March 9, 2002 —
Silent film star William S. Hart led a funeral procession from his hometown of Newhall on foot up San Francisquito Canyon to the Ruiz Cemetery,
where the party placed this marker. It reads: "In memory of those who lost their lives in the Santa Clara flood Mar. 13, 1928 / Erected by the Newhall cowboys."
(The valley was called the Santa Clara before it became known as the Santa Clarita, and the dam broke just before midnight on March 12, but most deaths occurred just after midnight on March 13.)
Further reading: Requiem to a Little Soldier: A lifeless lamb in a makeshift morgue brings Newhall's leading citizen to his knees.
Construction on the 600-foot-long, 185-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5-billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 411 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.