Official program for the 50th anniversary St. Francis Dam Disaster Memorial Dinner, held March 12, 1978, at the Ranch House Inn in Valencia.
4 pages octavo, 5½x8½ inches, textured buff stock.
This copy signed by the organizers — journalist and dam historian Don Ray, and CSUN Prof. William S. Thomas — and by Otto A. Steen, a retired employee of the Los Angeles Bureau of
Water and Light who had been the foreman in charge of the search party after the dam collapsed (Outland 1977:74).
It was Steen who informed historian Charles Outland that the clothed body of Leona Johnson, girlfriend of damkeeper Tony Harnischfeger, was found "just below the dam, wedged in fragments
of the wreckage" (ibid.) — despite the fact that Harnischfeger's house sat a quarter-mile downstream from the dam. This led Outland to conjecture that Harnischfeger and Johnson may have
checking on the dam when it failed. (Harnischfeger's body was not recovered.) If she had been at home and a weird eddy carried her body back upstream against the current,
it shouldn't have been clothed, Outland argues; "most of the recovered bodies were totally nude" (ibid.).
Regarding William S. Thomas, Don Ray tells us (2019): "Bill Thomas was my journalism professor at CSUN. He and I worked together to contact survivors across the U.S. and Canada,
and then organize the Memorial Reunion. Then he and I interviewed all of the survivors from the homes at Powerhouse 2 as well as survivors in the canyon and as far south as Santa Paula."
Text of program follows.
On a still March night in 1928, most of the residents of San Francisquito Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley and the Santa Clara River Valley had gone to sleep. Only a handful of the proverbial night people — the telephone operators, policemen and utility employees — were awake as midnight approached.
They were the first ones to hear, feel and finally see the thunderous hell that had been unleashed upon them. Others were jolted from their sleep and swept away in the churning deluge.
The more fortunate were given at least some advance notice by sirens, barking dogs or loved ones. They barely had enough time to scramble to higher ground and shiver in the darkness until the dawn unveiled an unimaginable scene of destruction. Monday, March 12, 1928, would be the last time the survivors would see many of their loved ones, their homes and, at best, the way things used to be.
Fifty years later we gather in honor of the more than 400 who lost their lives and were spared the scene on that morning after.
Lest we forget.
Photos courtesy of Watson Family Archives
Early in 1928, Los Angeles Times photographer George R. Watson was inspired hy the massive St. Francis Dam and the tranquil waters of the reservoir beyond. He could not have imagined then that he would soon return to record the horrible aftermath of Southern California's worst disaster, including the cover photo of the monolith which stood like a memorial tombstone for the hundreds who lost their lives.
The St. Francis Dam Memorial gathering is a historical event in its own right. It also presents a unique opportunity for those who vividly recall a major event of the past to share their memories with others. In order to preserve those recollections for future generations, we are preparing a collection of your personal accounts and photographs.
We appreciate the tremendous interest many of you have already shown in this project, and encourage everyone else to participate, too. We hope to have the book completed this year and will contact you when it becomes available.
Don Ray / William S. Thomas
LW3608: pdf of original program book purchased 2019 by Leon Worden. Download individual pages here