the rain started falling in Austin that morning, tailor Fred Baker and just about
everyone else in Central Texas delighted in seeing a little moisture after a hot,
two-month dry spell.
But as the rain continued, growing increasingly
heavier, Baker began to worry. If the rain kept up, he feared, the Lake Austin
dam would fail and the capital city would be washed away.
the hissing steam of his clothes press, Baker confided with his workmate.
“I’m going to San Antonio,” he said. “I’ve got a hunch that old dam is going
to bust and I don’t want to be here to witness the aftermath.”
argued that the dam would hold, but Baker could not be convinced. Later that afternoon,
Sept. 9, 1921, he caught the jitney to the Alamo City. Renting a room at the Gunter
Hotel, he sat in the lobby for a good while, at any moment expecting to hear the
cries of newsboys hawking extras about the great dam disaster in Austin.
But by that Friday night, no such reports had been received and Baker decided
to call it a day. Donning his pajamas, he rang for a bellboy to take his coat
and trousers to the hotel’s basement laundry for cleaning and pressing.
“Heard anything from Austin?” the tailor asked as he handed the hotel employee
“No, Boss,” the bell hop said. “But looks like we are going
to have us a flood here.”
Baker assured the man that the flood would
be in Austin, not San Antonio. Handing the bellboy a tip, Baker turned in for
Sometime around midnight, shouting and the sound of rushing
water awakened the Austinite. Running downstairs, he found 10 feet of water washing
through the lobby of the hotel. If it was this bad here, he thought, he could
only imagine what must be happening back home.
“Say,” he yelled to a
hotel employee, “heard anything from Austin?”
The clerk thought for
a minute. “Nope, only that the Lake Austin dam is holding.”
51 people died that night in the San Antonio flood, with another 13 missing and
never found. Austin had some minor flood damage, but nothing on the scale experienced
in San Antonio and elsewhere in Central Texas. The final death toll from the flood,
the deadliest in Texas history, was reported as 224, with $19 million in property
A deteriorating tropical storm had dumped more than three feet
of rain on some areas, but the Austin dam endured the deluge. And before he could
return to Austin, Baker had to buy a new pair of pants.