Ellicott City’s steep slopes and the rushing Patapsco River offer a geography good for milling, but also ripe for flooding. In its 250 years, the town has been deluged more than thirty times.
On July 24, 1868, the river rose five feet in ten minutes, washing downstream houses, four mills, and many other industries.
Harper’s Weekly described the flood: “The mighty stream had gathered in its onward march, trees, timbers, houses, and bridges. It entered the town with a thunderous roar, and began its terrible work of death and devastation. Now it began to tear the place to pieces. On an island formed by the river and the mill race, a row of 13 houses stood and the occupants realized their danger much too late. When the water demolished the first house, the people fled into the next one, and so on until they were all crowded into the last one, which was built of stone. Here they hoped they would be saved, but in the end it was hurled from its foundation. Thirty- six men, women and children were sent down into the boiling cauldron, before the horrified eyes of their relatives, assembled and helpless to aid them as they stood on the shore.”
Poet Laura Shovan turned a horrified eye to the flood that hit more recently, in 2016.
Shovan explained, “My family was living in Ellicott City when a flash flood tore apart historic Main Street, making national headlines. Describing what I saw on the television news helped me reflect on the frightening images of this event. I think this is one reason why people write down their experiences during difficult times. For me, a poem is a safe place to write about emotions like shock and grief, and to share those feelings with others.”
Shovan is a children’s author, educator, and prize-winning poet. She teaches at VCFA’s MFA program in writing for children and young adults.
Flood: Ellicott City, Maryland by Laura Shovan The river left its bed tonight, woken by heavy rain. It stomped down Main Street, passed shops, houses in a swirling rage. It’s resting now. We stare at empty spaces. It whisked cars down the hill. Their underwater headlights gave the flood an eerie glow. A chain of strangers clasped arms, pulled a woman from her spinning car. A hillside washed away, its green grass torn by claws we did not know the river had. It’s resting now. We stare at empty spaces where the river grabbed doors from hinges, peeled away sidewalks, made off with random things—bricks and jewels, nd two people for no reason other than they were in its path. The river is resting. Now we stare at empty spaces.
“Flood: Ellicott City, Maryland” was published in Poems are Teachers, 2017. Copyright © Laura Shovan, 2016. Reprinted with permission from the author.
This program is made possible by a grant from The Patapsco Valley Heritage Area, a certified heritage area of the Maryland Heritages Area Authority. This publication has been financed in part with state funds from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, an instrumentality of the state of Maryland. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.
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