High school senior held onto tree in raging flood
by Rob Neufeld
(Read about other floods in the area)
(Photo caption: 1) is Lipe home; 2) Biltmore Bridge under water; 3) All Souls Church. From The North Carolina Flood: July 14, 15, 16, 1916 by W.M. Bell.)
“Mama took Nell, my crippled sister; and my Grandmother Clark to stay with friends on higher ground,” Kathleen Lipe Carter recollected to her daughter, Betty Carter Brock, about the morning of July 16, 1916.
Higher ground was where the McDonald’s restaurant in Biltmore is now located.
Two hurricanes were converging on Asheville, and the Lipes, in their home on the banks of the Swannanoa River—today, the site of Moe’s Outdoor Grill—were vulnerable.
It was very early; still dark. “I found Papa securing some chickens and turkeys on the front porch,” Lipe said. Sightseers were arriving to look at the swelling river. Lipe’s father, James Cornelius Lipe, Biltmore Estate’s superintendent of skilled labor, decided, with a group, that they’d better head toward the village green.
Unbeknownst to them, dams had broken upriver.
“As we crossed the train tracks,” Kathleen recalled, “the water became deeper, the current more swift. Our group held hands…By the time we reached Lodge Street, the water was almost over our heads.”
James Lipe guided Kathleen, two nurses who were lodging with the Lipes, and one of the nurse’s 15-year-old sister, Marion Walker, who was visiting, to a maple tree, where they tied Kathleen’s sweater around the trunk for hand holds.
Life guards in canoes tried to reach them, but could not cross the raging water. “If only they would get a flat-bottomed boat,” Mr. Lipe exclaimed.
One exceptional swimmer made it to the tree and took the youngest girl in a life guard hold. “Marion panicked, fought her rescuer, and drowned. Charlotte, her sister, became hysterical, crying ‘Marion! Marion!’ and shortly she dropped of the tree.”
A long time passed, with Vickie Foister, the second nurse; Kathleen; and 60-year-old James Lipe still clinging.
Kathleen’s father’s arms, encircling her from behind slipped away. She looked and saw him struggling to grab at the next tree. She wondered if he had a cramp.
“Shucks! Shucks!” she heard him utter as he was swept away.
“I was praying for the strength to hang on,” Kathleen recollected. Then she noticed that Vickie was no longer there.
A submerged man reached Kathleen’s tree and climbed high into the branches.
`”Help me climb up,” Kathleen said.
The man explained that “as a father and husband, he could not take the risk.”
Finally, a life guard arrived with a rope and tied Kathleen to the tree. She lost consciousness.
“Sometime in the afternoon, about eight or nine hours after I had left home,” Kathleen told her daughter, “men reached the tree in a flat-bottomed boat. Only after I had spent several days in the hospital was I told that my father, Vickie, and Charlotte had drowned.”
Kathleen, age 18, “went on to lead a productive and fulfilling life as a teacher, wife, and mother,” Lyn Leslie reported in the online magazine, Asheville.com, in 2004. “She was an active participant in the passing of a NC law that requires cars to stop behind stopped school busses….She died in 1989 at the age of 90.”
Read about other big floods in region's history.