The day time stood still in St. John Parish: Part IV

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(As told by Helen Schlosser Burg to Lt. Wayne Norwood)

The storm continued through the night and before daylight everything got eerie quiet. The next morning, the weather was beautiful. The water went down, and the lake was as smooth as glass. The sun came up big, red and warm. It was one of the most beautiful days I had ever seen.

People now started to come out of their hiding places and look around for their families. We could not believe our eyes as we looked around. Out of all the towns, houses and other buildings, there was only one structure left standing, and it was the home of Theodore Grode. It was kind of sideways, but it was there.

Trees were washed away, and of the ones that were left standing, the bark was washed off every one of them. We only had the clothes we wore, nothing else, and everything else we owned had washed into the swamp. Twelve miles of double railroad track had washed away. Train cars were washed almost one mile into the swamp. We were in the middle of the swamp with no food, clothing, water or medical help.

John Ciro, an Italian, and Milton Brown, a black man, survived the storm and walked for help through the swamp to New Orleans. A relief party from New Orleans loaded onto the McMohen yacht the “Lierline” with doctors, nurses and medical supplies. They left New Orleans on Thursday and reached us on Friday.

Another black man left Ruddock and spent two days walking, swimming, floating on logs and fighting snakes through the swamp all the way to Hammond and Ponchatoula. He got a Doctor White from Hammond and a rescue party to return to help us. While we were waiting for help, we had no food, so we ate the dead chickens that had drowned during the storm.

People just walked around in a daze, some hoping to find their homes, some looking for their loved ones. There was a graveyard near the railroad tracks in Wagram, but it was too far to carry the dead. The men made rafts in the shallow waters of Lake Pontchartrain to the graveyard. We lost a lot of our family, friends and neighbors.

A total of 275 people were killed in Louisiana. St. John would have 13 whites and 15 blacks perish on this day in the deadly storm.

I went back to New Orleans on the yacht. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Everything was so shiny and clean. I just looked and looked. I was embarrassed because I was barefoot and would cry whenever I thought about losing my only pair of shoes.

When we got to New Orleans, we caught the streetcar to my aunt’s house on Liberty Street. We lived there two years and then moved back to the swamp in Wagram. We moved back to the only house that had survived the storm. We were the only family back there now, and it was sad. We no longer had out parties once a month. We didn’t have our friends and relatives, and it was lonely and sad. I relived that day of the storm many times, and every time we had bad weather, I would get really scared.”

The railroad was rebuilt using a workforce of 6,000 men. We moved after a few years to Laplace and to this day that area is a quiet deep swamp.

Mrs. Burg would tell her story for one last time; you see, she passed away just 30 days after our interview, from injuries she received after a fall and broken hip, but her story will live on forever in her own words.

Louisiana Treasures Museum had a vast collection of dishes, bottles, toys and even parts of the homes that once stood in the swamps of St. John. Many items have been recovered that tell the story of that deadly storm on Sept. 29, 1915.

Louisiana Treasures Museum is owned and operated by Wayne and Debbie Norwood and is located on Highway 22 West of Ponchatoula. For more information and hours of operation

or to schedule tours, call 225-294-8352.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John thhe Baptist Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.