— photos and text by Dennis Bauer
In the evening of June 16,1965, a wall of water described by some as 15 feet high roared down the South Platte River, the result of extremely severe thunderstorms many miles south of Littleton, Colorado. By midnight, the torrent crested at twenty-five feet above normal and was carrying forty times the normal flow. In its wake, the course of the South Platte River from Littleton to the Colorado-Nebraska border was a mud-encased, wreckage-strewn landscape of desolation.
The great South Platte River flood of 1965 was one of the biggest – and costliest – in the history of Denver.
I was between my freshman and sophomore year at the University of Denver, a journalism major with dreams of becoming a photojournalist for the Denver Post when I graduated college. On that very day, June 16, I had become the proud owner of a new Nikon F 35 mm camera and two lenses: the standard 50mm and a 200 mm telephoto! I was in photojournalist heaven!
As the radio reports followed the disaster, I talked a D.U. friend into driving us downtown, so I could use my new camera and capture images of this historic event. At one point a Denver policeman confronted us, saying, “You do not have permission to be this close to the river. Get going!” I responded by telling the officer I was photographing the flood for the University’s student newspaper, the Clarion, and yearbook, the Kynewisbok. This did not impress the cop who said I would be arrested if I stayed.
Well, we left that spot, but I was able to photograph the flood and its aftermath.
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B50 Note: The two most serious floods in the history of Denver were separated by 101 years; 1864 and 1965. The 1965 flood caused extensive damage from Littleton through Denver, especially along the Valley Highway (now known as I-25), prompting Congress to provide funding for Chatfield Dam. Dennis Bauer is a Denver native who has spent the past 20 years working as a teacher. When he retires in two months, he plans to grow his photography business, db Photography. Text and photographs are courtesy of the author.
The following audio remembrance of the Denver Flood of 1965 was recorded by Charles A. Roessler. Mr. Roessler is a retired member of the Denver Fire Department.