‘The Flood of 1903’ – a book about the power of rivers


Rather than a classic travel book, ‘The Flood of 1903’ is more a story of natural disasters and how nature forces travellers to take a detour.

“During the month of June, 1903, the Chicago¬† & Alton Railway passed through the most disastrous flood conditions in the history of the property.”

So ‘The 1903 Flood’ book begins, published by the Chicago and Alton Railway, where they describe the destructive power of the Missouri river, the longest River in North America.

Its parent, the Mississippi river, has long captivated America’s imagination and many artists have made it its muse.

Mark Twain described his days as a steamboat pilot on ‘Life on the Mississippi’ and Banvard made the famous “three-mile painting” Panorama of the Mississippi river, which foresaw multimedia installations.

This book, this “little history of the flood of 1903” shows the relentless power of rivers and nature and how they can re-appropriate what humans thought was theirs.



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‘The Flood of 1903’ (available to read at the Internet Archive) narrates the story of how the Chicago and Alton Railway Company tried to accommodate the catastrophic conditions that lasted for 3 weeks.

When the river waters rose, the railways were destroyed. But the flood waters became navigable rivers and, with the help of a handful of steamboats, passengers and cargo were able to move.

In 2019, these photographs read completely different.¬†These 1903 photos remind us of the power of nature and of humanity’s impending doom.

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