During Flood of 1972, funeral home wedding, downtown cattle drive brought moments of light
The flooding brought on by Hurricane Agnes in New York's Southern Tier was terrible and tragic. But even in the midst of the devastation, there were a few moments of levity and even joy to buoy weary souls.
Now, half a century later, those who were there recall the moments of light that have stayed with them all these years.
Doug Davis, 21 at the time, and Sally MacPherson, 20, had set their wedding date for June 24, 1972, in Elmira. When their big day arrived, two days after the storm began its relentless assault on the area, the church where the couple hoped to take their vows was flooded. One guest was stranded in Binghamton and many others were evacuating flooded homes or grappling with the damage. But the bride and groom found a way. They moved the wedding to a location that usually hosted a more somber kind of ceremony — the funeral home owned by Sally's father — and hosted the event with a trimmed guest list.
One special guest — a New Orleans singer who was friends with Sally's father — almost didn't get there when her bus was stopped in Binghamton.
"She called Sally's dad and said, 'I can't make it,'" Doug Davis said. "He took the hearse and went down Route 17. He was stopped by a trooper and said he was 'going to pick up a body in Binghamton.' The trooper waved him through."
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Former Chemung County Emergency Management Director Michael S. Smith was a 19-year-old college student home on summer vacation in June 1972.
He was also a volunteer with the Southport Fire Department, and he spent untold hours helping residents evacuate.
Smith also remembered an unusual cattle roundup.
"We were called to a farm near Seeley Creek. The farmer wanted help getting his cows out," Smith said. "There was only an inch of water but the current would take your feet right out from under you. We did a cattle drive right up Maple Avenue."
Dealing with the mess
Former Sayre Evening Times Sports Editor Glenn Rolfe, who lived in Athens when the flood struck, volunteered to help clean up in the aftermath.
It was an unpleasant task, and Rolfe remembers finding an unusual way to cope with the stink of rotting food while cleaning out the basement of a convenience store.
"The only way to stomach the stench and not throw up was to chew tobacco," Rolfe said. "So, I got my first taste of Red Man."
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