For those who lived through it, 1955 seems like a long time ago, and ancient history for those who were not yet born.
How could a flood from 57 years ago have any bearing on our lives today? Anyone who has gotten a pizza or shopped for groceries in or around the South Side Shopping Center is, whether they know it or not, feeling the effects of Hurricane Diane.
Prior to August of 1955, an entire neighborhood, with houses, barber shops, and mom & pop grocery stores, existed in a place now occupied by fast food restaurants and strip malls. Beginning on Thursday, August 8, 1955, Hurricane Diane dropped more than four inches of rain on the region filling both the Lackawanna River and Roaring Brook with raging waters.
The ferocious Roaring Brook knocked out railroad tracks, washed away rail cars, wiped away the area of East Scranton around Richter Avenue, and severely damaged entire sections of lower South Side including the "Flats" section along South Washington Avenue.
The library is developing a new collection for the Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives (LVDA) to tell this story.
The LVDA, still less than a year old, contains hundreds of digital images of historical items mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the Hurricane Diane collection will cover a more recent time period, it offers great opportunities for enhancing the historical record.
According to Martina Soden, the library's assistant head of reference, "People still have memories of this flood and we wanted to capture them and include them in the collection."
This will be done in two ways. First, the library is recording video and audio interviews with witnesses and victims and making them available in the archives.
In one interview already recorded, Mary Jane Memolo recounts how, as a teenager coming back from a date, Ash Street was flooded and her home was on the other side of what was now a raging channel. Mariagnes Brown was a young mother who found herself in a second floor apartment without water and with a scarce supply of diapers. In addition to the interviews, the library is also soliciting photos from the community. According to Soden, "If anyone has photos of the flood, we'll scan them and give the photos back to you. We're eager to see what people have in their attics and photo albums."
Another important component of the collection is digitized footage from WDAU-TV. "Anyone who grew up in Scranton from the (19)50s through the early 80s knows WDAU was the ‘Scranton station' and all of those reels were sitting in the basement of the WBRE building in Wilkes-Barre. We received permission from Nextar Broadcasting to digitize the reels pertaining to Hurricane Diane," said Scott Thomas, the library's head of information technologies,
These haunting, soundless film clips show the devastation wrought by Diane.
The collection will also contain photos and other items from the library's own collection and the collections of the Lackawanna Historical Society and the Steamtown National Historic Site.
The library plans to launch the "Story of Hurricane Diane" in the fall. Anyone who would like to be interviewed, or has photos should call 348.3000 ext. 3040 or email [email protected].