St. Francis Dam Disaster

Artwork by Achille Beltrame

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March 25, 1928 — Within two weeks after the St. Francis Dam Disaster, artist Achille Beltrame's concept­uali­zation of the disaster appears on the cover of La Domenica del Corriere (The Sunday Courier) of Milan, Italy, with the caption:

Il terrore nella valle di San Francisquito, in California. Il crollo di una diga del fiume Santa Clara scatenava una valanga d'acqua, che si allargava, in certi punti, sino a formare una fiumana di 3200 metri di larghezza, e travolgeva villaggi e case isolate. Sono stati raccolti più di 300 cadaveri. I danni superano i 30 milioni di dollari.

Terror in the San Francisquito Valley, California. The collapse of a dam of the Santa Clara river triggered an avalanche of water, which widened in certain points to form a 3200-meter-wide river and overwhelmed villages and isolated houses. More than 300 corpses have been collected. The damages exceed $30 million.

Note that 3,200 meters would be 2 miles wide.

Click to enlarge.

La Domenica del Corriere was an illustrated tabloid supplement (28x38cm) to Milan's Corriere della Sera (Evening Courier), in this instance with 16 pages, focusing primarily on the arts, including news out of Hollywood. The cover art is the only coverage of the St. Francis Dam Disaster in this issue. It was undoubtedly covered in the regular evening newspaper ... which we can deduce because the artist created his illustrations from news reports.

Beltrame was born March 19, 1871, in Vincenza, and moved at a young age to Milan where he studied under Giuseppe Bertini at the Academy of Fine Arts (Brera Academy). He achieved regional attention, received commissions, and began drawing in 1896 for the newspaper Illustrazione Italiana (Italian Illustration). In 1898 he was recruited to draw for Corriere della Sera's new Sunday supplement. His cover art graced the first issue, January 8, 1899, and it turned into a 45-year career. By the time he retired after the November 26, 1944, issue (his artwork portrayed an aerial bombardment), he had created 4,662 illustrations for the publication.

(Beltrame also has the back cover of our issue; it is his conceptualization of the fatal crash of an RAF Super­marine S.5 racing seaplane that plunged into the ocean off the coast of southern England on March 12. The St. Francis Dam would fail later that evening, half a world away.)

Beltrame, according to a published biography, "never moved from Milan. He carried out his drawings based on the description of the reporters and using a photographic archive that had been formed in his studio." He died February 19, 1945, in Milan, which fell to the partisans two months later.

Source of information about Beltrame: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Vol. 8, by Alberto Lorenzi (1966), accessed February 2020 at

LW3695: 9600 dpi jpeg from original newspaper purchased 2020 by Leon Worden from a vendor in Italy.
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