a 3-foot, 10-pound northern pike she caught in her Viking Drive backyard. Case upon case of contaminated liquor and beer was disposed in a landfill under the watchful eyes of state authorities and a P-B photographer.

Throughout the keepsake coverage were snaps of smiling, mud-stained volunteers at work helping others.


Tragedy remembered

Eventually, I returned to the beginning of the scrapbook to read story after story. The vast coverage could have overwhelmed any news organization, but the local P-B team managed somehow. Reporters and photographers long gone from the P-B filed dozens and dozens of stories important to readers.

Notices about weather conditions and flood warnings, safety directives and advice, shelter and food services, where to seek help and consolation.

Hair rose on my neck when I read about the ultimate tragedies, the loss of life. A Stewartville woman — Mrs. Maurice Keller — drowned when her car plunged off a washed out road as her husband watched from a car following her.

Tragedy also struck at a nursing home. Four women drowned when an elevator carried them to their deaths into a flooded basement. Although no one may recall them, I publish their names once again, in their memory: Lillian Hoesly, Mary Ellis, Anna Starken and Florence Larsen.

Perhaps someone will clip and save this column. In doing so, the names of the five who lost their lives in the Rochester's horrific summer flood of 1978 will not be forgotten.

Randy Chapman is the publisher of the Post-Bulletin, He welcomes feedback to his column at

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