John Freed was a graphic arts and photography instructor at Fort Scott Community College in October 1986, when the levy on Mill Creek burst.
Mill Creek feeds into the Marmaton River in the current Riverfront Park area.
On October 3, 1986, after nearly 20 inches of rain in 3 days, the Marmaton River crested at 52.5 feet, breaking the previous record set in 1915, according to information on the Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce website.
The Fort Scott Cattle Sales Company released 250 head of cattle from their pens, according to the website. These cattle swam in the water, and three ended up on the roof of a home in Belltown, the area east of the cattle sales company.
The area between the Marmaton River Bridge on North National Avenue and U.S. Highway 54 was covered with several feet of fast-moving water.
Freed started taking photos of the historic event on the afternoon of October 3.
This was the beginning of his publication of the book, which is mostly a photo album with stories and poems from residents about the historic event, entitled the ’86 Flood. We Booked It Just For You.
He sponsored a photo contest for the book and over 1,500 photos were submitted by community members.
The stories of the flood were from local Fort Scott students and a few adults.
“Kids wrote the stories,” Freed said. “The superintendent of the schools made it mandatory that elementary, middle, and high school kids had to write an article for the book. The Catholic school students contributed as well. Fort Scott Community College students sent a few articles.”
“A few Panamanian students attending FSCC saw a bunch of Kansas National Guard helicopters that brought flood victims to the college because it was higher ground,” he said. “They thought America was being invaded. They wrote some stories. Theirs are written in Spanish, translated by the college Spanish instructor.”
“I resigned from FSCC and started my print shop a short time after the flood,” he said. The print shop was located on Main Street, in a space now occupied by Papa Don’s Pizza.
The book was a long-term project.
“I designed it, put it together,” he said. “It took weeks and I had considerable help from volunteers,” Freed said.
Freed judged the photos, and local English teachers judged the stories, and prizes were awarded to students for their contributions to the book.
The book was published in 1987.
In commemoration of the flood stories, he is promoting the book again at an author’s event at Hedgehog INK Bookstore at 16 S. Main Street on Oct. 3 from 2-4 p.m. There will be copies of the book for sale for $8.95, the original cost of the book in 1987, the year it was published.
“I want to encourage people that wrote in the book, to come a get a copy, if they don’t have one,” Freed said.