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Family, international student, airmen thrown together during Rapid City flood 50 years ago

Margaret King home.jpg
Rapid City Public Library
Margaret King's former neighborhood in Rapid City during the 1972 flood.

The attached audio above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

The 50th commemoration of the 1972 Black Hills Flood is June 9. It’s a time to honor the 238 people who died, and it also brings a flood of memories for those who survived. Each week between now and June 9, SDPB is sharing stories from those survivors, in their own words.

This week, we hear from Margaret King, who called and left us a recorded message about her flood experience in Rapid City. King now lives in Harrisburg, and more of her story is available as an oral history interview on the website of the Rapid City Public Library.


"Our family of four, we, two parents and children ages 8 and 3, had moved to a two-story home on Waverly Street, nine months before the flood. That location was directly behind the current Meadowbrook golf clubhouse, with just one home between our house and Rapid Creek. In those days, there was a program for families to host an international student for one night, taking them out into the Black Hills and having them in our home overnight and returning them to their touring group the next day.

"So we had a French girl named Jackie spending the day and night with us. When we returned from driving out into the Hills, the rain had begun. My niece had come to Rapid City in a camper, bringing my mother in her 70s and my nephew about 14 to stay with us. The rain continued; the little league practice for my son and my coach-husband was canceled.

"We called a few neighbors. Some said that it appeared we'd be replacing some carpets. When a huge stump came through our patio doors, everyone headed upstairs. At the same time, two young airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base arrived. Their Corvette was stuck in our front lawn. They were so apologetic for messing up the grass. Soon the phones went out. Now our group numbered nine people, from ages 3 to over 70. My husband could watch during lightning flashes to see south from our bedroom window.

"The homes in the neighborhood were positioned close to one another, and behind our house lived a woman who had a fence or wall around her home. It was constructed of cement block, a kind of decorative thing, and it was painted. My husband could see the houses and debris barreling past. At one point there was a terribly loud crash. It was our three car garage being taken off. At that point, eight people sheltered in our son's room, which was farthest from the damaged area. We wanted to keep the children from trauma, so we put all of them, including Jackie, crosswise on the bed, my mother in the rocking chair, and the airmen opened the closet door and rested their backs on the wall. My husband and I paced back and forth from the south window to that bedroom all night."


The Journey Museum & Learning Center in Rapid City will screen a new SDPB documentary, “Surviving the ’72 Flood,” at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time on June 8. The film will air on SDPB-1 the next evening, June 9, at 9 Central/8 Mountain.

SDPB will also release an episodic podcast about the flood later this month.

Click here for all of SDPB's flood-related content.