Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Memories of '37

Wedding day to remember

        Just after Jake and Emma Federmann got married in 1937, the lights went out all over Cincinnati. The waterworks shut down. And a river caught fire.

        That's when — Jake and Emma like to say — they decided to have a family. Right in the middle of Cincinnati's worst natural disaster — the '37 flood.

        “We got married on a Saturday and by Sunday night I had a family of five,” Jake said with a chuckle. “Emma's parents, two sisters and a brother came to live with us.”

[photo] Emma and Jake Federmann married at the worst possible time — the '37 flood. Life got better, though, in 65 years together.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Emma smiled at the memory and reminded her husband: “They were flooded out.”

        Jake and Emma laughed as this story unfolded 65 years ago. Now, he's 86 and she's 85. And, they're still laughing. That's why they're still here. In their own home. Side-by-side. Still in love.

        Young couples would be wise to take cues from the tale of Emma and Jake. They might learn something about how a family sticks together. Faces adversity. And still finds time to laugh.

        “Those days you didn't get all shook up over things,” Emma said. “You just took it in stride. They were family. You made the best of it.”

        The Harrison Township couple became husband and wife 65 years ago today. The next day, what passed for their honeymoon became known as “Black Sunday.” Rampaging flood waters made Cincinnati go dark. And cold. No lights. No heat from gas or electric furnaces. No running water.

        Six inches of snow fell on their wedding day. The next day, 2 inches of rain in three hours melted the snow and sent it into the flood-swollen river.

        Between the snow and the rain, Jake and Emma got married. She wore a dress she sewed with her mom. The material cost $2. As she walked down the aisle, she carried a bouquet of white carnations.

        “That's the only flowers they had in the florist's shop,” Emma recalled. The florist's basement was flooded. Roses wouldn't keep.

        To this day, Jake always gives Emma carnations on their anniversary.

        Carnations. And, a kiss.

Brief respite

        Jake remembers everyone welcoming the snow on Jan. 23, 1937. It was a relief from the rain that had pelted the city for days and added to the already flooded waters of the Ohio. Third Street was a canal. Crosley Field's home plate sat under 20 feet of water.

        In Camp Washington, the little restaurant Emma's mom and dad ran across from the stockyards was serving fish. In 12 feet of water.

        Jake and Emma were supposed to have their wedding supper at the restaurant. Instead, they had it at her parents' Camp Washington home. The fried chicken they ate would be their last hot meal for days.

        The next morning, dawn broke on “Black Sunday.” The torrential rains and melting snow turned Mill Creek into a raging river. It ran through Camp Washington. Gasoline storage tanks toppled, their contents spilled into the water. Sparks ignited the fuel. Homes and businesses burned to the water line.

        Jake and Emma lived on Beekman Street. Across the valley from the flooded Mill Creek. Across from the fires in Camp Washington. But not far from the flood.

        “I'd walk down 12 steps to the street to get river water,” Jake said. “We'd use a bucket-full to flush our toilets.”

        Two days later, the river crested at 79.9 feet, a record that still stands in Cincinnati. Emma's family members eventually returned to their homes.

        Life went on for Emma and Jake. He worked as a machinist. She waited tables at the family restaurant. They moved, first to Newtown, then to Harrison Township.

        They never felt they were married under a bad sign.

        “We've been blessed,” Jake said. “Couldn't have had it any better. I'll be 87 in March. I've been married to Emma for 65 years. We have three nice children.”

        John and Richard Federmann and Joyce Steinfort have given their parents 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

        Their pictures have turned Emma and Jake's kitchen into a photo gallery.

        Emma looked at the faces in the photos and returned their smiles.

        She explained how she and Jake have been able to count their blessings for so many years.

        “We don't sit around and complain about our aches and pains,” she said.

        They play cards at three different senior centers. They have hobbies. Jake's an accomplished woodworker. Emma weaves baskets that win blue ribbons.

        “He's got some disabilities,” Emma admitted. “I've got a few, too.

        “But why talk about them? I don't intend to.

        “Just go out and enjoy yourself.”

        And they do.

        No matter what the weather.

        Or how high the river flows.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail

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